While we exercise to get fit, and to burn calories, the right food is critical for an optimal workout. Answer: Your goal is to start the run feeling ready to run, not hungry and not bloated with food. Striking this balance takes a bit of work to learn your own personal needs, but once you have cracked the code your run and overall fitness will improve.
Here are some basic guidelines for your running nutrition, but first remember these two key elements of running nutrition:
#1 — Every workout is a chance to practice your race fuel and hydration plan, use it wisely!
#2 — You should never “bonk” or run out of fuel on a run. This will ruin your workout and set you back in terms of recovery and future workouts.
Pre-Run Meal Tips
Ideally you will have a proper meal approximately 90 minutes before your workout. This would be low-fiber and low-fat, with mostly carbohydrates. After eating you focus should shift towards making sure you are hydrated before heading out. Approximately fifteen minutes before your workout, you will want to top off your glycogen / energy stores with something simple such as an Energy Gel and 8 oz of water.
If you are running early in the morning or are unable to really get in a proper meal, here are some alternate food options:
Runs under an hour:
- Nature Valley Granola Bar
Runs over an hour:
- Peanut Butter and Banana on whole wheat.
During Your Run
The body of your run should see you fueling as you plan to on race day. How you plan to fuel your race is a function of the distance of the event, the predicted conditions and your target effort.
At the very least you’ll want to get in a bit of fluids, such as a sports drink, about every mile. On top of that you can use fuel such as an Energy Gel, with a target of at least 100 calories every 45 minutes (yes, the sports drink will also provide you with calories).
Depending on your speed and target race distance, some athletes can get away with not fueling on race day. Regardless, training is different and training to eat under duress will prepare you to handle food on race day if required.
My tool of choice for running nutrition is a Fuelbelt (www.fuelbelt.com). The multi-bottle system ensure no bouncing while providing me with sufficient fluids. The additional pockets store my food and even my music.
Post-Run Meal Tips
Recovering from every run is important, but it’s critical for your longer workouts as well as those hard interval sessions. There is a critical post workout window, a time where your muscle cells are more receptive to being replenished and rebuilt. When the right combination of nutrients is provided during this critical time interval there is an enormous enhancement in muscle recovery.
Your recovery target is ideally a beverage with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. There are many products on the market that provide this ratio, athletes can also make chocolate milk at home with skim milk (1 tsp of syrup for 8oz of Skim milk).
In addition to your recovery drink, you have a post-workout window where you can continue to refuel with more carbohydrate-heavy foods. The goal here is to ensure your body has what it needs to recovery so you don’t have late evening (or night!) food binges. The duration of the refueling window equals the workout time; the longer you workout the longer your window is! Food during this time can include more grains, ranging from breads (sandwich anyone?) to pretzels, etc.
Finally, after your longer workouts you will want to make sure that you have hydrated after any potential fluid loss. This really only affects those running in significant heat or humidity, or those running longer than an hour. It’s worth weighing yourself before and after your run, and note the difference. Every pound of weight lost is worth 16oz of fluids, so if you lose 4lbs on a long run you have 64oz of fluids to get back in!