Just like a high performance sports car, your body needs the proper fuel to perform at a peak level. Our fuel needs are just one of the many ways that elite runners are different than the rest of us. One of the things that Abdi Abdirahman said at the Chicago Marathon kick off when ask what he ate, he said “Anything I want, with the exception of fast food.” Those of us who are not putting in 100+ miles per week, trying to maintain or lose some weight, or who will take longer than a couple hours to complete a race may have different needs. Going into my training for the Flying Pig Marathon and continuing for the Chicago Marathon, I wanted to lose some weight to somewhat ease the somewhat on my legs, but doing it the right way while still ensuring that my body had the fuel it needed to train hard. There are different aspects to consider: pre run, during, post run, and rest days.
Depending on how long or far you are running, fueling up before you start can be very important. This is what provides your body with the energy to keep going, but the amount of fuel needed will vary depending on distance. For me, anything more than a couple miles, I need to have eaten before heading out for my run. I tend to keep it simple with mainly carbs and then some protein and fat. I have seen recommendations for as much as a 75%/25% split between carbs and protein/fat, but I am generally not that scientific. My pre long run (anything over 5 miles) fuel generally consists of a plain bagel with peanut butter, a PowerBar or Clif Bar or two and a banana. The amount will very depending on the distance I am going. Recently I added a couple of hard boiled eggs as my long runs have gotten longer. Equally as important is your pre run hydration, you will need as much as 16 oz of fluid one hour before your run to keep your muscles properly hydrated because once you start to feel dehydrated, and it’s too late. You can and should start hydrating the day before your run to aid in hydration during your run.
For us mere mortals, as the mileage increases we will need to refuel on the run. I can generally make it up to about 10 miles, and sometimes half marathon distance, until I need to refuel. You will want something to provide easily accessible carbs such as: candy, Sport Beans, Shot Blocks, gels, or dried fruits or raw nuts. I prefer vanilla or chocolate Clif Shots or Orange Sport Beans, but experiment with different options and flavors to see what works for you. Granted it can be a pain to carry this stuff with you on your run, but it will provide the boost that you need and help avoid the “Bonk”. Hydration continues to be important; I say drink early and often. Small sips early on can make all the difference.
Eating after a run finished can be interesting. In all the half marathons I have run, I had no desire to eat anything right away, then after the marathon I had a brat that really hit the spot. Either way, you will want to get something in your system within 30-60 minutes of finishing. That is when your body most needs the nutrients to repair muscle tissue and replace glycogen stores. You will want to have a good mix of protein and carbs. One item that has the ideal mix of carbs and protein (plus it tastes good) is chocolate milk. Is has been shown to be as effective as Gatorade at speeding recovery.
As I mentioned earlier with my training, I wanted to lose some weight the right way while keeping properly fueled. I met with Patti Schmidt, a registered dietitian, at my local YMCA, and the first thing she had me do was track my daily consumption for a week or two: what, how much, when, and how I felt. Then we met again to go over my goals and how to get there. Based on my goals she recommended at split of 55% Carbs (345g), 25% healthy fats (70g) and 20% protein (125g) and then I was to continue to track what I ate using an online tracking program such as the one found on www.livestrong.com. We also discussed caloric intake based on mileage to including some snacks during the day to make sure that I am properly fueled for my training run. I lost 10 lbs over the first 6-8 weeks then I lost a little focus as the mileage increased as I was hungrier more often. With my training peaking over the next five weeks, I am back to tracking everything and hopefully I can shed a few more pounds prior to race day.
Nutrition was always something that I took for granted, I ran so I ate what I wanted. As the mileage increase last year for the marathon, I ate more, and then after the race I continued to eat at the same level and I gained weight. I have always taken an educated approach to my running, and I have decided that it was equally important to take the same approach to nutrition. I am in week 11 of my training now, and while I have not always eaten properly, I have been feeling pretty good, I feel that I have the fuel I need, and I have been able to drop some weight. Now as the mileage increase I need to continue to keep my eye on the ball.
What works for me may not work for you, so it is important to experiment a little until you find the right combination to maximize your outcomes, whatever they may be.