For any long distance runner, a Running Nutrition strategy is an absolute necessity. Do this wrong or don’t practice it before race day and you are risking failure. Is hard enough for our running bodies to cover the long distance add dehydration and/or lack of Carbohydrates and you have the “Bonk”. But not all fuel is created equally and not all runners can follow the same fueling techniques.
You should practice your hydration strategy during your long runs. After a few of those runs you should be able to dial in to exactly what works for you. Carry your hydration so you can sip along the course. This way you can avoid the slowing crowded runners at the water stops. Besides, the race may not be offering the same products you are used to hydrate with. If you don’t want to carry a bottle (or two) with you check with the race administrators to find out what they will be offering at the race. During your long runs practice with those same products. If you don’t want to carry your bottle, you may want to place water bottles along your route or park your car on a loop of 3-4 miles long so that you have access to your hydration . I personally carry my own bottle. On longer runs I double the concentration so I don’t have to carry more than one bottle. It works for me but may not for you. Practice it!
Fueling your Long Run
Glucose, sugar-the simplest of all Carbohydrates, is the main source of fuel in our body. Stored as Glycogen in our muscles and liver is the fasted burning fuel. A well-trained runner has about two hours of Glycogen supply to burn. It is very important to replenish the stores of it to avoid hitting the “Wall”. Again something you have to practice on your long runs along with hydration. Fuel is easy to carry with you. Raisins, dates, gummy bears, gels etc. all should fit in your short pockets. Find out what the race will be offering and practice with it if you don’t want to carry it. Always take 3-4 ounces of water (2-3 sips) with any fuel, it will be distributed to your muscles quicker.
Glycemic indexes for common sugars Scale: 0-100 where 100 raises blood glucose levels fastest
high fructose corn syrup ~78
agave nectar, raw honey ~30
brown rice syrup ~25
Choose your sugars wisely. Slow burning sugars (low glycemic) will burn slower and will sit in your stomach longer which can give you digestive problems while running.
Dialing in your Nutrition is never easy but with practice you will find what works the best for you. As with Everything else don’t try anything new on race day.
Imagine your running body having a gas tank like that of your car. You fill up and go till it runs out. How far did you get? Can you go further with the same tank? Yes you can by increasing your aerobic capacity. There have been many studies about the affect of aerobic capacity and our running bodies. Reference
Most of the running we do as runners is in the Aerobic state. Meaning that our muscles get all the energy they need through Oxygen absorption. But first let’s take a look at how our running body generates the energy to run. Described in the simplest way: When we breathe air, Oxygen gets into our lungs, from there it catches a ride on the red cells in our blood and travels to the heart. The heart will then send the oxygenated blood to our working muscles. Once there, Oxygen will burn Glucose into energy (called ATP) for the muscles. Then as we exhale we get rid of the by-products that are CO2 and water vapor. The faster we run the higher the demand for Oxygen from the muscles and the more blood the heart will have to send. Thus the faster breathing with faster running.
Improving Running Economy
The more Oxygen our body can absorb the higher energy return for the muscles. Therefore our ability to absorb higher amounts of Oxygen (VO2Max) out of the blood makes us faster. Very well trained runners will have the highest absorption of Oxygen. Although some people have the genetic gift of high VO2Max there’s hope for the rest of us too. We can improve our VO2Max by running at faster paces, also called Speed training workouts about once per week. That is not running at an all-out effort. Instead is a little faster than Cruise Intervals pace, or when you feel your breathing getting much faster while your pace is increasing, a little faster than our 5K pace. Fast but not uncomfortable.
Speed workouts are very beneficial when done right. This is the Fast Stuff in our training and should be done once a week for most of us. These workouts not only increase our VO2Max but help us learn to stay focused and become more familiar with some of the suffering while racing.
Here is a sample of Speed Workouts:
8-10 times (1:00 minute Fast with 1:00 minute easy jog).
4-6 times (3:00 minute Fast with 2:00 minute easy jog).
3-5 times (5:00 minute Fast with 3:00 minute easy jog).
As with every workout make sure you start with an easy run for 10-20 minutes to warm up. During warm up the body gets ready by activating our neuromuscular system and setting up the delivery system of Oxygen and nutrients to our muscles so we are ready by the time the workout or race begin. Always end your speed workout with a Cool Down of 10 – 20 min easy run. This will flush any Lactic Acid build up in your legs and get you ready for the next workout. Speed workouts can be taxing to our bodies. Plan a day off or an easy run before and a day of rest the day after.
Our main source of energy has a bad name! If Fats were discovered today I’m sure they would be named differently. More like “energy nutrients” or the “9 calories per gram fuel cells” or “slow burning fuel” anything but Fats. We have painted a bad picture for the most important nutrient not only for runners but every person. Without them our body would not be able to absorb certain Vitamins and as mentioned already they are our main source of energy. Having said that not all Fats are created equal!
There’s the Good the Bad and the Ugly when it comes to Fats.
