You’ve heard the expression eat to live don’t live to eat. Well, runners know all too well that if they want to improve their speed and endurance that there is another term known as “eat to win” or at the very least, to reach your goals without running out of fuel before the finish of the race.
Companies spend billions trying to get you to try their supplement over another with each one claiming that their formula is the best.
While most people are familiar with Vitamin Water, Gatorade and PowerAde, runners are more familiar with Nunn, GU, Heed, Cytomax, Zym and Endurolyte and deciding on which one is best can be confusing.
In addition to energy goos, gels, pastes, powders and pills, people wonder how much water to drink, whether proteins or carbs are more important or if caffeine really helps or hinders.
With the Rock N Roll Marathon only weeks away, and the Publix Women’s Half Marathon coming in March, many runners, new and old are finding a renewed interest in proper nutrition and hydration for both training and the days leading up to the major race.
Certified Nutrition coach Claudia Deen decided to help runners make more informed choices and look at some of the myths and misconceptions behind what it takes to become a better runner.
A group of about a dozen men and women met at the Lululemon athletic wear shop on Liberty Street for a short seminar on sports nutrition. The group sat on yoga mats facing the open front door with a cool breeze and bright sunshine making the day seem pleasant and the event seem exciting and fun.
Many came in their running gear, having just run nine or more miles in preparation for the Rock N Roll and a few had difficulty crossing their legs on the mats because of muscle stiffness associated with long distance running, but everyone was tuned into what Deen was saying and many had questions which Deen politely stayed and answered as the shop was transformed from a bare wooden floor with yoga mats, back into a showroom again with some rather impressive looking street wear as well as running gear, headbands, socks and tops.
As Deen was starting the clinic a Jack Russell Terrier peeped into the shop and started to trot in before his owner pulled him back, and several people looked in, curious as to what was going on inside. Perhaps they thought it was an old fashioned sit-in with all the brightly clad runners in headbands and tights.
Someone suggested shutting the door, but a firm round of “no’s” permeated the air as everyone was enjoying the unique setting and once Deen started talking, no one really noticed anything else.
Deen said she had been running about 11 years and that any run, no matter how short or how small was a great experience, especially when you crossed the finish line, even if you had run many races before.
Deen said that crossing that finish line was an accomplishment that no one could take away from you and everyone nodded in agreement.
Learning to persevere and stick to a training regiment is not always the most fun thing to do, but the rewards are great, even if they are not monetary or you don’t win a medal or trophy.
If you can cross that finish line and achieve that goal, the ability to cross other boundaries that have been holding you back and to achieve greater goals you never thought possible, suddenly seem doable and you feel as if you have purpose and reason again, plus it is fun to run with others and share your experiences.
“Nutrition is an important part of training,” said Deen.
Deen said she had always been involved in sports and before she started running had been training in martial arts, working hard to achieve each new rank and belt level, but that when she went to school and got her first job, she started losing track of goals, gained weight and felt something was missing.
That was when she decided to start training for the Chicago Marathon, but soon found out that running all those miles did not mean she could eat whatever she wanted.
She said that back then, she did not really know what to eat and often chowed down on unhealthier fare like Doritos, Sweedish fish and ice cream, so that she gained ten pounds even though she was “running like crazy”.
She said that when she did start researching nutrition she realized it could get a little overwhelming, but as a certified nutrition coach, she recommends her clients keep a food journal for one week to ten days, not only recording what they ate and when they ate it, but how they felt before, during and after consuming the food.
“ You are always going to look for what works for you and practice, practice, practice,” says Deen when asked what she recommends someone eat when training for a race.
Some of the participants said they preferred to eat protein before a run, while others could not eat anything without getting sick and others preferred carbohydrates.
Deen said it is best to stick with fat free foods, not so much because of the calories, so much that high fat and high fiber food can upset your stomach more when you are exercising, but again, everyone is different.
As for pre-race eating, Deen says, “runners look forward to the carb loading as much as the run. You should start carb loading two days before the race.”
Deen recommends hydrating well a few days before the race as well by drinking lots of water and some sports drinks.
When asked how one could tell if they were properly hydrated, Deen said matter of factly, “when your pee turns white or clear.”
Yellow, especially dark yellow urine can be a sign of dehydration, though some foods and vitamins can tint the urine yellow even when you are hydrated. Generally if you have dry mouth, you are already dehydrated and starting a race with a water deficit can make your body feel more tired even if you are eating the correct amounts of nutrients.
