Whether it’s for a good cause or to boost general health, when clocking up your step count it is important to support your increase in steps with good nutrition.  Extra walking can sometimes mean extra energy is needed. It is important this extra energy comes from good quality, nutritious, slow release sources. This guide will talk you through the best tips for good nutrition when taking part in this year’s walking month.

  1. Energy – the extra steps and walking means that you may need a little more energy than before. It can when you are tired, be tempting to reach for the high sugar and high fat foods for a quick boost. These foods can give you a quick spike in energy and but can lead to an energy crash, leaving you feeling sluggish and even more tired. Instead choose high quality snacks and energy top-ups like fruit and vegetables. Hummus or peanut butter with these snacks add a little protein to an after-walk snack which is important for helping to build new muscle as you exercise. All fruit and vegetables are naturally gluten free and there are some hummus and peanut butter options on the food list to choose from.
  2. Short walks – if just building in a short walk to your daily routine you probably won’t need to add in any extra calories. Just make sure you are eating healthy balanced meals and good quality, nutritious snacks. This will help balance your energy levels and help prevent you from snacking on less nutritious foods if the extra walking makes you a little more peckish than usual.
  3. Long walks –If going for a walk (more than 1 hour) which is longer than your usual walk, make sure you have fuelled your body before setting off. This means a well-balanced meal with slow-release carbohydrates and proteins. If early in the morning make sure to have a good breakfast. Examples include: high fibre gluten-free breakfast cereal with fruit and yoghurt/milk or poached eggs with wholegrain gluten free bread and some sautéed spinach. For lunch you could have a whole grain gluten free ham, cheese and tomato sandwich. Or a gluten free whole meal wrap filled with protein (meat, egg, tuna, falafel, tofu) and your choice of vegetables. Including some fruit and vegetables before walk, will supply you with lots of essential vitamins and minerals needed for functioning of muscles and energy regulation.
  4. Training for long walking events – If choosing to do/build up to long walks there are more nutritional factors to consider. Some charity walks range from 20km – 100km. Perhaps you could be building yourself up to the Camino trail in Spain which reaches approximately 800km walked over 4 weeks. If planning to do long distance walks, training and nutrition to compliment this is really important. Training is important to prepare and build the body up for long and strenuous events. Training can put significant demands on energy supply and if energy is low the body can dip into muscle fuel stores. Therefore, when training, the right amount of carbohydrate is essential. If you are getting really serious about training for a big event maybe look at your carbohydrate intake with your dietitian to make sure you are taking the right amount for you. Consulting with your dietitian can also reassure you that any carbohydrate you are adding to your diet does not contain any source of hidden gluten. Again slow release good quality carbohydrates should be chosen so think whole grain gluten free cereals, gluten free oats (if you can tolerate oats), quinoa, buckwheat, jacket potatoes and lots of fruit and vegetables. Incorporate extra snacks and slightly larger meal portions on heavier training days. Extra snacks could include dairy foods like yoghurt and cheese, fruit and vegetables, a handful of nuts or gluten free wholegrain crackers with hummus or cheese. Depending on the level of competitiveness, timing of meals can also be important and something to consider.
  5. After your walks – After the walk make sure to refuel. You need to do this if you are in serious training.  If you have been out for a 30 minute walk you can wait for your next meal – or have one of the healthy snacks to keep you going. If you are walking for more than an hour at a birk pace, then your energy levels need to be topped up with slow release good quality carbohydrates.  It is also good to add some protein for for muscle repair and muscle building. Examples of meals which provide both of these are yoghurt with gluten free muesli, nuts, and seeds; or a sandwich with salad and chicken (or your choice of protein). Gluten free varieties can be found in the food list.  It is also very important to drink plenty of water after exercise to rehydrate. This is especially important during warm weather. If the walking becomes very intense (e.g. if you are sweating) in warm weather then you may need to replace salts and other substances(electrolytes) lost in sweat.  This does not mean reaching for the nearest bag of crisps! You may need a special rehydration drink e.g. sports drinks or you can make your own sports drink.  Mix 500mls of fruit juice with 500mls of water and add a pinch of salt.  Low fat or skimmed milk also works really well as an after-exercise drink – it will give you your electrolytes as well as protein and hydration.  If you are training at this level, it is worth talking to your dietitian about using sports drinks and hydration for sports.
  6. Social – walking can be a very social activity and maybe you are doing walking month to support a friend. If going for a bite to eat after a long walk try to choose healthy options, to keep the focus on the health aims of the month. Some restaurants that provide gluten free options can be found on the society restaurant list. Bring your own healthy snacks from home so you won’t end up buying unhealthy snacks out. Plan and prepare a picnic for after. If going for coffee, see can you limit the sugars you add – for your teeth as well as your overall health!
  7. Kids – Walking and any additional exercise has many health benefits for kids. There is also the added benefit of being outdoors which is good for children’s developing senses and to get some fresh air. Walking month is a great way to teach kids about the importance of exercise and a great way to do more exercise by making them feel a part of something. Lead by example – children do what you do and not what you say! To reap more health benefits from your child taking part in walking month, help make their meals as healthy and balanced as you can. If children seem tired and hungry don’t reach for chocolate and crisps as a quick snack. Plan ahead and give them healthy snacks like fruit, gluten-free crackers, yoghurt or veggie sticks.
  8. Hydration – Hydration is an important factor to consider as sweat increases which means more water is needed. Walking is a moderate activity so sweat rate may not increase as much as it would while running or cycling. However, hydration is still very important to keep on top of. This is especially if the weather is hot. Hot weather means the body has to excrete extra sweat to regulate the body temperature. More sweat means more body fluid is used and in turn more water is needed to replace this. The weather may not always be hot in Ireland but walking month takes place in July which is one of Irelands hottest months of the year. For this reason, when out and about walking in the hot weather it is important to keep hydrated. On long walks do take some water with you. Ask a friend to meet you with a water bottle or strap running water bottle to your arm. Good hydration is essential for peak physical and mental performance.
  9. Mental health – There is strong link between coeliac disease and anxiety and depression. A lot of this improves once you start a gluten free diet/. However, there is definitely some stress from having to manage what you eat all the time.  The benefits of walking to our mental health are well known. If this is one of the reasons you are taking part in walking month then do consider nutrition as a way to boost your mental health as well. A healthy balanced diet is important for good mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish are really important for brain health.  Try adding salmon, mackerel, sardines or trout to your meals.  They are a great source  of protein as well. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals while protein will help make important chemical messengers used by the brain. Try to add in more of these foods and nutrients into your diet to help boost your mental health during walking month.
  10. Injury – injury is always possible with any exercise. Stretching before you start and not rushing into a lot of exercise all at once can help. Proper nutrition can also to help prevent injury. Vitamins like vitamin D, E and C are really important and will also help you to build muscle as you train.  Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamin C.  you will find vitamin D in eggs and oily fish – but you really need to take a supplement to get all the vitamin D you need. You will find vitamin E in nuts, seeds and healthy oils like olive oil (but you only need a little!).  Protein can help build muscle and speed repair. Great protein sources which are naturally gluten free as well include meat, poultry, dairy (especially cheese and yoghurt), eggs and fish.You will also find protein in beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tofu. It is a good idea to include some protein in all meals of the day including breakfast.

By Sarah Kiernan, Nutrition, Food & Dietetics at the Coeliac Society of Ireland.