Catherine Burns

Top nutrition tips for beginner runners

  • Beat the Couch: change your nutrition habits as you start training

Supergranny has landed and is busy waving her magical wand over the chaos at home. Sheís always been slightly alarmed by my domestic deficiency and is recovering at her house sit, most likely with a hefty gin and tonic.

Iím unsure whether it was the kids who drove her to the brink today or whether it was finding a wetsuit in the linen cupboard. Thereís not much rhyme or reason to my storage methods ó things just get thrown together randomly as I race between home and work.

Iím asked almost every day how I do it all ... and the answer is, I donít. Not even close! And really, do any of us? Maybe we do all know someone who is holding it together remarkably well, but thereís probably some kind of pharmaceutical drug involved. Or at the very least, a breakfast cocktail. I like to think so anyway.

This week at Natural HQ has been especially busy. Weíre moving offices and getting ready to kick off another season of Beat the Couch. There is an awful lot that has got lost in the mix as a result. One of those things is Chloeís recorder ó the demon instrument sent home to torture parents who were clearly serial killers in a former life. Chloeís been playing it in the car, in the kitchen ... she even took it in the bath. I was hoping that a good dunking might kill it off, but that wasnít enough. Fortunately itís now missing. I have absolutely no idea where it is. Probably on a shelf somewhere with my sanity.

So is life a little stressful? Hmmmm, yes. But itís a natural reality for busy families with busy lives. The trick is not to get too stressed about the stress. To shake it off and find an outlet for the worries and concerns. For me, thereís not much that a run canít fix, especially if it takes me to the beach and back. Running along sand in bare feet is pretty magical, especially if you catch a little surf too.

But it wasnít always that way. There was a stage where running felt like pure torture. I wasnít athletic growing up (unless you count dancing ... in nightclubs) so getting properly fit for the first time in my 30s was a bit of a struggle. Of course, I completely overestimated how much I could do, so I consistently failed at my unrealistic goals. It was all a bit depressing ó and then I found the Couch to 5k concept.

The early weeks of Couch to 5k training are so gentle and staggered that almost everyone can do them. I was so impressed with the efficacy of the programme that we tailored the concept to Bermuda and launched Beat the Couch. That was eight seasons and over 450 people ago.

Sponsored by Bermuda Telephone Company, Season 9 of our beginners running programme starts on Thursday next week. Itís a ten-week programme that culminates in May with the Swanís Running Club ďSir Stanley BurgessĒ event. Itís become so popular because it really does work and because the journey, while challenging, is a lot of fun.

Iím really proud that weíve helped so many people over the finish line, but Iím even more proud of our supportive #couchbeater community. The network has evolved over time, stays connected in a Facebook group and offers tons of advice and motivation to our new recruits. They are becoming quite the nutrition experts now too.

Although Beat the Couch is all about running, we do offer people the opportunity to clean up their nutrition habits. For some people, itís too much of a giant lifestyle leap, but others like to eat in a way that supports their training and recovery. Here are some of the nutrition tips our couchbeaters follow in case youíd like to get on board too. If youíd like to join us formally for Season 9, please make sure you check out all the details which are online now. Just go to and go to Whatís On. Click through the calendar and youíll find everything you need.

Five Nutrition Tips for Beginner Runners

1, Donít over-fuel

Itís tempting to think that you have to ďcarb upĒ when you start running. However, the reality is that most of us have enough in the tank for a 30-minute run, so (especially in the early days) you donít need to worry about a specific carb strategy. Having said that, it makes sense to fuel with healthy, slow-releasing carbs. So think oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes instead of white bread and cookies.

2, Think electrolytes

It would also be unusual to need to refuel with electrolytes within 5k training, but then Bermuda is a bit unusual! As the weather gets hotter, you can lose salts quickly, especially if you start training dehydrated. So, drink water consistently through the day, keeping your pee pale yellow. If you do run in the midday heat, I would take on board a natural electrolyte too.

3, Go Natural

I donít mean you have to run in the nude. Iím not sure Bermuda is quite ready for that and it probably falls into the latter category of good naked, bad naked. I do think itís a good idea to avoid artificial chemicals. So when it comes to electrolytes, try Ultima Replenisher from Supermart, which is sweetened with stevia only and is dye-free. You could also try unsweetened coconut water, but itís fairly high in natural sugars which you may not need.

4, Optimise your recovery with protein

Running doesnít just rely on your endurance capability, it relies on strong muscles too, especially in your calves and glutes. Try making sure you eat a good quality source of protein within 45 minutes of completing your run, especially if you havenít had protein within two hours prior to your run (for example, if you are doing an early morning run before having breakfast.) Protein timing is especially important in the first few weeks of training, as your body adjusts to a new level of activity.

5, Figure out your caffeine

Some people swear that caffeine helps improve their sports performance, but just because it works for someone else doesnít mean it will work for you. Generally, if you are a fast metaboliser of caffeine, it should help improve your performance. If you are a slow metaboliser, it wonít ó and may actually make it worse. Although you may have an instinct for whether or not you are fast or slow, the way caffeine makes you feel (ie wired or not) actually isnít the best indicator. We run a really fascinating genetic test that looks into these details, but you can also just follow trial and error. Are your best training sessions caffeine enabled? Or, have some of your worst runs been after a latte? Keep track.