Nutrition keys for staying strong and fueled for back to back runs and races

TITLE: Nutrition keys for staying strong and fueled for back to back runs and races

Author:  Pamela Nisevich Bede MS, RD, CSSD, LD

Follow her nutrition advice and more on Instagram and Twitter @PamBedeRD

We all have a bucket list.  As runners, it tends to consist of epic races, runcations, and bibs that have to be earned rather than bought.  And a few crazy – I actually prefer the term motivated – runners list challenges such as Dopey or back-to-back races or 48Hour relays on their list.  To accomplish such feat, it takes months of training for and then quickly recovering from long runs and tempo runs, only to do it again the next day or week or month.  And sometimes, training is so intense that it feels like you are running back to back races- be these races tempo runs or long runs or daily mileage.  The right recovery and fueling plan can make back to back races and efforts feel like a “best day ever!” experience.  Done wrong, and you’re more likely to want to hit the snooze button rather than lace up. 

So what does proper recovery, refueling, and rehydration look like?  Here’s a tested and tweaked recovery, hydration, and fueling plan that will thwart every wall and leaden leg that might rears its ugly head.  You can follow the same plan to finish all miles strong.  

Fuel for miles: Regardless of diet or fitness, every runner is limited in the number of miles they can cover before muscle glycogen – the body’s major source of carbohydrate and therefore running fuel- is depleted.  Blood glucose and liver glycogen stores- secondary sources of energy and those that work to fend off mental fatigue and keep blood sugar levels steady- are also depleted during marathon length efforts, making pre-run and mid-run fueling absolutely crucial for those who want to avoid hitting the wall or bonking.  Carb loading can nearly double the body’s stores, allowing runners to run much longer before hitting empty but carb loading alone won’t carry you to the finish line.  Since it only takes a few hours out on the race course to deplete every drop of glycogen, runners should be sure to aim for an intake of 30-60grams of carb per hour (and start this fueling early) while running and, in the recovery phase, aim to replete losses by consuming approximately ½ a gram of carb per pound in the hour after a long run or race.  

Recover or Suffer: Your recovery on race day should be no different than the recovery that follows long runs and hard efforts since these training sessions also deplete fuel.  Skip this step and muscles breakdown, don’t properly repair, and back to back workouts become more difficult and even dreadful.  In the 30-60 minutes that follow a run, aim for an intake of 15-25+ grams of high quality protein and ½ a gram of carb/pound of body weight (more simply, aim for about 2-4x as much carbohydrate as protein).  My secret weapon in the leaden leg feeling is Myoplex Muscle Armor.  It’s blend of amino acids and HMB are proven to fend off muscle breakdown- which means you feel less sore if you add this to your regimen.  You can add Muscle Armor to your post-run rehydration plan since rehydration is another key to proper recovery.  Aim to drink water, electrolyte-beverages and other (non-alcoholic) fluids until your urine returns to running light yellow in color. 

While carb loading is an ally in the 3 days leading up to race day (or even during the day before a long run if you’re going to be running for over 90 minutes), there’s no need to carb load and stuff yourself for days on end between races.   To do so will only result in starting off race number #2 feeling overly stuffed and heavy.  Instead, during the limited time between back to back races, remember to eat consistently adequate carb (~2-3g/lb is recommended when training   ~1hour/day) to fuel your runs and keep your protein intake high enough (aim for approximately 1g/lb) to keep you satiated and strong. 

Wait to All-Out Celebrate:  Every runner earns celebration following the first finish (after all, each finish line is an accomplishment) but if you’ve got your eye on successfully and comfortably completing race #2, avoid days on end of falling off the wagon during the short span of time you’ve got between races.  A few- emphasis on few- treats and festivities following race #1 are not going to impact race #2 if you’ve got weeks between.  But if you’re looking at mere hours, like you’d have during relays or even between intense training runs, save the indulgent post-run meals and drinks for the ultimate finish line.  

Whether your runs and races are 2 days or 2 weeks apart, if you follow this advice, you’ll be sure to appreciate the protein that will halt muscle breakdown, the carbohydrate that will restock your glycogen stores, and the fluid that will serve to replenish your hydration and flush out waste and toxins.  

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