Running can come with its challenges and I most definitely found this out the hard way attempting to run my first (and potentially last) marathon earlier this year! Blisters aside, I found out the hard way that nutrition can be the big difference between 'hitting the wall' and having a memorable day out.
You spend a great deal of time and energy getting yourself fit and strong for your running event, but it's just as important not to overlook your race day nutrition plan. You can be the fittest & strongest you could be on race day, but if your nutrition is off then you won't be able to correctly fuel your body to perform. Race day nutrition plans require prior practice during training so here are some hints to get you on your way to race ready.
Pre training fuel.
The first step is to get as many nutrients into you as possible to fuel your training session. This will assist with achieving fitness faster and to help recover quickly between sessions. For early morning training sessions ideally we want a snack at least 30 minutes before, however if you are time poor and your run is under 1 hour then training on empty can be an option. Coffee can help out here as it will not only help to stimulate your mind, but elevate your heart rate and therefore you may gain a better response from your training. If you're planning to have a snack before your training run, aim for high carbohydrate foods for muscle fuel and low fibre content for fast digestion.
Pre-training snack ideas:
- Natural muesli with milk (or rice/almond/soy/oat milk alternative)
- Banana Berry smoothie
- Cruskits (or similar crisp breads)
Confused what to drink and when?
Ideally sessions that are intense, hot, humid or over 1 hour require more than plain water. Dehydration is a major cause of fatigue therefore isn’t your friend when it comes to training. How much fluid to consume is dependent on a number of factors, however generally in if you are running for over 1 hour, work towards an intake of approximately 400-500ml per hour. This can seem like a lot if you're not used to drinking on the go so start with small sips every 5-10 minutes and build up to larger mouthfuls to meet your fluid needs.
Fuelling longer sessions.
During high intensity training sessions over 60 minutes or moderate intensity sessions over 90 minutes a nutrition strategy will be worth its weight in gold. Carbohydrates are our main muscle fuel so high carbohydrate foods and supplements will effectively fuel muscles. Your size and gender along with training intensity and environment all play a part in determining requirements however generally 30-60g per hour will be sufficient.
You can also consume carbohydrates and protein from food sources, such as sports bars or gels. Remember what works for someone else may not work for you so practice a variety of different foods and don't be afraid to add real food into the mix.
‘Real’ food suggestions (containing around 50g of carbohydrates):
- Jam sandwich (2 thick slices with 4t jam)
- 2 x muesli bars (or 1 large Primal Pantry bar)
- 2 x banana
- Cinnamon and raisin bagel
- Cheese and marmite/vegemite melt bagel
- 1000ml of sports drink
These are all easily digestible carbohydrates that will help with fast digestion.
Tip: If you’re choosing a packaged food, check the 100g column on the label and aim for options with <10g (10%) fat total and <5g (5%) of fibre.
If you are susceptible to gastric problems (stomach pains) due to nerves or other factors, sticking to low fibre foods (white breads) or liquid meals before a race can help alleviate symptoms. The 50g of carbohydrates mentioned (e.g white bread, honey/jam, muesli bars, etc) are all easily digestible low fibre options. Often, it is best to run on an empty stomach, with the pre-race/training meals eaten well in advance. If this is not practical (e.g. early morning session/race), a sports drink or gel taken before, or during the run, may be advisable. A great tip is to stick to what you know and to limit trying new foods before a race. Practise first in training to see if your body can tolerate it.
Running will not only challenge the runner’s carbohydrate stores, but also cause some damage to muscle fibres, which can delay recovery. Strategic intake of carbohydrate rich and quality protein foods soon after training will enhance the rate of muscle glycogen uptake. The result? Better training adaptation and quicker recovery. Thats a win win scenario.
Author: Marewa Sutherland
Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, University of Otago) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition.