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Pre-Race Fuel for Runners

Whether you’re prepping for your first 5K race or your first marathon, getting proper nutrition should be one of the top priorities in your training regimen. After months of workouts and early morning runs, taking some time to create a great meal plan before race day will ensure that all your hard work will pay off. To help you get a better idea of which foods you should enjoy (and avoid), here are a few expert tips on how to choose nutrient-dense foods before, during, and after your race. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 Hours Before Race Day

Even if you’re relatively new to running, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “carb-loading.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you should eat an enormous pasta dinner the night before your race and call it good. Treating yourself to such a heavy meal will likely cause you to wake up feeling bloated, uncomfortable, or even nauseous; in other words, definitely not a great way to start a race! 

Instead of “carb-loading” in one big meal, nutritionists advise getting carbohydrates from a variety of foods over a few days. You can begin adding more carbohydrates to your diet up to three days before your race to slowly build up your glycogen reserves and avoid “hitting the wall” on race day. Add one of these foods to each of your meals to boost your carb intake gradually:

  • Rice, oatmeal, quinoa, or pasta.
  • Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes.
  • Whole grain bread or tortillas.
  • Yogurt with granola.
  • Juice or sports drinks
  • Fruits and vegetables (just be aware of fiber content!).

3-4 Hours Before Your Run

The morning of race day should include a nutritious breakfast that’s low in fat, low in fiber, and high in carbohydrates. Avoid eating processed meats, such as bacon or sausage, and stay away from heavy foods like donuts and pastries until after your race. Foods like these can weigh you down and make you feel lethargic since your body has to work harder to digest fatty foods. Instead, opt for simple foods you’re familiar with, such as:

  • Toast or bagel with peanut butter.
  • Banana and a granola bar.
  • Oatmeal or low-fiber 
  • Eggs or yogurt.

During the Race

“If your race takes more than one hour, you’ll need to drink during it,” says Master of Human Nutrition and triathlete Kaisa Sali. She recommends taking small sips of water every 15-20 minutes, or at each aid station, in order to avoid dehydration. If you’ll be running a half or full marathon, Sali says it’s a good idea to take in anywhere from 30 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, depending on the individual’s weight. These can be taken in by gels, sports drinks, bananas, or sports bars.

Post-Race

After you’ve crossed the finish line, it’s wise to grab a sports drink to help you replace fluid, proteins, and carbs. Snacks like recovery bars, milkshakes, smoothies, cold cereal, and chicken sandwiches are a few great options that can boost your energy and begin repairing damaged muscle tissues. Then, you can feel free to indulge in your favorite meal—you deserve it!

Balanced Nutrition for Runners

If you frequently work out, you might have heard the saying, “Healthy bodies are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.” Even if you’re a highly dedicated runner, you simply won’t be able to perform at your best if you don’t prioritize nutrition. You’re more likely to suffer from fatigue and uncomfortable muscle cramps, or you may even require longer recovery periods between workouts. 

If you think your diet has some room for improvement, this brief guide can help you create a balanced plan that won’t leave you feeling undernourished or overstuffed (while we dispel a few common nutrition myths). Here’s what you need to know:

Understand Your Calorie Needs

No matter whether you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight, it’s wise to know how many calories your body requires to keep you performing at your best. Runners often take their Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) into account to make sure they aren’t undereating. You can use a TDEE calculator to determine how many calories you need everyday based on your age, weight, height, activity level, and body fat percentage.

If you just want to know how many calories you burn during a workout, you can input your current weight, running pace, and duration of your workout into this handy calculator here. Just keep in mind that your caloric output can vary slightly depending on weather conditions, level of incline, gender, and other factors.

Keep Your Diet Interesting

If you find yourself throwing the same 12 items into your cart every time you go grocery shopping, you’re definitely not alone. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut when planning and preparing foods to fuel your workouts. Even if you always get “healthy” ingredients, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In fact, depriving yourself of your favorite foods might even make cravings worse!

If you need some motivation to switch things up, try keeping a food journal for a week. This simple exercise can help you recognize where you need to make changes in your daily life. For instance, if you struggle to avoid high-calorie snacks at night, you might need to add more protein to your dinner or make healthier snacks ahead of time to avoid polishing off an entire bag of chips!

