This is a guestpost from Twice the Health. To read more about them, head to the author box at the end of this post.
Endurance running can be tricky to fuel. Not only does it require a rather large appetite, it takes a hell of a lot of practice to get it right. We’re still pretty new to this, but we’ve definitely learned a thing or two in our time, taking nutrition experience from previous practice and applying it to our new training programme.
Here are our 5 top tips in making sure your run is a ‘good one’ each and every time you lace up:
Take your TIME
And no, we don’t mean enjoy an aimless wander to the finish line, here we’re talking about the power you’re taking on pre race. Fuel and hydrate at a slow and steady pace in the lead up to a long event.
Don’t go guzzling a load of water and a massive bowl of pasta moments before you step up to the start line. This late intake of food will only lead to digestive issues. Be sure to take fluid on slowly, so your body can store it in your cells. If water is taken on in large volumes over a short space of time then it is more likely to just pass through the body.
The same goes for food. Yes, carbohydrates are VITAL pre-race but be sure to keep your portion sizes sensible and frequent. This will help your body to store glycogen in your liver and muscles, and allow it to fully digest the excess before heading off on your adventure!
Trust in the Carb
The loyal carbohydrate will soon become your favourite companion when it comes to energy for endurance. If we’re really sharing secrets, the night before a race the BFFL title is always lost to our plate of pasta and for those precious ‘mealtime’ moments our four years of friendship takes second place to the piled high portion of nutrients.
It’s important to ensure you’re getting the right kinds of nutrients both pre and post race. If we’re talking dinner the night before we’re looking at low GI foods that provide longer-lasting energy. The same goes for post race, it’s all about getting in those complex carbohydrates to help fully replenish your glycogen stores (stored glucose). As we draw closer to the whistle, we turn to fast-acting higher GI carbs. They are digested quickly and offer just the energy spike you need pre race, also acting as a great pick me up during.
Some of our favourite ‘easy to access’ carb sources to consume in the lead up to race time are:
Bananas- Natures very own energy bar! They are easy to eat and digest and are loaded with fast-acting carbohydrates. Often we play the game ‘how many runners can you spot shoveling in a banana pre race’. We can guarantee you’ll see at least 5. They’re kind of the holy grail when it comes to top endurance snacks, plus combined with a portion of protein they are a great way to refuel, promoting recovery and repair to the tired muscles.
Low fat yoghurt- Stick to low fat to take full advantage of the high GI content. This is what makes it a top endurance snack, helping the carbs get to work quickly. Some yoghurts featuring fruit can be packed with unnecessary additions, so remember to try to opt for the brands with ‘no added sugar’!
Wholegrain pasta- This is a rich source of carbohydrate, both calorie dense and low GI. Pasta remains a staple addition to our ‘night before’ meal. This is thanks to it’s ability to be absorbed more slowly by the body offering a longer lasting energy source, keeping the legs ticking over as we delve into the many miles.
The Who’s, the What’s and the Why’s
Ok, we’ve covered the carb, but what about the fats and protein… where do they come into the endurance diet? Fats are well known for ‘speeding up the digestive process’, something you definitely do not want whilst mid marathon but this is not to say they don’t have their place in pre and post race nutrition. Long gone are the days where fats were thought to make us fat, in fact several studies have shown the complete opposite.
Let’s get a bit techy! Fat is used in the body for three primary reasons; to provide fatty acids, to transport fat soluble vitamins and as a fuel source. Fat is utilised, alongside carbohydrates, in energy production when the aerobic energy system kicks in, allowing us to break though that 1/2mile barrier and keep on plodding. ‘Fat’ is a collection of 3 kinds of lipids; triglycerides, cholesterol and phospholipids. Cholesterol and phospholipids are not ‘essential’ as our bodies can make these. However, triglycerides are ‘essential’ as we need to gain fatty acids from our diet in order to make them (saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – including the essential fatty acids (EFAs), omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid), omega-6 fatty acid (linolenic acid), and trans fatty acids). Three fatty acid chains connect to a single glycerol molecule to form a triglyceride. These can now be stored as fat cells in our muscles and adipose tissue as a reserve energy store. When the body demands it, for example during endurance runs, these triglycerides are broken down. In this process the glycerol molecule is removed allowing the fatty acids to become Free Fatty Acids (FFAs). The FFAs are then transported by protein carrier molecules in the blood to the mitochondria. In the mitochondria the FFAs are ‘burnt’ in a processed called oxidation, hence oxygen is needed and we breath heavily when running long distance to help in energy production. However, the aerobic energy system can only function if carbohydrate are present too!
In simple terms the reason for fats being subject to the once blamed ‘gainer’ is due to their high-calorie content, but for us endurance runners this actually a godsend. Running for hours is a serious calorie burner, so it’s vital in the run up to a race you are getting on sufficient fuel. Fats hold 9 calories per gram, compared the carb and protein who hold just 4. When timed right, these extra 5 calories can be heroes in ensuring we hit that sufficient calorie count. Fats are vital in ensuring we meet our energy needs. They may just be the dark horse in ensuring every race is a ‘good one’, offering themselves up as our main energy source once we push past that 800m mark. Without these essential fats are bodies would simply stop performing. For us that would leave empty Saturdays and unsatisfied adventure.
Despite protein being the most talked about macro in the world of exercise, for us endurance athletes it’s one we’re quick to disregard, easily lost in the world of carbs often resulting ‘protein deficiency’. Our strength training background serves us well here, educating on the importance of protein for both recovery and repair but it’s safe to say there’s more to it than the simple post workout shake. As well as contributing to maintenance, repair and growth protein play a huge part in optimal immune function. The benefits to the body you are promoting through exercise can be quickly cancelled out if you are not providing your body with enough protein. You will become susceptible to slow recovery, muscle fatigue and weak immunity, characteristics avoided at all costs when your enjoyment is found in hours of running, or days of cycling.
Practice makes perfect
Training yourself in the eating is just as important as the physical hours. The last thing you want with 3 hours to go is an upset tummy, especially when toilets are few and far between. Just because your endurance idol consumes 4 bananas twenty minutes before trail time does not mean you should. It’s taken us years of practice to find what fits, and even sharing those disasters and dilemmas would not make form the solution to your success. However, we do have a few top tips for helping you find your running remedy:
Introduce one new food item per training session, so if something doesn’t sit right you know the culprit and can quickly banish it.
- Do a bit of research, don’t just aim for high carb as this is not always what your body will need. As mentioned above there is plenty of research to suggest proteins and fats can play a key role in endurance fueling.
- If something doesn’t sit right, don’t stick to it just because you think you should. There are so many gels, bars and bites out there that promising themselves to be the perfect partner in running but everybody is different so it’s important to listen to your body, and respond to it with what it works with.
- Before branching out to an overpriced bar, only stocked in one health store in North New Zealand opt for simple foods your able to grab at your local supermarket. This beats the risk of being left short, should those bars become lost in transit or left on a train.
The gel that holds the race together
We touched on this briefly above but what are really the benefits of the ‘gel’. They’re high carb, energy and calorie dense and easy to talk on board but for us In all honesty for us, there a solid no no. They’re sickly sweet, packed with unnecessary sugar and simply far too sticky. No one wants that with a million other things to worry about mid race. Now we’re not saying they won’t work for you. By all means give them a go, they may be just the glue you need to stay strong on route. For us, we seek alternatives that also offer a quick energy hit and are easy to digest.
Some of those are:
- Lucozade Jelly Beans
- Mindful Bites Sachets
- Honey filled Warburton Thins