You are what you eat. If the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn. You can’t outrun a bad diet.
There are plenty of catchy sayings out there concerning nutrition. There are plenty of books and blogs and articles. But it comes down to experimentation. What will work for you when it comes to deciding what to eat before, during and after a run? You can’t know until you experiment.
And, if I know anything about experimentation and running, it is this: always know where the porta potty is located on your route.
Ok, so maybe I know a bit more, but that sage but of advice might be the only thing you take away from this blog, and it is probably the most important.
For the rest of this journey into the world of running nutrition, I will simply tell you what has worked for me and how I figured it all out.
BEFORE THE RUN
In my mind, there are three basic kinds of runs that I do: easy runs that are less than 75 minutes, easy runs that are more than 75 minutes and runs that have hard work in them of varying lengths. People often ask me how I decide which runs to eat before and which not to. My thinking is pretty simple:
Easy runs lasting less than 75 minutes: cup of coffee and go!
Easy runs lasting 75 minutes+ : I do half of these runs with no food before, and I do half of these runs with food before. My food of choice is a Ucan Snack Bar plus a banana. Ucan contains superstarch, which, unlike Gu and other energy chews and gels, takes a bit longer to be digested and gives you a more long-lasting fuel for your run. During my training for Boston 2015 I began experimenting with Ucan. I tried the drinks first; however, the texture was too chalky for me and I disliked having to drink so much fluid. But the bars made things easy and they taste great! You eat it 30 minutes before a run and, for me, the energy lasts for about a 16 mile run (or 2 hours). Adding the banana helped settle my stomach, as I have some indigestion the first few times I tried the bar. Now this is my go-to formula.
Runs with work in them: These are your tempo, hills, steady states, intervals, track, etc. Normally a Ucan bar feels like a bit much for these runs, but I want to get something in. So I reach for 2-3 Cliff Shot Bloks during my warm up. I prefer these to Gu chews or gels because they have smoother, lighter flavor, dissolve pretty easily while chewing, and don’t leave a weird residue taste in my mouth.
Note: I eat a full, carby breakfast 3 hours before racing. I do experiment with this during my longest long runs before the race.
DURING THE RUN
I think the greatest thing about Ucan is that I don’t have to pack gels or chews to take along the way unless I am going a very long way. If my run is going to be longer than 16, I might carry one gel in case I feel like I need it. For runs that are 20+ miles, I will often dissolve Gu in water in a small gel flask.
I had almost given up on Gu when I started reading Matt Fitzgerald’s The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition. I just couldn’t stand the taste and they upset my stomach after one or two gels, which was problematic because my marathon race fuel plan usually calls for 4+ gels during a race. But then I read Matt’s advice to tried dissolving the Gu in water, taking small sips throughout the run or race. This was the ticket for me, and it is what I will do if I want to bring gels with me.
Greg McMillan uses the acronym RUNRR a lot in his publications, and I had no idea what it meant until my running partner finally looked it up for us: The Runner’s Ultimate Nutrtional Recovery Routine. What I love about it is that he encourages you to come up with your own routine through experimentation. And that is exactly what has worked for me in all other areas of runner nutrition.
The body needs a mixture of proteins and carbohydrates to recover from a run. There’s a bunch of complicated physiology I could add here concerning insulin, glycogen storage, muscle repair and all that (much of which you can read about in McMillan’s link above), but suffice it to say you need these nutrients or your body will perform less optimally on your next run.
The problem: While we all know RUNGER (hunger caused by running) is REAL, it doesn’t tend to set in until a while after a run. But the fact remains that the most optimal time for recovery nutrition is in the first hour after a run, preferably the first half hour. In that first hour, many runners feel “ick”, and the idea of food is just not appealing.
This is where liquid recovery has helped me out. I use a protein shake to give myself some recovery nutrition before getting in the shower. Then, once my stomach is settled a bit and I am more ready, I will have a full breakfast. I use the protein pictured above plus some milk and ice, and I blend it up quick. I can also just add a scoop with milk and shake or get more fancy and add bananas, strawberries, blueberries, greek yogurt or peanut butter to the blender. I even added frozen Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies once…and it was amaaazing!
Now, don’t forget, two questions to ask yourself before an experimentation run: what’s my pre, during and post nutrition plan? and, where is the porta potty on this run?!
Here are some runners chowing down and following none of the above advice: