TOM SERIES: NUTRITION QUESTIONS ANSWERED
- Annie Bothma, IOPN Sports Performance Nutritionist (EQF Level 7. Masters), Running Coach and Elite Marathon Runner
With the upcoming Two Oceans Marathon (TOM) on the15th of April 2023, I will do a series in collaboration with the MAKING A RUNNER PODCAST that will aim to help you prepare for the start line, covering all you need to know when it comes to nutrition.
In the following blog post, I answer a few of your nutrition questions when it comes to fuelling your daily training and on race day.
QUESTION: What is the best way to approach fuelling before super early runs or races?
The two most common excuses I hear as nutritionist, why athletes don't want to eat before a run or race is either because they fear it will upset their stomach and/or they don't want to get up earlier to eat. If that is you, you are missing out on some big benefits that fuelling before running can give you. It is worth it to start experimenting with different pre-run meals or snacks that doesn't upset your stomach. Through trial and error you can also figure out how long in advance before training or racing you need to eat to avoid GI discomfort or upset.
Six good reasons to fuel pre-run or race include:
1. Replenish your liver glycogen
Your liver glycogen is very low after an overnight fast and the pre-run feeding provides an opportunity to replenish those levels.
2. Settle-down your rumbling stomach
Eating some food can actually help settle your stomach a bit, since it mixes with the stomach juices and enzymes. It may also help to get "things moving a bit" before you have to head out the door.
3. Protect your bones
Exercising in the morning after an overnight fast has the potential to promote an increase in bone turnover, which may increase your risk of developing a bone stress injury like a stress response or stress fracture. Carbohydrate feeding attenuated bone resorption (β-CTX) and formation (P1NP) in the hours following exercise, indicating there is an acute effect of carbohydrate feeding on the rate of bone turnover. Therefore, ingesting carbohydrates before training has been shown to be protective to bone metabolism.
4. Keep your hormones balanced
Doing fasted training sessions on a regular basis may negatively influence an athlete's hormonal profile. Consuming carbohydrate before and during exercise attenuates rises in stress hormones, such as cortisol, and appears to limit the degree of exercise-induced immunosuppression.
5. Get the most out of your training session
Starting exercise with low-glycogen after an overnight fast has the potential to compromise your ability to hit your target intensities, but also compromises your recovery after training.
6. Contribute to your daily calorie needs
Meeting your daily caloric needs as an endurance athlete who trains a lot, can be hard and actually requires consuming a lot more food than most athletes realize! If you are busy and on the go, it can be especially challenging to find enough time in the day to eat the amount of food required to sustain your training. That's why the pre-run meal/snack provides just another feeding opportunity to meet your daily caloric needs.
How much fuel do you need?
The type of training session you are doing will determine how much fuel you need to consume before you start exercising. If you are planning to do a shorter easy run, a small snack should be sufficient, however, if you are doing a hard or longer workout, you would need to fuel more. The recommended amount is 1-4g of carbohydrates/kg of body-weight in the 1-4 hours leading up to exercise.
I advise athletes to practice their race day fuelling on their long run and workout days. This way your stomach can get accustomed to it before race day arrives. It also serves as a mental cue for your mind: It is time run fast!
Foods to try before training:
White bread or bagels
Rice or corn cakes
Low fibre breakfast cereals like Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes
Sweetened dairy products like yoghurt or chocolate milk
White rice or pasta, potato - cook these foods and consume them hot to avoid resistant starches, which are created when the foods cool down.
Jam and honey
White cookies or rusks
Desserts like Jell-O
Sports products - gels, electrolytes, sport drinks
Pureed fruit packs - applesauce
Foods to avoid right before training:
Certain fresh fruits with a high fibre content such as apples and pears
Whole wheat bread, seeded breads or other high-fibre breads
Beans and legumes
High fat-foods like donuts or pastries
Fast food like chips or burgers
The only way to really find out what works for you is through trial and error. Test different foods during training and see what sits best on your stomach. Some athletes has stomachs of steel and may even be able to tolerate some of the foods that are typically recommended to avoid before training, while others may only be able to stomach liquid calories. However, the gut is a malleable organ and can be trained over time, just like your muscles! Just keep practicing, it will get easier to eat before training, and you will reap the performance benefits on race day!
