By Pamela Nisevich Bede MS, RD, CSSD, LD, Sports Nutritionist with EAS Sports Nutrition
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Deep down, most all of us agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and even though we may struggle to get it in, that doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to eat at least a little something before leading the first conference call of the stressful work day or before heading out the door for a run. But what you choose in the moments before a training run can significantly impact your performance over the miles and during the hours that follow. But what, exactly should you choose? Eat too much fat and protein and you’re system will spend the next few hours struggling to digest the heavy offerings while instead it should be sending blood and nutrients to working muscles. Eat too light and you’re likely to bonk mid run. Eat too much fiber and, well, we all know how that run ends. Here are some simple tips on what to consume before you head out for your next MIT weekend run.
Research has found that a significant dose of carbs is needed pre-run when the run lasts longer than 90minutes. This pre-run carb load of sorts delays fatigue and improves performance. Carbohydrate is still the optimal fuel for working muscles so while in training you still want to eat a daily diet that is rich in carb (moderate in protein and low in fat). Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science to design a diet that’s rich in carb; simply include a whole grain or starch at every meal, don’t skimp on fruit, and remember to eat your veggies and drink your low-fat milk. You pre-run meal might be water and coffee along with a whole grain bagel plus a banana or some oatmeal, skim milk, and fresh berries. Cereal is a great choice- just be sure to skip high fiber options. Do your best to avoid high fat items as they take longer to digest. Most days, a protein-rich breakfast is an excellent idea because it’s satiating and filling. On run day, because it takes longer to digest, you can include some (aim for less than 10g) in your meal but no 5egg omelets in the hour before a run. If you prefer an exact amount and are looking to do some math and nutrient logging, aim for a ½ gram of carb per pound of body weight for each hour you have leading up to the long run. In other words, if you weigh 150 pounds and you’re going to run in 2 hours, you need (150lb x 0.5g/lb x 2 hours = 150gm) 150 grams of carb in a meal. If you only have an hour before the run, you would reduce this intake to 75grams of carb.
On the way to the training run, if you feel hungry, it’s ok to grab something light to eat if you have more than 30minutes to digest and use the facilities. Consider a carb-rich energy bar or an easy-to-digest spots drink offering nutrients, electrolytes, hydration, and carb. If you prefer to chew on something, you might grab a small banana or a handful of animal crackers or even some energy chews. Unless you’re a habitual user (and if you are, we should chat), don’t be tempted to rely on the calories and stimulants found in an energy drink to fuel your run. Many athletes report that these drinks make their heart race, dehydrate them, and basically ruin what could have been a great effort. If you need an energy boost before the race and you’re a coffee connoisseur, there’s no reason to skip the java as a moderate amount of caffeine can improve performance and coffee alone isn’t excessive in caffeine and it does contain other helpful nutrients. Add a little skim milk and you’re body will use the carb and protein for fuel and recovery.