This year’s running season is in full swing in Adelaide where I live, and as a former New South Welshman, I am very much aware of the hype around the City-to-Surf as it gets closer. But all over the country, there are fun runs – big and small – and whether this is your first ever fun run and your goal is to finish, or you are racing for a time, it is important to consider good nutrition in order to get the most out of your run.
Here’s how you can use good nutrition to optimise your training and have enough energy to enjoy the victory at the end.
It’s not just about race day
If you have recently commenced running regularly or have stepped up the training for a specific goal, it is important to eat well on a day-to-day basis in order to have enough energy to train well and back up for the next session.
To put it simply, your body is like a car, it runs better on good quality petrol versus the nasty cheap stuff. So make the most of nourishing foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, legumes, lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts and grains when planning your meals and snacks. To fit the necessary variety of nutrients in and sustain your energy levels, it is important not to skip meals and plan your snacks around training if you require an extra boost.
Carbs are not the enemy. In fact, they are your savour when providing the energy that is needed to run and recover. Your body’s preferred fuel source is carbohydrate, just like your car’s is the petrol that comes at a premium price. In fact, the brain is quiet particular and will only use carbohydrate for energy.
Include carbohydrates such as nourishing breakfast cereals, fruit, milk, starchy vegetables, rice, quinoa and pasta with each your main meals. Leaving out the carbs can leave you feeling flat and fatigued, not ideal for the training ahead.
The next component of any main meal should be protein, an important building block for our muscles to help us repair and recover from a training session.
Try to include some good quality protein at each of your meals aiming for an even distribution of protein across the day. This way of consuming protein is more effective for recovery. Protein sources may include eggs, nuts, tinned fish, chicken, meat, dairy foods or legumes such as baked beans or chickpeas. Against common belief most people consume more protein than what is required when they enjoy a healthy, balanced diet.
Balancing the carbs and protein with some healthy fats and plenty of vegetables will ensure you are on your way to eating well for training and life in general.
Anyone who has experienced dehydration will know too well that it is very difficult to function during this state. If exercising when dehydrated you can find it challenging to concentrate, feel fatigued and experience increases in body temperature and heart rate. In actual fact, if you lose 2% of your body weight (that’s 2L of fluid!) during exercise, this is enough to make you feel lousy and decrease your performance.
There is no exact amount a person should drink each day with people’s requirements varying depending on many factors. However, here are some simple tips to get you started:
- Drink well through the day.
- Begin training well hydrated.
- Don’t wait until your thirsty to hydrate.
- During a run lasting an hour or less, water is likely enough to keep you hydrated.
- When running for more than an hour you will likely require a sports drink to replace the fluid, electrolytes and glucose you may have lost at this stage.
- Replace your fluid losses by drinking well after training or an event.
Eating before a run
Should you, or shouldn’t you? This is a very common question. Eating some carbs before you run, whether it is training or an event, can give you the extra boost you need to get through to the finish.
When it comes to morning training runs, crawling out of bed at a dark hour is an achievement enough I hear you thinking.
Just have a think about the meal you had the night before and what training session lays ahead. If you had a good meal with plenty of carbs the night before and your planned run is less than hour at a low-to-moderate intensity, you may be able to get away with skipping a snack. If your opting for a longer session at a higher intensity you will likely benefit from a quick easily digested snack such as a crumpet with honey, some sports drink or a slice of toast with jam.
You don’t want to start your first fun run feeling full and bloated, or on the other hand fatigued and empty.
The secret to feeling comfortable on the starting line is to get the timing and the nutrient mix right. Aim to have your pre-event meal 2-4 hours before the start (this could mean an early morning start). This will give you time to digest the meal allowing your body to optimise the benefits. This meal should contain some fluids, be easy to digest, familiar to you, high in carbohydrate and low in fat. This may be your usual breakfast cereal, some raisin toast and a banana or crumpets with honey.
If running in the afternoon have your main meal containing carbohydrates 2-3 hours before the run followed by a light snack 1-2 hours before the run. It’s the carbohydrates that are important at this stage to ensure your muscles get enough energy to get you off the start line and hopefully keep you going for the next hour.
If nerves get the better of you, or if you have less than 2 hours before the start of the fun run keep it simple with an easily digested carbohydrate containing drink such as sports drink or a liquid meal supplement.
Like all things when it comes to nutrition, what and when you eat before exercise is highly individual so play around with some of these tips to see what suits you best.
Recovery is key
Eating soon after (the sooner the better) your training or your fun run will ensure you are on your way to feeling prepared for what’s next ahead.
A tired muscle is looking for its favourite energy source and yes you guessed it, carbs! It also likes some protein to help repair any damage that may have occurred.
Fluid is also important during this time. One of the best recovery fluids is milk as it contains the carbs, protein, fluid and electrolytes. So why not try a fruit smoothie or enjoy that skinny latte with your meal that you may often feel guilty about having (trust me you shouldn’t).
Other balanced meals for recovery include:
- 3 eggs omelette on toast
- a bowl of cereal with milk and a tub of yoghurt
- rolls with ham, cheese and salad
- baked beans on toast
- 120g (raw) of lean meat with vegetables and rice.
Eating during the run
For a fun run lasting less than hour, water will likely be enough to get you comfortably through to the finish line.
For longer distances and higher intensity runs the muscles will need refuelling. This is when a sports drink is handy as it provides the carbohydrate, electrolytes and fluid formulated for optimal refuelling and hydration, without the stomach upset.
For those running a half or full marathon you should consider a set plan to time your refuelling. This may include a combination of carbohydrate gels, water and sports drinking providing you with 30-60g of carbohydrate an hour. Those competing at high intensity or aiming for even longer distances should see an Accredited Sports Dietitian to formulate a plan and optimise refuelling as you are likely to need more carbohydrates per hour to get you across the line.
Of course, you also want to make sure you have the right shoes during your run. Visit Runnerclick for more information about the best running shoes for you.
Whatever your goal is I hope these tips provide you with some practical advice to get you started.