Deen recommends runners in long races stop at every aid station and sip water. She prefers to take a gel or electrolyte chew with water and says that some races may have electrolytes that upset your stomach if you are not used to them and that this can put you in the bathroom and add minutes to your time that you don’t really need.
One of the participants said they knew a woman who drank an unfamiliar electrolyte mix that made her vomit during and after the race which didn’t help with hydration and probably made things worse.
There are some runners who will place family members along the route with a bottle of their favorite mix and others run with fuel belts and carry their own.
If in doubt, Deen recommends watering the drink mix down, getting a cup of water and a cup of electrolyte fluids so the drink is not too overpowering.
As for eating before a race, Deen says to never eat anything new or unfamiliar that you have not tested on your training runs. She prefers white bread over whole grain before a race, because it is more easily digested with no fiber that might cause fermentation in the gut and cause gas or cramping.
She said that runners need to eat at least three hours before the long race starts and that she has known people who have woken up early, eaten and then gone back to sleep for an hour so the food is digested and because your bowels will also have time to digest and expel anything left over from the night before.
Some runners say they will go for a short walk or do jumping jacks to stimulate the digestive system to hurry things along, but that is another topic!
Deen says you can practice eating the night before a training run to get to know what works best for you and says some people may be fine eating a salad and some chicken. She recommends keeping protein and carbohydrate ratio at one to four, but says not to overload on the carbs the night before or you may spend more time running to the toilet than running on the course.
During the run, Deen says to take a GU or chewable electrolyte gel or gummy every 45 minutes.
“You can even take one before the run begins.”
She suggests taking one every five miles for the marathon or at mile 4 and 8 for the half marathon. For shorter runs like the 5 and 10 K you really don’t need to take an electrolyte fluid until after the run, though water breaks every few miles are fine.
When asked about salt tablets, Deen said she did not take them and others said they had, but had not really noticed a difference, though some swear that they will keep your muscles from cramping as badly. Again, individual preference and experience comes into play, but fooling around with a new formula on race day is not really recommended.
Deen says that sipping water while taking gummies or gels helps it to settle better without upsetting your stomach.
After the race she recommends getting some protein in the diet and says her favorite is chocolate milk! She also said to be careful about drinking beer or wine after the run as it can only take one drink to get you drunk. Something many people who have given blood claims happens to them as well.
It is also cautioned not to take NSAIDs like ibuprofen while running long distances as it can interfere with sodium absorption and excretion in the kidneys, though acetaminophen, has not been associated with such a reaction. Still, it is wise to avoid any drug if you do not know how you will respond to it.
Deen says she prefers deep tissue massage, icing and Epson salt baths for recovery.
She cautions that while it is okay to carbo load before a race and eat a little extra carbs and proteins after the race, you shouldn’t eat three times what you would normally consume as it doesn’t take that much to replenish what you lost and it is easier on your stomach if you don’t gorge yourself after the race.
She says that while some people can eat on the run, some get sick and while a banana may seem like a great mid-race energy replacer for some, others may not be able to stomach it, so it is really a matter of testing what you can do during training runs rather than trying it out on race day.
For more information on health, fitness and nutrition, feel free to visit Deen’s website or get regular updates on your Facebook page..
There is no one right way to eat for optimal sports nutrition, but generally eating healthy carbs, fats and proteins, less processed foods and more whole foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains will ensure you have a running start on your friends who eat doughnuts, potato chips, fatty meats and sauces. People who eat whole foods and a variety of fresh produce also tend to get sicker less often and recover from illness faster.
Even if you do not run, but want to get healthier, you can still keep a food journal on-line or download an app for your smart phone that will help you keep track of what you ate, how many nutrients you consumed and what percentage of fat, sugar and sodium is in the foods you eat. It can be a great way to jump start your way to a healthier diet, a healthier body and a desire to achieve a goal and prove to yourself that you have what it takes to improve your life and the lives of others. It’s a win/win situation.
If you want to run, but don’t know where to turn, check out programs offered by Fleet Feet Sports in Savannah. They offer a number of running programs at a reasonable cost where you are guaranteed personal assistance and encouragement.
Once you get out of the beginner stage of running, consider joining a local running group like Savannah Striders Track Club which accepts walkers as well as runners, but concentrates on group runs and social events to help you stay motivated to keep running.
If you don’t have a running group near you, check with your local gym and see if anyone would be interested in starting a group. Chances are there are a lot of people who want to get in better shape and would love to have company getting there!