Add These Foods to Your List

If you’re getting tired of your current meal plan, consider picking up some of these superfoods suggested by Runner’s World:

 

  • Almonds. A small handful of almonds contains plenty of vitamin E, and they can decrease LDL cholesterol. 
  • Eggs. One egg can provide 10% of your daily protein needs and 30% of your vitamin K needs.
  • Sweet potatoes. Although one potato is a mere 100 calories, it packs in over 250% of the DV of vitamin A and contains good amounts of vitamin C, iron, and potassium.
  • Black beans. One cup of canned black beans will provide 30% of the DV for protein, and nearly 60% of your daily fiber and folate needs.
  • Dark chocolate. The antioxidants in dark chocolate can ease inflammation and have even been shown to improve heart health in some studies. Sweet!

Hydration Hacks for Runners

It doesn’t take long for new runners to find out that guzzling water right before a run makes for a rather uncomfortable workout. Side cramps and the feeling of water sloshing around in their stomachs are two common reasons why runners may also refuse to drink water during a long run—even to the point of dehydration.

However, it can be tricky to find the right balance of water intake for runners at all levels. It may take some trial and error before you discover a system that works best for your needs and running habits. That being said, there are a few basic hydration tips that any individual could benefit from. According to experts, these are some of the best strategies for avoiding dehydration and overhydration to help you perform at your best:

Focus On Everyday Water Intake

Sports nutritionist Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, reports that nearly 50% of regular exercisers begin their workouts in the early stages of dehydration. “Your priority should be staying on top of daily hydration," Ryan recommends. “If you hydrate properly, you won't need to worry as much about becoming dehydrated during a typical moderate run." This means that you need to be drinking adequate amounts of water everyday; not just days you work out. The old guideline of “8 glasses of water per day” is a good rule of thumb.

Take a “Sweat Test”

If you want to ensure you’re taking in enough water during a long run, USAT Level I Triathlon coach Chrissy Carroll, R.D. says that you can simply weigh yourself before and after a workout. “If you've only lost 1-2% of your body weight, you’re in the hydration sweet spot,” Carroll says. “If you've lost more than 2-3% of your body weight, try hydrating a little more during your long runs.” A good standard practice is to drink 0.4 to 0.8 liters of water in the first hour of a run. This equates to a few sips of water every 15-20 minutes. 

Carry Water—Or Get Creative With Your Route

REI Outdoor School Instructors Julia Zuniga and Cory Rand are all too familiar with common concerns and complaints when it comes to staying hydrated. They both recommend that runners should wear a waist belt or hydration vest during strenuous workouts, and that people should set a timer to go off every 20 minutes so they remember to drink. 

However, they also acknowledge that carrying water can weigh people down when they’re trying to improve their speed. Their solution? “Plan a route that will take you by a water fountain where you can drink or refill a bottle,” Zuniga and Rand respond. They also suggest that you can use your car as an “aid station” by planning your run in loops around the vehicle. You can stop at your car to drink water, grab a quick snack, or whatever else you need to keep going.

How to Choose the Best Running Shoes for You

Whether you’re a seasoned marathon runner or a recently-converted couch potato, you’ve likely been overwhelmed by the sheer number of running shoes available on the market today. A simple quest for new kicks can spiral into an all-day affair if you aren’t sure what to look for, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all.

Fortunately, narrowing down your top picks doesn’t have to be a chore! With this quick guide, you’ll be able to:

  • Understand the distinguishing characteristics of major athletic brands.
  • Determine which shoes are best suited for your workout preferences (long-distance running, sprinting, speed walking, etc.)
  • Select a shoe that will make you feel like Cinderella (but in a totally cool and tough way, of course). 

Ready to take the first step?

1. Assess Your Gait

Your gait—also referred to as “pronation”—refers to the way your foot rolls from heel to toe when you take a step. A neutral or normal pronation is identified when your foot doesn’t roll too far to the inside or outside of your foot as you run. 

If you notice that your foot tends to roll to the inside during your foot strike, you may have overpronation. This is common with people who have low arches or flat feet. On the opposite side of the spectrum is underpronation, which occurs when your foot rolls to the outside during your stride.

If you have a weathered pair of running shoes, you can assess your gait in seconds by simply checking the wear pattern

2. Pick a Basic Shoe Type

Once you understand your running style, you can select from one of the major categories of running shoes based on the type of support you need. According to RunningShoesGuru, neutral shoes feature a gentle, built-in arch for those with few pronation issues and normal arches. A few brands that excel in this category include the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36, ASICS Gel Nimbus 22, and the Brooks Ghost 12.