NOTE: Runners, planning your race day breakfast in advance will help you ensure that the necessary foods will be available on race day. If you are traveling to a race and staying in a hotel, consider packing your pre-race meal, if possible.
QUESTION: How do you fuel properly for optimal recovery, if I am training more than once per day?
When the period between exercise sessions is less than 8 hours, begin carbohydrate intake as soon as is practical after the first workout to maximize the effective recovery time between sessions. The nutrition goals after exercise is to rehydrate, refuel, repair & remodel.
Collectively this is known as the 4Rs of post-exercise fuelling. The appropriate amounts of fluids, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein should be ingested to accomplish the goals defined by the 4Rs to achieve maximal recovery.
Nutrition tips to speed-up recovery after training
Right after physical activity your body is most receptive to absorbing nutrients. Getting something in as soon as possible, ideally within the first 30-minutes after finishing your run, can make a big difference in your recovery rate.
Meeting carbohydrate intake targets as a series of snacks during the early recovery phase may be helpful for those runners who really struggle to eat after exercise.
Glycogen synthesis is the same whether liquid or solid forms of carbohydrate are consumed, so if you really can't stomach any food consider drinking your calories instead.
A sports drink can provide a convenient source of carbohydrate in the first hour after exercise when appetite is suppressed. Sports drinks also have the advantage of providing fluid that helps to restore fluid balance and restore glycogen levels.
A smoothie is a great way to meet all three post-exercise goals of rehydration, replenish and repair in one-shot. Throw some fruit, milk, and protein powder in a blender and you can check the box for hydration, carbohydrates and protein.
Carbohydrate-rich foods with a moderate to high glycemic index provide a readily available source of carbohydrate for muscle glycogen synthesis and should be the major carbohydrate choices in recovery meals.
Adequate energy intake is important for optimal glycogen recovery; the restrained eating practices of some athletes, particularly women, make it difficult to meet carbohydrate intake targets and optimize glycogen storage.
When carbohydrate intake is suboptimal for refueling, adding protein to a meal or snack will help enhance glycogen storage.
Choose nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods and add other foods alongside to recovery meals and snacks. This way you will also provide your body with protein and other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, which may assist in other recovery processes and support overall health.
Athletes should follow sensible practices regarding alcohol intake at all times, but particularly in the recovery period after exercise.
NOTE: If you have a longer recovery period of 24 hours before your next session, organize the pattern and timing of carbohydrate-rich meals and snacks according to what is practical and comfortable for your situation.
QUESTION: How do I avoid hitting the wall in a marathon or ultra-marathon?
Most marathon runners know what “hitting the wall” means; it is a well-known phenomenon during marathons. For most runners who experience this, it happens around the 32 km (20 mile) mark. The sudden lack of power and overwhelming fatigue may be the result of a combination of factors, but it is likely that carbohydrate depletion and dehydration play a big role.
In a marathon or ultra marathon, nutrition can mean the difference between winning a race and not finishing a race.
A few simple strategies that can delay or completely prevent runners from hitting the wall:
Start the race with a full-tank
Runners should start the race with optimal muscle glycogen stores and liver glycogen stores and should fuel during the race (using drinks, gels, or solid foods). To start a race with optimal glycogen stores, runners should eat carbohydrate-rich foods in the day or days before the race (usually while reducing training, which will deplete your glycogen stores). Good sources of carbohydrate include pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread.
Consider doing carbo-loading the days leading up the race
Consuming a little more carbohydrate than normal at the expense of some protein and fat will ensure that a runner fills up the muscle glycogen stores without gaining weight. Carbohydrate loading is sometimes confused with overeating, but it simply shifting the composition of your macronutrient to be mostly carbohydrates. Extreme muscle glycogen super-compensation diets, such as those used in the 1970s, are also not necessary. You do not have to deprive yourself from carbohydrates to reap the benefits of a carb-load, simply 1-3 days of an increased carbohydrate loading has been shown to be enough to ensure optimal muscle glycogen stores. The recommended intake is 10-12g of carbohydrates/kg of body-weight.
