Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fuel for Running

We need energy to run. Period.

Back in December I ran a 12K. I know, I didn’t really blog about it, it was horrible. Awful. Painful and just not a good experience. I knew I should not run it. I hadn’t eaten a meal in over a week. If you remember I had some health problems during Dec/Jan and part of the problem was that I just could not eat. Couldn't get anything down and if I did I couldn’t really keep it down, so for a few weeks I didn’t really try. All I ate was mandarin oranges (yummy!) and a little bit of Margarita Pizza, also yummy, but not good fuel for the body. So needless to say I zonked out and ended up running the race Galloway style, in reverse…you know, run one minute walk 10?

Now I have no formal education in nutrition and only have what I have learned through trial an error. So with that said, you need more than stored fat, simple carbs, and water to have energy for a run. What I have noticed is that my runs have gotten longer(ya think?) . Used to I would prepare for a 7 miler the night before by eating some pasta. Somehow these days 7 miles is not really a long run so I often don’t remember to properly feed my body. While training for a half or full marathon it is so important that we feed our body the whole week, not just the night before. Example, my runs this past week were 5 miles, 10 miles, 5 miles and then 20 coming up Monday. So it is clear that I need to be giving my body the proper fuel and nutrition throughout the week so that I can perform at my peak for each of these runs.

So here is some info for you:

Carbohydrate is the element in our food which:

  1. supplies the energy for the body's automatic activity and for the performance of our daily tasks. The more physical work we perform daily, the more carbohydrates we must proportionately consume.
  2. plays a vital part in the digestion, assimilation (metabolism) and oxidation of protein and fat. If we take in more carbohydrate of any kind than is needed for immediate use the unused portion is stored in the liver or converted into fat and deposited in the tissues for future use (ick!) .

Now, simple carbohydrates are quick energy sources. I think of these as sugar - fruit, fruit juice, table sugar, honey, soft drinks, and other sweets. Glucose is the major kind of simple sugar. Glucose is the basic source of energy for all living things. Glucose supplies the body with quick energy. It occurs naturally in some fruits (the reason that during ultras you often see them giving out orange slices, bananas and such) and vegetables and is also produced in the body by breaking down other foods into glucose. So when you give your 4 year old candy it is the sugar/glucose/QUICK ENERGY that causes him to bounce off the walls for a while then CRASH! And for us, crashing is NO GOOD! So I prefer to properly fuel with complex carbs before hand and save the simple quick energy for during the run.

The cool thing about things like GU and Chomps and hammer Gel is that they are specially made and formulated by all the smart people who actually went to school to learn the type of info I tried to give you. It is a scientifically created containing a balance of complex carbohydrates and simple carbs. In other words these people know what they are doing and made things specifically for us, out there running far and long.

These are some of my favorite forms of energy for during long runs: feul

GU, Chomps , Sports Beans and NUUN (the Cliff shots have not been tested yet…).

I would suggest testing them out to find which one works best for you. I have tested a lot over the last three years. It takes time and patience and I would also recommend testing them while on not-so-far-from-home runs in case of GI problems. I feel lucky since I have never had any issues with that. Some people use other things like M&Ms. Whatever works for you, remember trial and error.

To wrap it up, remember to feed your body properly throughout the week. You can’t skimp on the right foods and expect to perform well during your longer runs ( I would say anything over 40 mins duration, just my own opinion).

Now what you actually eat the night before and the meal before a run also takes tweaking and trial and error. The biggest and worst error I have made was to eat an everything bagel an hour or two before my first triathlon. UGH! SICK! GROSS! NEVER. Ever. EVER. AGAIN! I don’t think I have eaten one since (that was about a year and a half ago). It was yummy and good fuel for the body but the everything part of it, yeah that was not good. I tasted that stupid bagel for two hours, while swimming, biking and finally running. But now I know, only plain bagel or toast with peanut butter, a banana, Odwalla bar, or plain noodles the morning of a race.

The night before I like a nice yummy pasta meal easy on the spice or flair. I include chicken or shrimp and lots of water. I don't think you can go wrong if you eat good balanced meals leading up to a race.

What is your favorite pre-race meal? How do you feed your body throughout the week? Have you ever tried to run after work when you haven't eaten since breakfast? How did THAT turn out? Anyone have any knowledge nuggets to share? What was your BIGGEST pre-race meal Uh OH?

I’ll try and post about the importance of protein one of these days, can’t skimp on the protein!!!

Today I am grateful for:

An Easter basket for my Little Buddy that the Easter Bunny just dropped off for the morning!

Hip exercises that seem to be working!! I have had little to no pain lately!

New running shoes! Trying to get them broke in before the marathon!!!

