I’ll split this article into three categories: Pre-Race (during training phase), Intra (days leading up to the race), and Post-Race (recovery phase). If done correctly, each one can make a great difference upon your performance and recovery.
Early on in training you should experiment as much as possible. Try different food combinations and pay attention to how your body reacts. Experimenting early on gives you time to see which foods boost your performance.
As you progress in your training phase, there are general guidelines you can follow.
Ideally, you’ll want to focus on a mix of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in a 1:2:3 ratio. For example (vegan options are in parentheses) one meal could consist of 1 whole egg (avocado), 2 servings of chicken breast (beans & soy) and 3 servings of potatoes.
Depending on the distance of your run, the carbohydrate level might change. For longer runs, you’ll need more carbs for fuel, and for shorter runs, you’ll need less. Carbs are great for long runs because they are digested slowly and thus release energy over a longer period of time.
You may also want to think about taking in some form of caffeine. Caffeine is one of the most proven performance-enhancing supplements as it can provide energy, improve our focus, and also decrease our feelings of muscular pain. Too much caffeine and you can feel anxious or shakey, but too little caffeine and you may not get the boost that you need. The right amount will depend on your previous relationship with caffeine as well as your weight. In general, a good rule of thumb is to consume around 3mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight. So if you weigh 80kg, you would need 240mg of caffeine which equates to around 3 shots of coffee or 1.5 energy drinks. However, you might want to experiment with caffeine as not everyone responds well.
This aspect of nutrition actually starts 2 to 3 days before the race as you need to think about your performance days before you’re due to start.
If you’re going on a particularly long race lasting over two hours or so (like a half or full marathon), then you’ll also want to carb up the night before. The longer your run, the more time before it that you’ll need to think about what you eat.
When it comes to the types of carbs, you’ll want something slow digesting like oats, rice, or potatoes. This helps to keep you satiated throughout your run and also keep the energy being drip-fed to your muscles. Other good pre-run foods will be whole grain toast, peanut butter, casein shakes, bananas, nuts, fruit, and granola.
When it comes to protein, chicken and fish can be great options that are easily digested by most people. If you’re looking to bolster your fat intake, too, then you might want to think about eggs, beef, chicken thighs, and oily fish. Oily fish also doubles up as a great way to get in some omega-3 which can help with joint health, preserving your running longevity.
If you’re entering a short race, then you may not need any intra-phase nutrition whatsoever. Taking in calories throughout your run is only beneficial for those who are going on longer runs, in order to keep them sustained.
If you choose to eat during your race you’ll want to focus on pure fast digesting carbohydrates (like an apple). Anything heavier than that might mess with your stomach and cause a forced toilet break! You might also consider consuming some BCAAS. The fast digesting carbs will give your muscles energy whilst the BCAAs work to protect your muscles from wastage (this will help in the recovery phase). This is where items such as glucose drinks can come in handy which will also contain added electrolytes - these are your typical energy drinks… Powerade, Gatorade, etc.
As a guide, if you’re running for longer than 60 minutes, then that’s when you’ll want to take on some form of carbs in the form of Gatorade or Powerade. You can also get ready-to-mix powders which might be more convenient and cheaper. You’ll also want to research what drinks will be available at the event so that your body can get used to them. The last thing you want to do is be dealing with stomach problems on the day you want to be performing at your best.
Regardless, you’ll want to bring a bottle of water with you to keep you hydrated.
After the race, many websites and magazines will tell you that there’s a certain time which you need to get food in. Yet, if you’ve eaten before and taken carbs on board during your race, you don’t need to get too stressed about eating immediately. As long as you eat some form of carbs and protein an hour or so after your workout, then you’ll be fine. Yet, saying that, many people find that eating immediately after their run to be quite beneficial, especially if they’re hungry!
The most important part of any post-workout period is to get in some form of protein and calories. The protein is to help repair and replenish your muscles whilst the calories work to give your body the energy to do so. A good piece of advice is to whip up a smoothie before your race and keep it stored in the fridge. That way when you get back you can immediately get food into your body and you don’t have to worry about cooking anything. Mix together some form of protein powder, peanut butter, milk, and fruit for a tasty and replenishing mix. Once again, research what kind of food will be available at the event - most official event websites provide this information.
Extra tip - there’s actually some good research behind chocolate milk as it contains a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Yet, this might not be optimal for everybody… experiment and see what works for you.
I hope this article cleared up any of the questions you might have had in regards to running nutrition and how to use it to your advantage when preparing for a race. If you have any questions or comments leave them below or you can also reach me at our Running and Race Training group on Facebook.
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