These are the healthy Fats. Also known as the Unsaturated (both mono- and poly-). Found mainly in vegetable oils (olive oil, canola, soy, corn…etc) and in nuts, seeds and fish. They should be available and consumed in your daily diet.
These Fats will kill you! They are the Trans Fats. Found in all processed foods and all the Junk food of course. Even at very small quantities they will cause all kinds of problems like coronary disease and more. These are the ones to avoid completely.
… and The Ugly
Known as Saturated Fats they are not as bad as their cousins the Trans Fats, but they can cause problems too. Moderation is the key here! I’m sure you’ve heard a Doctor talking about cutting back on red meats, butter, cheese and ice cream right?
So there you have it. Consume most of your Fats from the Unsaturated list (mono- and poly-). Cut back on the Saturated and eliminate all Trans Fats from your daily diet.
Protein, not just for runners but everyone striving for a balanced diet or planning to shed a few pounds should know a few things about it. According to the World Health Organization, humans need to get only 10 percent of their daily calories from Protein to maintain good health. But as runners we need more of it because running breaks down muscle and damages our muscle fibers.
Protein with every meal
According to researchers, by spreading your Protein intake throughout the day, your muscles receive a constant supply of the amino acids needed to build muscle and boost metabolism. However, if you consume too little at breakfast and too much at dinner, your body can’t build muscle throughout the day and is forced to store Protein as glucose or fat at night.
Protein intake timing for runners
After a hard run or workout timing your Protein intake is important. Within 30 minutes from your workout and up to 2 hours is the ideal window for recovery. For every pound of body weight you should consume 0.25gr of Protein for proper muscle Recovery. For example a 100lb runner should consume 25gr. and a 160lb runner 40gr. Of course you should include Carbohydrates with your recovery meal or shake and don’t forget to hydrate immediately after your workout. You should continue consuming more Protein with all your meals and snacks for the rest of the day. You want to aim for a total daily intake at 0.50gr per pound of body weight for light days. On heavier workout days or long mileage runs you should aim for 0.80gr. Although this is not a magic formula it works for me. I even add more Protein on days that I feel extra sore or sense an injury coming.
As a runner you may already know the importance of Carbohydrates in running performance. Some of us tend to think a lot about our fueling process (Carbs) during training and racing. Others very little and some not at all. For the large majority of runners we are probably consuming enough Carbs during the day to support our needs. But fine-tuning our Carb intake can make for greater results in our performance.
Personalizing your Carbohydrate intake
My general rule when it comes to my personal Nutrition is 60-20-20. That translates to 60% of total Calories come from Carbs, 20% from Protein and 20% from Fat. Although the percentages don’t change, the amounts do, depending on the day’s activities. For instance on a complete rest day I would try to consume enough Carbs to equal my minimum requirement of 2,100 Cals per day. That will be 2,100 x 60% (or 0.6) = 1,260 Cals from Carbs. On a different day, let’s say after a two-hour Long run I would burn approx. 1,100 Calories. So the day’s minimum total Caloric consumption would be 2,100+1,100=3,200 Cals. For that day the Carb requirement would be 3,200 x 60% (0.6) = 1,920 Cals from Carbs. It is really very simple to calculate. And if you use My Fitness Pal is very easy to keep up with your daily Nutrition. It is a free app by the good folks at Under Armor that tracks your Calories and adjusts the total daily requirements according to your activity. Even if you tracked your Caloric intake for a few days you will get a good idea of your Nutritional habits.
Best times to take Carbs
Carbohydrates = Energy.
Generally you should consume most of your Carbs earlier in the day. Especially if you run/work out in the mornings is important to refuel early.
Before a hard workout. Your body will respond better to the workout when its fuel reserves are topped.
During a Long run. Your body will thank you for re-stocking some of its fuel while is working so hard for you.
Always after your run. Post run, Carbs are important for recovery with a small amount of Protein (more about Protein on another Post) will feed your muscles.
Remember that Carbohydrates = Energy. When you feel you’re running (no pun intended) low is time to refuel.
Yesterday the training schedule called for Cruise Intervals. At 60°F the temperature was great but the 95% Humidity was a killer.
A couple of miles in the run my Garmin buzzed “run for 2000 meters” and I started pushing the effort to about 8:30 m/m pace which is my slower side of the Cruise Interval range (8:30m/m – 8:05m/m). It was almost a struggle to keep the pace for the duration. I did not carry water on this run because it was a 3 mile loop and I had the chance to grab a sip of water from my bottle every time I ran by my car. This was also a new route for me with a lot of uneven pavement which made things a little more challenging since I mostly running on flat roads.
When I finally finished my work out walked to my car to get the last out of my water bottle I realized how much I had been sweating during the run. My shirt was a darker color from wicking sweat and my legs were covered with sweat droplets. During the Winter we don’t think much about hydration and Electrolytes because…well is Winter. On my ride back home I was thinking to myself if I had made this workout harder than it should be by not hydrating properly before and not taking electrolytes.
Tomorrow’s workout is a Steady State Run. Weather predictions are very similar so it will be Hydration and Electrolytes and see what difference will it make!