22 Days to OKC Marathon!


  1. Good info! The other night before 4 miles, I had spinach raviolis only about an hour before the run. Not a good idea. I was burping garlic and spinach the whole time. Nasty. Once before a cross country race in high school, I had a sub sandwich less than an hour before the race. I was so sick on that run. I needed a portapotty and there were none, of course, out on the trail. That was horrible. What was I thinking?!

    Now, I like a half of a PBJ before a long run. Perfect.

  2. If you're the type who takes book recommendations and you haven't looked at it already, I'd suggest you check out Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. It goes into good detail on fueling and dietary requirements of athletes. It talks about the protein myth as well as supplements and meal timing with examples from elite athletes.

    I've got nothing to do with the book other than I'm almost done reading the copy that I bought and I've really enjoyed it so far.

    Good luck at OKC!

  3. My pre-race meal consists of a banana and a spoonful of peanut butter at least three hours prior. Unfortunately, my stomach is not a race fan so I have to go easy, which can obviously be a challenge. Fueling is tricky because it's the one part of running where experimentation is essential, but can hold you back until you find the right combination.

  4. so very true and it is still something i am always trying to work on and get right

  5. Before a long distance race(15 + miles) I don't eat anything. ***gasp!*** I start to fuel as soon as the race starts to top off glycogen levels and get the metabolism going. The pipes should clear by themselves without coffee or food in the morning esp. if there's race day gitters involved! Ignoring the hunger pangs is simple. If I would eat before a LDR, it would be at least 3 hours prior.(but I never have) We know that's not possible with races starting at 8am sometimes(getting more sleep over eating early is a no brainer) and logistically finding a porto isn't easy for some. For 5ks I'll have a bit of Hammer Gel to silence the stomach and then a full serving of gel 15 mins prior to the race. I also stop all fluid consumption(except for a sip along with the gel) an hour before a race so I'm not the one peeing in a gatorade bottle, desparately looking for a porto, or peeing myself. So not cool!!! This is what works for me and I sucessfully ran and finished my first Chicago Marathon using this method.

  6. I used to always have a bowl of oatmeal the morning of, at least 1-2 hours before I run. Lately for my training I've been doing a plain bagel with peanut butter and jelly and I've really been liking that.

    I totally agree with the testing out the various gels, chews, and bars. I have never had GI problems with anything I've tried, but a friend running a marathon with me used gels for the first time in a race and then had to use every porta-john from mile 10 on...not fun.

  7. I have trouble fueling and hydrating the morning of races when they start early. Tiny bladder = not wanting to drink or eat enough.

    Great information about thinking of how you are fueling all week!

  8. I just finished my 10-miler today. The night before, I had chicken, potatoes, jalapeno cheddar peppers and an ice cream cone.
    Today about 15 minutes before my run, I ate a Powerbar. Had a Gu at Mile 3, Mile 6.5. Water along the way. It worked out not too badly. I didn't feel like I was drained of energy.

  9. Good advice on trying out the various carb-fuels. I ate "chomps" for the first time while running a marathon and got a horrible cramp. I think you need to train with these things to get your body used to them.

  10. Do you want to come teach one of my classes about Nutrition and Sports? That was GREAT! Good luck on your 20 miler: YOU CAN DO IT! Happy Easter to you and Little Buddy. We're home in TWO DAYS!!!

  11. I really appreciate this post. I am a newbie runner but am starting to get more and more distance and will very soon need to start thinking about how to properly fuel. This is great info/advice- thanks!

  12. un-Zen runner- did you get a GI cramp or a muscle cramp? If it was GI related cramps, it was probably the sugars in the Chomps. That's why sometimes you feel nauseated when using GU, Clif, Gatorade etc.- from the loads fructose and sucrose they put in the products. I'm a HUGE proponent of Hammer products as they use sugars from fruits that are easily absorbed into the system, very fast. Just a pointer, hope that helps you out!!

    ** I do not work for Hammer or are any way affiliated with them. Just a very satisfied customer.

  13. Still hope we can meet up in OKC!!

    Learning what fuels your body is really important and what a crazy process. Me I can't use any of those gels, I do best with like fig newtons and I love pizza the night before a long run!

  14. I always eat one banana, 1/2 eng muffin with PB and have a 12 oz coffee. I take a GU before the race and every 4'ish miles. Like most athletes, I am disturbed when I cannot eat my meal before a race!

  15. I always drink coffee, eat a small wheat bagel with PB and a banana before a long run. I don't change it up. I like routine. But I taste the bagel for the first 1.5mi.

  16. Before a race I like toast with honey.

    I still have had my fastest marathon times before I worried about all these issues I am simply listened to my body, I ate more of the kinds of foods I was already eating (more because I was running loads of miles). The only thing I try to watch before a race ( and in general) now is to eat more protein.

  17. those are all such great points, once you are in higher mileage i easily discard anything less than 16 miles as "not that long." so thanks for the reminders! hope your 20 went well, OKC!! YAYAYAY!


You're pretty much awesome!!


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