Make the most of your pre-race breakfast
The next opportunity to make sure glycogen stores are full is during breakfast on the day of the race. A good pre-race breakfast includes at least 100 to 200 g of carbohydrate in the 3 to 4 hours before the start of the race. Many athletes, however, find it difficult to eat before a race, and race day anxiety often removes any hunger feelings. It is still important to ingest at least 100 g of carbohydrate; if eating is really not an option, carbohydrates can be consumed in liquid form. Athletes who frequently experience stomach problems should avoid breakfasts that are high in fiber, fat, and protein and may want to avoid milk products (or use lactose-free products). An extra opportunity to get a bit more fuel in before the start of the race, is by taking a gel in the last 5-15 minutes before the gun fires!
Start fuelling early and often during your race
As exercise intensity and duration increases the blood flow is being shunted away from the gut to the working muscles and as a result the gut's ability to digest and absorb nutrients slows down. Therefore, it is best to start fuelling early while the body is still able to process nutrients easier. Thereafter, it is advised continue taking in carbohydrates every 20-25 minutes throughout the duration of the race. This will help you to maintain stable blood glucose levels and avoid depleting your muscle glycogen stores and stay away from that encounter with the dreaded "wall!"
Avoid dehydration at all costs!
Athletes should avoid getting dehydrated, as this may accelerate GI symptoms and will increase the rate of muscle glycogen use. Try consuming enough fluids with CHO sources such as blocks, gels and bars. This will help reduce the carbohydrate concentration and osmolality of the stomach. It is advised that athletes read the specific recommendations of the package of the different products to make sure the adequate amount of fluids are being consumed as prescribed on the nutritional label. Electrolyte drinks with added sodium can stimulate thirst, encourage drinking and help prevent dehydration. Dehydration can also lead to a loss of appetite which will further impact an athlete’s ability to stick to the race fuelling plan and consume enough carbohydrates to maintain the desired intensity or complete the distance.
QUESTION: Why am I so hungry on a recovery day the day after a long run or hard workout?
As a society we operate on a 24-hour clock, however, when it comes to recovery it is not that straight forward. When that clock strikes midnight you're not going to be magically recovered from the hard work you did that morning. When you are busy training for a marathon or ultra marathon, your body goes through a lot of physical exertion and stress, which can deplete your energy stores and cause muscle damage. It takes for the body to time repair that damage, but the best way you can help speed up the recovery process is by making sure you provide your body with the adequate nutrients and get enough sleep.
On recovery or rest days, your body is still busy repairing and rebuilding your muscles, which requires a lot of energy and nutrients. This means you shouldn't be cutting down on calories and carbs the day after a hard workout, long run or race, especially if you have another key session coming up in the next few days. Instead learn to listen to your body's cravings and honor you hunger signals.
Here is a few reasons why you may experience increased hunger on recovery days:
Exercise can increase your metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories even when you're not busy exercising. Your metabolic rate may be elevated for several hours after your training session, which may contribute to your increased hunger.
Muscle repair and growth
Your body needs protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients to repair and rebuild muscle tissue after a training session. If you're not consuming enough protein, your body may increase your cravings in order to meet these needs. Protein has a satiating effect and will help you feel fuller for longer, while proving your body with the building blocks to repair the muscle damage. Have some protein with every snack and meal to facilitate optimal muscle protein synthesis. Your best options will be protein sources containing all the essential amino acids and that have a high leucine content.
Depletion of energy stores
When you exercise hard or for long durations, your body uses up its glycogen stores for energy. On recovery days, your body will try to replenish these stores, which can make you feel hungrier than usual. While training for a marathon or ultra marathon, aim to have a minimum of 6-10 g of carbohydrates/kg of body weight daily.
How do you manage your hunger on recovery days?
Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. This will help provide your body with the nutrients it needs to replenish your energy stores, while also repairing and rebuilding your muscle tissues.
Fuel before, during (if it is a workout or long run) and immediately after your training sessions to avoid over-eating later during the day. Your appetite may be suppressed immediately after training, but if you wait until extreme hunger and cravings kick in, it is already too late! At this point your body is already in a breakdown state from being in a calorie deficit for too long.
You need to increase your overall caloric intake to account for the additional energy your body needs during marathon training.
I hope, I covered some of your nutrition questions in this post, but if you have more questions that you would like me to cover in a future blog post, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
If you would like to work with me to nail down your nutrition as an endurance athlete or you need a running coach to help you prepare for your upcoming race, please click on the link below to learn more about the services I offer.
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