By: Chelan Wilkins – National Education Trainer
Whether you are gearing up for your first ½ marathon or this is your 3rd, you should know that the proper nutrition is just as important as your tempo runs, long runs and rest days. Think of nutrition like a car. You can’t get far with half a tank of gas or even worse an empty tank! Nutrition shouldn’t be complicated. It is all about eating WHOLE foods in the right amounts.
Nutrition shouldn’t be complicated. It is all about eating WHOLE foods in the right amounts.
What our body requires are specific macro nutrients!
These consist of 3 things:
- Proteins (Muscle growth/recovery, cell regeneration)
- Complex / Fibrous Carbohydrates (fuel for our muscles, brain function)
- Healthy Fats (energy, brain function, hormone production)
Runners require a higher amount of Carbohydrates which are responsible for supplying glycogen (the fuel stored in our muscles). Glycogen is like the gas you put in your car, the better carb you choose, the better you will perform. It is important to make sure that not only do you eat enough carbs before you go for your run but to make sure you consume quick acting carbohydrates during it and especially post to ensure your muscles have adequate amounts of energy. A huge component in preventing what runners call “bonking”.
Bonking is the dreaded condition when you run out of energy, your muscles start to cramp, and your legs feel like bricks. Bonking (hitting the wall) happens when your muscles have run out of glycogen!
What you eat pre, during and post runs leading up to race day will determine that amount of glycogen stores you have. Glycogen will slowly accumulate in your muscles. Ideally, you want to start to gradually increase your carbohydrate consumption around two weeks before your race. Between 80-95% of your food intake should be good, clean sources of complex carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, fruits).
There are lots of pre-race rituals out there, including the large carb meal the night before. However, I don’t agree with “carb loading” the night before a race. The reason being, your muscles are only absorbing 30 % of those carbs before your liver ends up storing them as fat. Eating something heavy the night before or something new can also leave you feeling full, lethargic from the large amounts of carbs your body is trying to break down and even nauseous on race day
That’s is where the importance of planning out your nutrition a head of time comes in. You can slowly and efficiently build up your glycogen stores leading to better run times, better recovery times and reduced injuries or burn outs.
So where should you start with your nutrition? Let’s keep it simple and break it down into the three critical areas:
- Pre –Run
- During Run (30-40 minutes in)
- Post Run
Your Pre- Run nutrition should be consumed at least 2-3 hours before your race. This meal should be around 3-400 calories and contain at least 30-50grams of carbohydrates. Ideally, you want to focus on a higher carb meal, with minimal protein or fat as they digest slowly and can hinder some of your energy. Your body needs fast absorbing carbohydrates that will spike your insulin levels and sends fuel to the working muscles that need it. If you are running a longer distance, try having a quick snack and water 30-45 minutes before your race can be beneficial. (sports gel, banana slices, chews)
Pre-Run: Breakfast options
- Oatmeal with ¼ cup blueberries or I full banana’, one cooked egg
- Two pieces of whole grain toast, Jam & Peanut butter
- Bagel with Cream Cheese cut up fruit
- Whole Wheat pancakes, maple syrup, fresh fruit, coconut oil
- 1 cup of coffee or tea / 1-2 cups of water before
During Run : 30-40 grams of carbs every 40+ minutes of running
- 2 fig Newton cookies
- 1-2 packages of honey
- ¼ cup of raisins
- Mashed up Banana in small bag (like a gel)
- Apple sauce package
- Two Medjool dates
- Sports Gel/ try to get a natural one
- Water (can add honey or ¼ Tsp of salt for electrolytes)
- Coconut Water
Post-Run : Within 30 minutes of finishing ( around 50 grams of carbs, 15 grams of protein )
- One full banana, Protein shake
- Cliff, Lara Bar (or homemade granola bar)
- Greek Yoghurt, granola, Berries
- Bagel with Jam & Peanut Butter
- Smoothie (berries, protein, almond milk)
- Salmon/quinoa, Grilled veggies
- Three egg Omelette with spinach & toast
Although there are plenty of race day fuel gels, chews and even sports recovery drink out there; I don’t like to use them. Most of them filled with un-natural ingredients, way too much sugar, can cause stomach upset, decay your teeth and have added colouring. If these products appeal to you, make sure you try them before your race. Don’t try anything new race day!
Though we receive a lot of our nutrients through our food, I also like to incorporate the use of supplements. The stress of training can take a toll on our bodies and as a Sports Nutritionist & Triathlete, I have found supplementing while training very effective. Here are a few of my favourite Organika products:
- Maca (great for energy, hormone support)
- Coconut Oil (excellent for energy and metabolism boosting)
- Enhanced Collagen (great source of protein, easy to digest)
- Spirulina (amazing superfood, complete plant based protein)
- Super Active Multi-Dophilus (supports your digestive tract)
- Bee Pollin (Anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, provides energy)
Anti-Oxidant & Anti-Inflammatory:
- Siberian Ginseng (great for energy, adrenal support)
- Salmon Oil (Omega, joint health, cognitive function )
- Glutamine (excellent for muscle recovery)
- Boswellia Curcumin (powerful antioxidant)
The last important detail for your race nutrition is hydration. Hydration is crucial for electrolyte balance, muscle fatigue/cramping, and your energy levels. Although there are hydration stations every few km’s, by the time you are feeling thirsty, it often already means your body is dehydrated. It is highly recommended to make sure that you stay well hydrated daily, especially a few days leading up to your race.
Here are a few tips to stay hydrated:
- Make sure to drink plenty of water daily. Depending on how much you sweat, you should aim for 2-3 litres a day.
- If you find you get thirsty while running, do your training with a fuel belt and take small sips as needed. Chugging water while you run can cause you unwanted cramps.
- Make sure to replenish your water post run; I often like to use the EMERGEN C packs to replace my electrolytes or I will have coconut water.
- DO NOT drink alcohol 48 hours before your run. Alcohol is dehydrating as well. It can stress your liver which will deplete your energy levels.
- Limit your caffeine consumption to 1 cup a day a few days before. Caffeine is known to dehydrate you two full cups of water.
Think of your nutrition in the same importance as your runs. The more you do it and stay on target, the easier it gets. Planning and finding what works for you is the best advice I can give. Keep your nutrition simple and uncomplicated. Focus on understanding what foods do what to your body, and pay attention to how you feel after you eat certain foods. Keep a food log, that way you can go back to see what you ate when you lethargic, cramps or had enough energy to keep going. These tools will help you perform your best on race day!
Chelan Wilkins CNP , National Education Trainer OrganikaReferences
http://www.halfmarathons.net/nutrition-the-other-half-of-your-training-plan/ – by Carrissa Liebowitz
https://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/running/tips/runners-foods-to-eat/ – Fuel for your run: Nutrition for training and racing by Yael Lipton.