S.M.A.R.T. Nutritional Goal Setting

S.M.A.R.T goal setting is a fantastic way to look at running, healthy eating and life. It’s an acronym from Paul J. Meyer’s book Attitude is Everything. It supports the goal-setting process. It’s a way to look at goal-setting as specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. In other words, it’s just a smart (or, in this case, S.M.A.R.T.) approach to running nutrition.



Goals should be thought of as specific or detailed. When thinking of specific nutritional goals for training consider the what, who, when, where, which and why of the goal being set. Narrowing down the specifics of a nutritional goal makes it more likely to promote a positive result.

Let’s say you struggle with hard to control sugar cravings and binges. You wish to replace the sugar spree with more nutritious, nutrient-dense foods to better fuel training. It may be tempting to say, “Tomorrow I will give up all sweets completely.” This may last a couple weeks (at best) before caving to old sugar-rich eating habits.

Instead try making smaller and more specific goals. “This week I will no longer eat a cookie with my daily lunchtime sandwich. I will substitute my cookie with a piece of nutrient-dense fruit or larger serving of complex carbohydrates.” Another example could be, “In order to cut less than ideal sugar kilojoules I will no longer top my oats with a heap of brown sugar. Instead, this week I will replace the brown sugar with nutrient-dense fresh or dried fruit.” A training-specific nutritional goal might sound something like this: “I will implement marathon-day nutrition during six out of my 10 weekend long runs this training cycle to better prepare for the marathon.”



When making a measureable goal, the question is: “How will I know when I’ve accomplished the goal?” There needs to be some sort of way to track progress. It’s like seeing workout splits or PBs drop as a measureable outcome to performance. Measureable outcomes with eating can be very rewarding. It will continue to drive the desire toward healthy eating.

One way to measure the cookie-eating habit mentioned above is to start tracking how long it takes to go through one package of cookies. The length of time it takes to go through one package can be a measureable outcome. If a pack of cookies that used to last only a few days now lasts a couple weeks, you are on the right path toward success.

Nutritional goals can also be measured through running performance. Compare splits and perceived exertion between a marathon goal pace run both with and without proper fuelling. Start documenting any measureable differences between the two types of runs. This is more likely to encourage the desire to implement proper fueling during long or hard efforts.



I feel the “A” in attainable can also stand for attitude. What is going to be done to make this goal happen? It’s important to place yourself in a position to reach set goals. If the cookies and brownies at the post-club-run snack table are too tempting to resist, come prepared with a nutritious post-run snack to munch on instead of the sugar-rich snack table. This reduces the temptation to eat the sweets and offers a better source of nutrition to refuel from training.



It can be hard to suppress the competitive desire to set big goals. It’s part of what keeps us aggressive and successful with racing and training. Even big goals need to have small goals along the way. It doesn’t make sense for a beginning runner to set out for a 100-kilometre race after only a month of training. Building at various training and race distances will leave the runner more likely to successfully complete a 100-kilometre race.

The bar should be set high enough that it’s realistically attainable. If you’re expecting a 19-second-per-kilometre drop because marathon nutrition fuelling was implemented on a long run, you may be expecting too much. However, improved perceived level of exertion may be the perfect confidence booster to prepare for race day.



“I’m not going to do well today. I’ll just start again tomorrow.” Have you ever started and re-started goals? Goals need a timeframe in which to be completed, a deadline. Leaving the timeframe too vague can lead to a lack of progress.

If you’ve got a training calendar available it would be useful to mark the workout dates in which race-day nutrition will be implemented. Maybe even mark several dates to take a sweat rate. Marking such dates on the calendar, whether long-term or short-term, can support performance nutrition follow-through.


It doesn’t really matter what goal is being set to achieve. S.M.A.R.T. goal setting is a fantastic tool for keeping focused and on task in reaching our true potential.


Jackie Dikos is a 2:45 marathoner and mother of two.


Coach Marathon

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