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SALT LAKE CITY — Last week I drove behind a van with a boastful oval-shaped sticker in the rear window. It read “0.0”; as in 0.0 miles run in any race ever.
This sticker is humorous because in Utah this year there will be thousands of people running in the scheduled 110 half marathons and 29 marathons across the state — all of whom may be proudly displaying 26.2 or 13.1 oval stickers in a neighborhood near you.
A culture that supports physical fitness and endurance challenges of the mind and body is fantastic and can help encourage everyone, even those displaying 0.0 stickers, to move a little more each day.
Whether you’re a veteran or new to endurance racing on foot or bike, you can benefit from good nutrition to fuel your training and exercise performance.
Fueling during training
The most important principles of good nutrition to abide by during training are:
- Eat nutrient-dense foods (i.e. foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals and energy)
- Eat them consistently
Your goal during training is to ensure that you’re consuming enough high-quality calories to match the demands of training. This is not a time for dieting extremes and fads like high-protein diets or consumption of overly processed refined foods.
Your diet should be largely composed of high-quality carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a form of energy stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen, a fuel source that will power your early moments of runs and rides.
Whole-grain foods like barley, oats, brown and wild rices, whole wheat, quinoa and corn are great choices rich in carbohydrate energy as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals that help you make the most of that energy during the metabolic breakdown process. Other nutrient-dense carbohydrate choices include fruits, dairy, beans and starchy vegetables like squash and root vegetables like potatoes and carrots.
“Proper carb loading should focus on high-carb foods without too much fiber or fat. Some runner favorites include rice, tortillas, bread, potatoes and juices," she said.
"You can't fully load your muscles with glycogen in just one meal, so you should begin carb loading two to three days before your race," Haymond said. "Proper carb loading won't make you faster, but it will allow you to run your best and can help you avoid hitting the wall.”
Research has shown that certain carb loading protocols can significantly increase muscle and liver glycogen stores and subsequent race performance.
One such protocol dictates three days of moderate carbohydrate depletion (2.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day) with 90 minutes of hard training day one and 40 minutes of hard training days two and three, followed by three days of high carbohydrate intake (five grams per pound of bodyweight per day), moderate exercise for 20 minutes on days four and five, with rest on day six.*
In addition, eating enough protein during training is important for growth and repair of body tissues, especially muscle tissue. High-quality sources include nuts, seeds, beans, fish, eggs, dairy, poultry and lean cuts of beef, pork and game.
And of course do not forget water. Stay hydrated by consuming 64-80 ounces per day and by replacing the amount of water lost in sweat and respiration during exercise.
You can weigh yourself before and after runs or rides to get a rough idea of water lost. “Dehydration will often be the first culprit of fatigue and exhaustion during distance and aerobic training,” says Marisa Boaz, dietitian and athlete.
Timing of foods
The timing of meals and snacks becomes very important for endurance activities and training where exhaustive exercise occurs for more than two hours. Training is the time to test your body's rate of digestion and ability to handle food during exercise. It is during training that you test how much you can tolerate and what you can tolerate.
Boaz reminds runners to “get to know your body during training. What type of carbohydrate fuel can your body tolerate before aerobic exercise? At what mile or time will your body need water? What type of fuel will your body tolerate during prolonged exercise and after your workout?
“Every body is a little different, and factors such as humidity, wind, elevation, stress, a nervous stomach, etc., will affect your body’s needs and your ability to tolerate water, carbohydrates, electrolytes before, during and after your training,” she says.
A diet full of nutrient-rich foods not only ensures that you have the energy you require and needed repair materials, it also helps you maintain a healthy immune system to ward off sicknesses that can thwart even the most dedicated trainee.
Fueling during a race
Your goals during the race should be to eat foods that delay fatigue and minimize dehydration.
Before the race
As early as four hours before the race, eat a meal that is low in fat, moderate in protein and has about 0.5-2.0 grams of carbohydrate per pound of your body weight.*
Drink 2.5-3.5 milliliters of fluid per pound of body weight four hours before your event.* If you suspect you are under-hydrated, drink 1.5-2.5 milliliters per pound of body weight two hours before.* Consider sports drinks, homemade or otherwise, with added sugars and sodium to enhance the absorption of your fluids if your event is longer than an hour.
If you are a 150-pound person, your pre-race needs would be 75-300 grams of carbohydrates and 8-12 ounces of fluid. A meal could be a cup of oatmeal with one tablespoon of honey or brown sugar, a banana and a cup of chocolate milk (75 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 6 grams fat).
During the race
During the race you need to continually supply your body with the energy it needs to perform after its stores are depleted. To do this, you should drink a 4-8 percent glucose/water solution like Gatorade or Powerade.
It is a common misperception that sports drinks are consumed for electrolytes. Actually, the sugar content of sports drinks is very important for absorption of both electrolytes and water as they are transported together across the intestinal wall.
The goal is to have 30-60 grams of carbohydrate consumed every hour during the race, and a sports drink can help you achieve this. Aim for one cup, or eight ounces, every 15-20 minutes.* “Some people like to consume sports gels and chews, and while these may be good convenient options, they alone may not be high enough in carbohydrate,” reminds Boaz.
After the race
After the race it is important to eat a well-balanced, nutrient-dense meal. Eat a variety of whole foods, including fruits and vegetables, and don’t be too concerned with adding extra salt to meet your electrolyte needs.
For example, you could consume a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and pickles; greek yogurt with fruit, vegetables with hummus dip, and a tall glass of water. After that, let your hunger be your guide to help you consume the appropriate amount of food.
Drink 25 ounces (three cups) per pound of weight lost during the race.* If you lost three pounds during your race, you would need to drink nine cups or 72 ounces of water during your recovery.
*Numerical values are from "Nutrition for Sport and Exercise" by Marie Dunford and J. Andrew Doyle.