On your last visit, I gave you a quick-and-dirty explanation for how runners’ bodies use fat and carbs for fuel, and I promised some primo tips for making sure that you get to the start line of your race with a full fuel tank.
But before going much further, I have to give a little disclaimer: While there are a broad set of generally accepted rules and recommendations for fueling your body for exercise, what works well for someone else may not work for you. That means that your running buddy’s perfect pre-race meal or mid-race gel may cause you a miserable race with umpteen stops at the porto-potties.
That’s the concept of “bio-individuality,” and I bring it up with my clients frequently. If you know a certain food or routine just doesn’t agree with you, don’t force yourself to follow a recommendation if you can find a reasonable substitute.
Okay, so back to the question at hand:
What is the best way to eat so I’m not setting myself up to crash into “The Wall” and have a terrible, painful marathon or half-marathon?
Long before you get to the start line, there are plenty of nutritional tweaks you can make to get your body ready for the race. Can you guess the number one recommendation I make to my clients?
Eat quality food!
Sounds a lot easier than it is. All day we’re pitched ads about supposedly healthy foods that are actually pretty junk-y. A prime example is low-fat yogurt. The women in the commercials look happy, fit and healthy, but before you trust the paid spokeswoman in a zillion-dollar advertising campaign, read the label for yourself. You may be surprised that a food marketed as a healthy choice for slim, active people may contain high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweetener like aspartame and/or gelatin made from beef hides (yes, beef hides is exactly what is sounds like).
This topic is fodder for many, many (many, many) more blogs, but I tell my clients, if it comes in a bag or a box, read the label. If the label has ingredients that are unpronounceable, or if those ingredients sound like chemicals made in a lab, this may not be a quality food.
“Why is quality food so important for runners? Isn’t quality actually less important since we burn up everything we eat anyway?”
I hear this all the time. Yes, you may be burning more calories, but that’s exactly why you need more nutrients than ever. You deserve the best fuel you can get to repair your cells and prepare you for the next workout (plus your immune system is compromised by all your hard workouts!). It’s a worn out analogy, but it’s a good one: Don’t fuel the Ferrari with the cheap gas or it will run like crap. Applies to humans, too.
When you focus on quality, you’re less likely to overeat, too. Think about it: An apple and a chocolate chip cookie each has roughly 100 calories. I bet you can only eat one apple at a time, but you could probably eat 3-4 cookies without blinking (OK, I could eat 3-4 cookies without blinking), getting four times the calories without the nutrients and fiber of the apple!
Between now and your fall marathon, the largest part of your diet should be…
1. Vegetables and Fruits. Loaded with healthy carbohydrates, vitamins & minerals and antioxidants, the produce department is your friend during marathon training season! Look for what’s in season to get the freshest produce and the best deals, or better yet, visit your farmers’ market and buy directly from the growers. That means lots of green salads, starchy fall vegetables like potatoes, squash and yams. Apples and pears are looking fantastic now.
2. Nuts and Seeds should be right behind fruits and vegetables. If a tiny walnut can grow into a massive walnut tree, imagine what it can do for your cells!
3. and 4. Whole Grains and Lean Proteins should be the next foods on your list. And “whole grains” doesn’t mean “whole grain flour.” It means actually eating the grains themselves, like whole oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, farro or amaranth, all delicious and easy to cook with a bit of vegetable broth and some chopped onion with dinner, or with a bit of cinnamon and a splash of pure maple syrup for breakfast.
Remember that after your training runs, your cells are super-receptive to taking in and storing carbohydrates. Post run smoothies and energy bars are a great choice. Get a good mix of carbohydrates and protein to re-fuel your stores and repair your worked-over muscles. A smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit, peanut (or another nut) butter and a natural protein powder makes a great recovery drink! Mix in leafy greens or dark berries for antioxidants to protect against cell damage.
I’ll be posting recipes here incorporating quality whole foods, so keep checking back!
At the bottom of your list? Refined grains, sweets and highly processed food that comes in a bag or box with strange chemically ingredients made in a lab. Still not sure how to choose quality foods? Get in touch with me for a free consultation and to see if a health coach is right for you.
OK, so let’s say that you’ve made it through most of your training, and you’re heading to the taper period. (For newbies and non-runners, the taper is a period somewhere from 1-3 weeks before the big race where runners begin running a bit less to allow their bodies to heal and recover so they’re in great shape on race day.) What do you eat during the taper to prevent hitting the wall? And what about the carbo load?! Look for my next post in the coming week….
Can’t wait till then? Or are you interested in working with me one-on-one to prepare for your race? Get in touch for a free consultation!