The Runner's Cookbook by Anita Bean is full of recipes to fuel your training regime

Trying to get on track with your training plan? Then it's a good idea to think about what's on your plate too, fitness and nutrition expert Anita Bean tells Ella Walker

Anita Bean's Mexican bean burgers from The Runner's Cookbook

WHETHER you're already in training for May's Belfast marathon, or just trying to get the new year off to a good start by going for the odd jog, you're probably asking yourself the same question: "What can I eat before a run that isn't spaghetti Bolognese?"

As well as Lycra, smugness and hi-vis fitness jackets, bowls of pasta are synonymous with running culture – but there are alternative running-fuel ingredients, and sports nutritionist and former bodybuilding champion Anita Bean is committed to proving that. The health writer has put together 100 recipes specifically geared towards the needs of runners – regardless of speed and ability – in her latest collection, The Runner's Cookbook.

"A lot of athletes and runners come to me with the same questions because they don't really know what they ought to be eating – there's a lot of conflicting information," she explains. "Do I really need to take gels during a run? What's the best way to fuel for a 5k or a marathon, or a half a marathon? What should I be eating straight after a run? Those are the kind of questions I really wanted to address."

Part nutrition guide, part cookbook, the recipes are simple, come with extensive nutritional information, and are tailored to a typical runner's lifestyle – meaning they're generally quick to whip up, and will keep you going and going and going.

Here, Anita busts some myths and sets out some golden rules:

:: There's no need to consume energy supplements

"I see runners relying on supplements, thinking they need to have sports nutrition products after all their runs, and they're taking sports drinks and gels and they really don't have to. For the majority of runners, if you're running for less than 60-90 minutes, you certainly don't need to be taking sports drinks or any other kind of sports nutrition products."

:: Being a runner doesn't mean you can eat whatever you like all the time

"Runners starting out often think running is a license to continue eating whatever they want. Runner's weight gain is quite a real phenomenon, and that's because many runners overestimate the amount of calories they burn, or overcompensate by consuming extra food after their runs," explains Anita. "Or they think, 'Well, I've run 10k today, so I deserve this chocolate cake'. Basically, it's getting the balance between calories in/calories out wrong. And it's fair to say some runners will find their appetite increases, but once you continue running regularly, you find your appetite will reduce."

:: In fact, you ought to be even more careful about what you're eating

"Start to really cut down on highly processed foods: sugars, sugary snacks, crisps, high-fat, high-sugar foods. Instead, ensure your diet contains lots of fresh fruit, fresh foods and more natural wholefoods. Whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish."

:: Don't cut out carbohydrates

"There's so much stuff out there talking about low carb and ketogenic diets; that's just overcomplicating the issue," states Anita. "If you've got a long or hard run ahead, you want to eat more carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is what we call a fast fuel – it's the muscles' preferred fuel, it produces energy faster than fat or protein. If you try and cut down your carbs, you'll feel really tired and fatigued to start with, but you'll find that it may sustain you for long, slow runs, your low intensity easy runs, but a low-carb diet cannot fuel high-intensity runs."

:: The Runner's Cookbook: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes To Fuel Your Running by Anita Bean, photography by Adrian Lawrence, is published by Bloomsbury Sport, priced £14.99. Below are two recipes from the book for you to try.


(Makes 4)

1tbsp light olive or rapeseed oil, plus extra for brushing

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

200g cooked vegetables (eg carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash)

400g tin red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

A pinch dried chilli flakes

1/2tsp paprika

50g day-old wholemeal bread

1/2tsp ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

4tbsp oats or sesame seeds

Wholemeal baps

For the salsa:

1 large ripe tomato, skinned deseeded and finely diced

1tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

1/2tsp finely chopped fresh chilli (or to taste)

1 small clove of garlic, crushed

1tsp olive oil

1/4 red onion, finely chopped

1tbsp lemon or lime juice

To serve:

Rocket and a large avocado, sliced

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas mark 5. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook for three minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a further minute.

Place the onion mixture, vegetables, beans, chilli flakes, paprika, bread and cumin in a food processor and blitz until well combined. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Alternatively, place in a large mixing bowl and mash together with a potato masher or fork until well combined.

Shape the mixture into four large burgers. Put the oats or seeds on a plate and coat the burgers. Place the burgers on an oiled baking tray then brush with olive oil. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until they are lightly browned and crisp on the outside.

In a separate bowl, make the salsa by combining all the ingredients together. Place burgers in toasted wholemeal baps with rocket, slices of avocado and tomato salsa.


(Makes 16 balls)

125g ready-to-eat soft or Medjool dates (or use standard dried dates: Leave them to soak in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, then drain)

100g ground almonds

75g rolled oats

2tsp almond or peanut butter

1tbsp cocoa powder

To coat:

Cocoa powder, sesame seeds, finely chopped pistachios, finely chopped mixed nuts, desiccated coconut, or chocolate chips

Place the dates in a food processor with the almonds, oats, nut butter and cocoa powder, and process for two to three minutes until you have a very stiff paste. You may need to scrape down the mixture from the sides of the bowl a few times.

Take a small amount of mixture and roll it between your hands to make small, bite-sized balls. Choose your coating, spread it onto a large plate, then roll each ball around until nicely coated. Place in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to three months.


(Serves 4)

2tbsp light olive or rapeseed oil

1 onion, chopped

1 leek, washed and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

400g turkey breast steaks, cut into 1cm strips

2tbsp medium curry paste

200g brown basmati rice

500ml chicken stock (or 1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 500ml boiling water)

1 head broccoli, broken into florets

100g frozen peas

A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

To serve:

Plain Greek yogurt

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat, add the onion and leek and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and turkey and continue cooking for a further two to three minutes. Stir in the curry paste, rice and stock. Bring to the boil, cover and cook on a low heat for 25 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid.

Stir in the broccoli, continue to cook for five minutes, then add the peas and continue cooking for a further five minutes, adding a little more stock or water if necessary. Stir in the parsley, season to taste and serve topped with a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt.

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