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Today’s podcast is about nutrition. Those of you who’ve run with me will know that I love nutrition, more specifically cake. However, as much as I’d like to exist exclusively on cake, science tells us that that is a rather less than optimal nutrition strategy.
There are lots of strategies out there; high carb, low carb, raw food, paleo etc. I’m not going to try and get into all the ins and outs of those diets, but I would suggest that providing the diet you chose contains lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, a decent amount of protein (I’ll come to how much protein is a decent amount), leaves you satisfied (which will mean having ‘treats’ occasionally) and gives you enough energy to train then you won’t go far wrong.
I’m not going to speak specifically about intermittent fasting, but hopefully you will be able to infer from the upcoming discussion on timing of food anything you need to know about intermittent fasting and training.
So lets talk briefly about protein; there is very good evidence that, particularly in those of us no longer in our twenties, that eating sufficient protein is helpful for maintaining a healthy body composition and for increasing strength – the latest research suggests that anything from 1 to 1.6g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is a good amount for building or maintaining strength when combined with exercise. Above that amount doesn’t appear to be harmful, but also doesn’t seem to have any benefit.
I’m going to quickly talk about ‘superfoods’ there is evidence of performance benefits from various foods; however, they tend to be very marginal gains and also tend to be very expensive to consume regularly – therefore, unless you have optimised every other aspect of your training, then I probably wouldn’t bother.
So, we’ve done the easy bit of ‘what to eat’, now it gets harder…
When you’re trying to fit workouts around your schedule trying to get the ideal meals at the ideal times before and after every workout is pretty unrealistic; but lets start by having an idea of what that ideal might be. For a hard workout you need plenty of available glycogen – so a decent relatively high carbohydrate meal about 2 hours before (giving you time to digest it) would be ideal. Then straight after every workout enough calories to refuel and to have enough available protein for muscle repair to occur. However, the reality is that some workouts you’re going to end up just grabbing a banana 30 mins before hand and hoping… Its worth saying that everyone is different and fuelling for workouts can be a very individual thing, so it is worth experimenting and using your training to get to a point where you know what works for you.
But bear in mind when refuelling that it can be very easy to over compensate for the calories burnt during running and with a good training program you will become more economical and therefore need fewer calories per mile, which sadly means less cake…
There is quite a bit of evidence that fasted runs, where you do an easy morning run before having any breakfast, significantly increase the body’s ability to use fat stores when running, which is hugely beneficial when doing large distances. There’s also some evidence that if you then do an intense workout later in the day that the effect of the intense workout is increased by having done a fasted one earlier.
My final nutrition topic is the long run; although what I’m going to start with is not so much what you put in as what comes out. At some point in every runner’s distance running career there will come a point where you have a sense that something’s coming, you hope its just wind, but deep down you know its almost certainly not. If you’re lucky then you’ll find a toilet, if you’re a scout then you’ll be carrying toilet paper in a bag… There are a couple of things you can do to minimise the risk – a low fibre diet the day before and making sure that you have a regular morning ‘routine’ and that you get your long run in straight after you’ve been.
So now we’ve dealt with the output, lets get back to the input side of things. Its important to note that most people will have enough stored energy to run for two hours, so that means most people won’t have to try and fuel on the run until they’re doing longer than 2 hours. However, don’t think that means that you can go into a long run and then only start eating two hours in – the stomach can only process so much energy in any given time and when you’re running the blood supply to the stomach is reduced so it can process even less fuel. Therefore, you need to start fuelling early, studies suggest that 60 – 90g of Carbohydrate per hour is the most that the stomach will process – which is roughly two to three gels per hour (if you’re using gels) but that’s only about two to three hundred calories per hour and most people will be burning more than twice that; which means you’re not going to be able to replace all the energy you’re burning so you’re going to have to mix stored energy and carbohydrate intake right from the beginning if you want to make it through an event that is 3 hours or more.
I’ve talked about gels, and they do have their place particularly at higher intensities where they can be easily absorbed, but at steadier paces – and this includes most peoples’ marathon pace – then other food will work too; bananas, sweets, some people even have iron stomachs that can tolerate fish and chips on a long run! To find out what suits you then you need to practice eating on your long runs and see what sits well and what doesn’t – ideally find out what is available at aid stations on your target race and practice with that to see if it works for you and then you can get away with carrying less food. Although, I’m afraid I’m not aware of any races that have fish and chips at their aid stations…
I haven’t talked much about hydration, and that’s because hydration is pretty simple – you need to drink enough to not get dehydrated but not too much that you get hyponatremia (where too much water dilutes the blood so much that your sodium levels get too low). There is no magic number I can suggest, it will vary between individual and intensity and temperature and humidity. The best practice though is to drink when thirsty.
Finally, salt and electrolytes – on a warm day then you will lose salt when sweating and you will need to try and replace that salt to avoid cramp or more seriously to avoid hyponatremia. You can use electrolyte tablets, salt tablets or even just salty food. Most people will find that their body tells them when they need salt, and you will start craving a salty snack, so its a good idea to carry one and practice eating them occasionally.