If you tend to overpronate, stability or motion control shoes are designed with extra rigidity to gently correct your gait. Some choice stability shoes include the Saucony Omni Iso 2 and the Asics GT 1000 8. For runners who tend to underpronate, a highly cushioned shoe can help support the arches while allowing for plenty of flexibility. The New Balance Fresh Foam More and the Brooks Glycerin 17 are both highly-rated cushioned running shoes you may want to check out.

3. Recognize a Great Fit

Now that you have an idea of what type of shoe you need, it’s recommended to go to a store that specializes in running shoes rather than taking your chances at a non-specialized store. The assistants will be able to offer their expert advice and help you narrow down your options. 

Once you find a pair that appeals to you, make sure that:

  • There’s about a thumbnail’s length of extra space between your toes and the toe box.
  • The heel and arch fit snugly without being too tight (blisters are no fun).
  • The toe box allows for a bit of wiggle room for optimal flexibility.
  • Your ankle doesn’t rub against the fabric of the shoe.
  • The fabric on the upper part of the shoe doesn’t bunch up, stretch, or bulge. 

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, never settle for a shoe that offers less support than you need because you like the way they look. You’ll be far more likely to appreciate a running shoe that fits well rather than one that goes perfectly with your running shorts! 

 

Race Day Tips

Proper sleep, nutrition, and training are all important points of focus leading up to a race. You might have a specific meal plan or stretch regimen you follow on a daily basis to ensure you’ll deliver an optimal performance the day of the event. But in many cases, a structured training plan needs to be altered for race morning—or even race week. Follow these simple tips to feel as prepared as you can be by the time you approach the starting line.

 

Don’t be scared to warm up

So many runners—especially new runners—are worried that pre-race warmups will tire them out before the gun even goes off. The truth is that getting your heart rate up—even to the point of a light sweat—and making sure your joints are nice and loose will result in a better quality run. Don’t skimp on this part—do yourself a favor by prepping your muscles and going for an easy jog. And trust me, you won’t wear yourself out. If nothing else, you’ll have adrenaline on your side.

 

Don’t wait until race day to hydrate

It’s unrealistic--and unwise--to strictly apply every piece of advice for every race distance. For example, preparation and strategy for a marathon differs greatly from a 5K. However, as a general rule, it’s important to be well hydrated by the time you wake up on race day morning, which means it’s important to pay close attention to your water intake the week leading up to the race. If you try to guzzle a bunch of water that morning, you’ll run the risk of having to stop to use the bathroom or, at the very least, feel uncomfortable with too much liquid in your stomach. I personally take only a sip or two to wet my lips before any race and refrain from actually drinking water until afterwards. This no-water method might not work for you, so listen to your body, but do try to be hydrated prior to race day.

 

Hydrate smart

Whether you’re a runner or not, proper nutrition is important for making us feel our very best physically and mentally. A lot of runners are diligent about eating a balanced diet from a variety of food groups to make sure they have all of the necessary nutrients and fuel to perform their best. Fiber is an important component to any healthy diet, but when it comes to race day and the few days leading up to it, it could be beneficial to wean off your fiber intake. Fiber adds bulk to your stool and allows things to move quickly and efficiently. This isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re going for a PR. Not to mention, fiber absorbs water, which can make you feel weighed down or even bloated. One method to avoid that would be to start decreasing your fiber intake the week of the race, and then on race morning, have something simple, light, and low fiber, such as toast and an egg. 

 

Make stretching secondary

Stretching is important in just about every sport. It’s beneficial to have loose, limber muscles in order to prevent injury. The type of stretching you do and the timing of your stretch session are key factors to consider, however, especially on race day. Your first priority shouldn’t be stretching—it should be your warmup. Getting your body and muscles warm through a jog and other light aerobic movements is crucial for a successful run. When you do begin to stretch, it should be dynamic—not static stretching. Static refers to holding particular positions in place, such as a maintained toe-touch hamstring stretch. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, involve continued motion, such as high knee runs and leg swings. Static stretching is intended to increase range of motion over time, but if done with no warmup and cool muscles, it could do more harm than good and cause injury. Static stretching should be reserved for after the race.

 

Keep these tips in mind as you get ready for Big Dam Run 2K20! Sign up here!

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