Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fueling 101: The Before

As a runner, I find myself talking, thinking and reading about running a lot.  Runners as a bunch are pretty crazy.  We get up before the sun to "squeeze in" a quick 5 miles (or more) before work.  We're way too comfortable using porta-pottys and forget what it's like to have all 10 toenails.  We run in 100 degrees, 90 percent humidity, through blizzards and downpours...and we love it.  

In addition to talking running, I love talking nutrition.  However, I often find that nutrition and fueling can fall by the wayside for runners who dedicate so much time and energy to training with speed work, cross-training and long runs.  Some runners may not realize how important nutrition is.  Others might just find it completely overwhelming.  How much should you be eating? And when?  Not to mention how confusing fueling during workouts can be with the number of sports nutrition products out there! Bars, beans, sports drinks, gels, Gu, oh my!

Don't freak out just yet! Whether your goal is to just finish, set a new PR or avoid hitting "the wall", I'm here to tell you that it is possible to figure out what and how much fuel you need!  Optional nutrition before, during and after your runs is so essential for successful training, racing and recovery.

It's very important to keep in mind is how individualized nutrition and fueling is.  Runners love to share their experiences and advice, but remember that what works for your best friend/neighbor/trainer/mom may not work for you.  We all have different needs, preferences and GI tracts.  Which is also why it's important to practice your nutrition plan many times and adjust as needed!  

So let's start out with some basic sports nutrition for before exercise:

  • Strive to drink half your body weight in ounces daily for adequate hydration.  Every person is different, so forget the 8-glasses a day plan! A 150-lb runner should be consuming 75 ounces, or about 9 cups of water.  Check your urine throughout the day to assess your hydration status.  [Hint: dark yellow=bad!] 
  • Hydrate before runs with 12-16 ounces of water or sports drink
  • Consume a carbohydrate rich meal (ideally 3-4 hours prior to exercise) that is also low in fat & fiber.  Examples include cereals, english muffins, bagels, bananas, and energy bars.  [If you're already getting up at 4 a.m. for a race, it may be unrealistic to wake up at midnight for breakfast.  If that's the case, you may consider adding more carbohydrates as a late night snack the night before and consuming a smaller "breakfast" 45-60 minutes prior to exercise.  If you struggle with eating solid food before exercise, starting out with sports drinks might be the way to go.]
  • For long runs or on race day, don't forget to add some protein! Eggs, 1-2 Tbsp of peanut butter, cottage cheese or yogurt are all great choices.

What questions or problems do you run into when it comes to eating prior to exercise, long runs or races???  For information and recommendations during and after exercise, stay tuned!!!

SCAN Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (
Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 4th edition, 2008

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