It’s that time again! Wilfredo Benitez MScN, M.Ed, the head nutritionist at On Pace Wellness, and I are going to answer your questions about how to fuel pre, during and post run! Will has worked with me to help optimize my nutrition throughout my season, to make sure I’m getting the most out of myself when I’m training at higher intensity, lower volume, or in the middle of a huge ramp up to a race. Below are some of our favorite questions, asked specifically from endurance athletes in my community, all answered directly by Wilfredo Benitez MScN, M.Ed and myself! I hope they help educate you, and encourage you to incorporate a nutrition mindset to your training program.
Q: Should you only fuel on long runs?
Generally, most other runs will not require fuel to get through but it depends on many
factors! If you haven’t eaten in hours and you’re about to head out for your 45-60 minute run, I would say that this is a run where some nutrition before you head out the door or early on in the run may not be a bad idea! But assuming you are fueled up and handle your pre-fueling well, then easy runs and possibly even workouts may only require that you focus on your hydration, possibly to include electrolytes.
Q: What’s your go-to pre-run food?
Hillary: I’m a morning runner, and I usually wake up hungry, so while I’m making my coffee to sip as I wake up, my go-to food is museli with yogurt and some peanut butter with a banana. Since I try to emphasize protein intake throughout the day, I make sure my breakfast has some too!
Will: (This largely depends on the time of day I’m running, but assuming morning…) For a long run, something like 1/2 banana w/ some peanut butter and a slice of sourdough toast w/ jam and hemp
hearts. Before an easy run, I might just have an orange or a bite of a larabar, or nothing at all. And always water and coffee before. 🙂
Q: When should you drink water during your run? When thirsty or do you sip every 30 minutes?
You want to hydrate before you are thirsty! When your body cues you that it’s thirsty, you are likely already dehydrated and you’re going to play catch-up. Instead, aim to sip (or gulp!) more regularly such as every 20-30 minutes. How much you need depends on a lot such as your physiology, your fitness, your sweat rate, your environmental climate, and more.
Q: If I run later in the evening, is a recovery drink w/ protein suitable if I don’t want to eat?
This largely depends on what the rest of your day’s nutrition looks like. For example, if you skipped breakfast because you were running late, had a decent lunch, but now are looking to skip dinner and just
have a recovery drink, I would say this is not sufficient. But if you have eaten well all day long and you don’t want to eat a large meal before bed, then a recovery drink including carbs and protein at a ratio of close to 4:1 (1g protein for every 4g carbs) would be sufficient. Do some math to help you…aim for
1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per 1kg of body weight. How much nutrition you need may depend somewhat on the duration and intensity of the run. Ideally this scenario does not play out every night or even most nights as a recovery drink, even if it’s at the 4:1 ratio as described, is not going to ever be more optimal than proper whole foods.
Q: What are some of the best foods to eat prior to a 3+ hour run but avoiding feeling heavy?
Well the answer somewhat depends on one’s digestive system and how practiced they are at fueling before a run. Generally speaking though, focusing mostly on carbohydrates and some protein should work well. Some typically safe carb foods include bread/bagels, oatmeal, bananas, oranges
and similar citrus fruits, dates, dried figs, rice cakes, potatoes, and white rice. Some typical protein options include some nuts and nut butter, eggs (with practice only, given its fat content), and protein powder. The other important piece here is timing! If most runners eat a hearty bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter 30 minutes before their 3+ hour run, they may feel heavy because they
ate that meal too soon. The closer you are to the run, the less calories and certainly the less fats should be consumed; this might require that nutrition is brought along for intra-run fueling.
Q: Why do all these nutrition experts promote eating pop tarts and similar garbage?
I can’t speak for them, but it is likely that they are leaning on the fact that toaster pastries would supply simple sugars just the same as a gel might. What is being missed though is that these kinds of
foods also contain a lot of ingredients that the body does not process too efficiently and therefore they actually tax your system. Look, if you are running an ultra race and you have someone at mile 40 waiting for you with that frosted toaster pastry in hand that you’ve been waiting for, it’s not going to
do harm for you to consume thie (it’s not ideal, but you’ll be totally fine). But what’s different is if you are fueling with toaster pastries for most long runs and even pre-fueling with similar foods. What I intend to do for athletes is get them to eat the healthiest way possible so that their bodies are strong
and their foundation can support an ultra event, the training that goes with it, and the longevity in the sport that most runners want. Fueling with toaster pastries is not an optimal habit to form. So, I would advise that you leave the toaster pastry for the race and practice fueling with other foods and sports
Q: Do you change anything in your nutrition habits pre-race?
I make it a rule to never change anything pre race! If I’m traveling and in a new country, it might be a bit tricky to find the exact food I eat at home, but generally speaking I can find very similar things to eat pre-race and I’m usually at the race some time before so my body has time to adjust. I really love cooking so I can usually eat the same when I’m traveling as to when I’m at home.
Thanks to everyone for submitting the questions, keep your eyes peeled for the next nutrition tips blog with Will in a couple months.
Honorable mention: How many times does the average runner poop before a race?