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, with good training nutrition advice.
Fueling your body.
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. 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 crispbread's)
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.
- Low intensity or sessions under 1 hour: Water
- High intensity or sessions over 1 hour: PURE Electrolyte Hydration
- Sessions over 2 hours: PURE Endurance Hydration (has carbohydrates & electrolytes plus additional fast absorbing protein to help maintain muscle function and promote recovery)
Running less than 1 hour
If you're rolling out of bed, not starving, and only going for a few kilometres, you probably don't need anything more than water to help with your training run. Additionally coffee can help, 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 doing a high intensity short session (e.g. intervals) runners should aim to maximise carbohydrate availability such as having easily digested carbohydrate rich snacks (e.g toast with honey or a banana) 30min before, or try consume carbohydrates (e.g. sports drink/gel) during the session.
Running more than 1 hour
If your session or race is over 1 hour then you need to look at incorporating a nutrition strategy into the mix. This is where a varied approach can be taken by mixing up food choices depending on the session. During high intensity training session over 60 minutes or moderate intensity sessions over 90 minutes, carbohydrates will be your friend. Carbohydrates are our main muscle fuel so these need to be included in your longer training runs longer than 1 hour (again don't forget this also depends on intensity). Aim for 30-60g per hour.
One of the easiest ways to consume carbohydrates during your longer run is from a carbohydrate based sports drink such as PURE Electrolyte Hydration. Take a hydration belt or hydration bladder and ensure you take enough for every hour that you are planning to run (aim for 400-500ml per hour).
For those running longer than 2 hours, carbohydrate needs increase and can be up to 90g per hour and protein should be incorporated into your nutrition plan. PURE Endurance Hydration provides both carbohydrates and protein.
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 and are low fat, fibre and protein):
- 2 x White or fruit bread, bagels or pikelets; with honey or jam type spreads
- 2 x Muesli bars
- 2 x banana
- 75g of dried fruit
- 700ml of sports drink (such as PURE Electrolyte Hydration)
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.
Choosing meat, dairy, high-fat foods, and fibre too close to your event may make you just run to the loo! For training, and especially in competition, try to avoid foods high in dairy (e.g cheese, regular milk etc), meat, and fibre (e.g whole grain bread) at least 30min prior to a run. Additionally too much fatty food can give you gastric problems and this can last for a few days. Look at your ‘good fat’ options as an alternative. 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 will delay recovery. Strategic intake of carbohydrate rich and quality protein foods soon after training will enhance the rate of muscle glycogen repletion and make it easier for athletes to consume enough carbohydrate before their next training session.
- 10 Tips to Fueling the Fire on Race Day
- A Runner's Guide to Nutrition
- The Benefit's of Protein for Exercise Nutrition
- Sports Nutrition for Post-Race Recovery
Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, Otago University) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition.