Vivienne Law, Coach

This  article isn’t meant as a guide for one particular distance, such as a Marathon but is is more about information on healthy eating, how to work out your calorie requirements and an example meal plan to get you started.

I suspect that most, if not all of you, know quite a bit about healthy eating.  There’s lots of information around now, however if you read the papers scientists are always changing their minds about what we should eat.  Not true!  Granted there are always new research papers coming out with slight changes but essentially things haven’t really changed for the last 25 odd years, honest!

In terms of healthy eating, the easiest way to make sure that we are eating a well balanced diet, which provides all the nutrition we need, is to look at food groups.  There are five food groups as follows:

  1. Bread, potatoes and other cereals, which include rice, pasta, noodles, oats.  These provide us with energy (in the form of carbohydrate), fibre, B vitamins and iron and should be eaten with each meal.  The more active we are, the more carbohydrate we need to eat.
  2. Fruit and vegetables.  These can be fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or in juice form and provide us with fibre, vitamins, minerals, particularly the antioxidants, vitamins A and C and Selenium.  We should all be eating at least five portions a day and to make it easy a portion is 2 tablespoons cooked vegetables, a small side salad, the amount of fruit we can hold in our hand or a small glass of juice.
  3. Meat, fish and alternatives, these being beans, pulses, eggs, soya products, nuts and seeds.  They provide us with protein, B vitamins and some with iron.  We should eat small portions twice a day, where a portion is 3 slices of meat, a small fish fillet, 2 eggs or 5 tablespoons of beans.
  4. Dairy products include milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais and provide us with protein, vitamins but most importantly calcium.  Ideally get the lower fat products and aim for 3 portions a day where a portion is a third of a pint of milk, a small carton of yoguhrt or a matchbox size piece of cheese (yes I know that’s small!).
  5. The last group and the one we should eat less of (shame!) are all the foods containing fat and sugar.  They are all the nice foods which make our diet taste good and I could be here all day going through the list of them!  Some of them do have benefits, margarine and butter give us essential fatty acids, and sugary foods give us carbohydrate which is quickly absorbed to provide us with instant energy during long runs or races.  However too much of this group is never a good idea so we need to limit their amount.

Remember there are no good or bad foods, just good or bad combinations and it’s our whole diet which we need to look at not single foods within it.

We do need to make sure that we drink enough and no not the few pints of beer on a Wednesday night at the club!  We should aim for at least 1½ – 2 litres or 3 – 4 pints of fluid a day and obviously more when training.  It doesn’t need to be all water and can include tea, coffee, juices but at least half the amount should be water to make sure that we are well hydrated.  As a guide when you are training, drink 750mls for every 0.5kg of weight lost during the session.

Most people want to know how many calories they need to day on a daily basis and the following equation will help you.  However this is only an estimation and the only way to accurately know for each individual would be to get it measured in a research facility.  Something that’s not possible for most of us, I should know as I’ve tried and am too old or too fit, how can that be!

As estimations go though it’s not bad as my colleague has had her energy requirements accurately measured and they weren’t much different when she estimated them.

Anyway you need to know your weight in kilos to start with, and then use the equation below:


Estimate Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR):

Men                                                                Women

Age 18 – 30 = (weight in kg x 15.3) + 679     Age 18 – 30 = (weight in kg x 14.7) + 479

Age 31 – 60 = (weight in kg x 11.6) + 879     Age 31 – 60 = (weight in kg x 8.7) + 829

Age 60+      = (weight in kg x 13.5) + 487      Age 60+       = (weight in kg x 10.5) + 598

Example:  BMR for a 60kg woman aged 31 – 60 = (60 x 8.7) + 829 = 1351kcals


Then estimate your activity level:

Physical Activity Level (PAL)

Fairly active (exercise 1 – 2 x week) = 1.3

Moderately active (exercise 2 – 3 x week) = 1.4

Active (exercise hard more than 3 x week) = 1.5


Multiply your BMR by your PAL:

Example:  Active 60kg woman = 1351 x 1.5 = 2027kcals

To lose weight, reduce your calories by 15% or multiply the above by 0.85.

To gain weight, increase your calorie intake by 20% or multiply by 1.2.

I hope this gives you some idea to start off with and I’ve attached a sample meal plan to help.  The British Dietetic Association has some good fact sheets on healthy eating and low glycaemic index foods which you can download from their website

Vivienne Law


Example Meal PlanApproximately 2,000 kcals
1 bowl of cereal220
200mls semi-skimmed milk66
1 tsp sugar43
1 glass of orange juice72
1 current bun180
Scraping of low fat spread57
2 slices bread174
Scraping of low fat spread57
2 slices of lean meat80
1 carton of low fat yoghurt135
1 apple50
1 banana100
Evening meal
1 medium chicken breast176
1 large baked potato306
4 tablespoons cooked vegetables50
2 kiwi fruit60
1 slice toast85
Scraping of low fat spread57