Earlier this week, I shared that I spoke at an event at the Endurance Athlete Center (where I work at the sports dietitian) about how to eat for running and the top 5 nutrition related mistakes I often see made by runners. Many of you asked to hear more about this, so here you are! As an athlete myself, I know that a great training plan is only part of your success on race day – nutrition is the other key and it matters, big time. Proper nutrition for exercise will increase energy, prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, correct GI distress, and optimize recovery so you’re performing at your best. I hope you find this post helpful!
#1 Skipping Breakfast
I often hear from clients that do runs or workouts early in the morning without eating anything first, and then wonder why they lack energy towards the end of their sweat session. Without any fuel before a run, you’re likely to bonk. Your body needs energy to power through the workout – don’t deprive it! Aim for fuel that is lower in fat, protein, and fiber (all of which slow digestion), and higher in simple carbs, like toast with a thin layer of nut butter and either sliced banana or some jam. Heading out the door in seconds? Try something smaller, like a few bites of banana, a date, or even a couple handfuls of a lower fiber cereal.
#2 Overdoing it on fuel the night before a race
Obviously it’s important to make sure that your glycogen (the storage form of carbs in the body) are full and ready to go on race day, but you can easily do this by making sure to include a carb source at each meal the week before the race. Flooding your system with carbs or anything too greasy or heavy the night before the race will just leave you running to and from the porta-potties. Aim for something that includes carbs but also has some good protein. My favorite is a reasonable portion of pasta with some grilled chicken, some veggies, and a red sauce. Simple and hits the spot. If you want, throw a little cheese on there, but not a ton.
#3 Not adequately re-fueling after a long run.
Restricting calories too much can cause bones to weaken and may result in stress fractures. If you’re undereating, your muscle is not adequately being repaired and built after long runs! Be sure to eat something within 30 to 45 minutes of a run, aiming for something rich in carbs and protein. If you are feeling queasy after a long workout, try liquid nutrition first and then have a real meal later. Chocolate milk has the perfect post-workout carb to protein ratio (about 4:1), or you could make yourself a smoothie. Remember that time in Chapel Hill when my friend Elle and I did a point to point 10 mile run that ended at Maple View Farm for their chocolate milk? That was awesome.
#4 Trying something new on race day.
You never want to try a new fueling strategy on race day because you never know how your body will react to it. Check the race Web site to confirm which drinks and gels (if any) will be offered along the course so you can test them out in advance, or bring something with you that you know your body responds well to. I plan on packing a couple of my favorite gels as well as my new favorite fuel – dates stuffed with a little peanut butter and sprinkled with salt – with me for the LA Marathon next weekend.
#5 Not taking in any calories during the actual run
Speaking of my favorite fuel – if you’re running longer than an hour or so, you’ll need to start taking in some carbohydrates while running – generally about 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. The human body has a limited supply of carbohydrates and once this “fuel tank” starts to run low, your performance will suffer. Exactly how much to take in will be based on your height and weight and will also involve a little trial and error, so practice different types and amounts of fuels during your runs leading up to race day and see what works for you. For example, during a 20 mile run I might take in one gel, 2 to 3 stuffed dates, and a small granola bar (aim for lower fiber, fat, and protein bars in this case – opposite advice from normal life)! Or I might have what I had pictured below last fall when I was training for the Richmond Marathon.
Have you made any of these common nutrition-related running mistakes before?
Any other tips to share?
Check out some of my previous running and exercise-related tips posts: