Tag: nutrition

Feed the Beast – part III

Feed the Beast – part III

In the last segment of our blog on nutrition, I will provide some details on how to fuel on the run and some possible alternatives to the normal “carb-covered carbs” that are traditionally used by runners on the go.

Okay, let’s talk turkey . . . well not really but you know what I mean.  The two main issues related to fueling on the run are when do I need to consume calories and how often?  In terms of when, if you come to the race/run with a full tank of muscle glycogen from carb loading (see Feed the Beast – part II) you should be good for at least 45 minutes – hour before starting your fueling regime.  Once the “bewitching hour” for nutrition intake hits, be consistent.  Runners can absorb 200-240 calories per hour, depending on their size and stomach happiness.  For some folks, this is a lot of calories to ingest while running.

In the middle of a run, it can be hard to remember to eat/drink that much so set a timer on your watch or make a mental note to “check in” on nutrition every time you pass a mile marker.  Do not assume that you only need to eat or drink when you see an aid station.  Particularly for longer races on challenging trails.  Just because there is an aid station every 4 miles, doesn’t mean you will travel four miles at the same pace each time.  On some trails, where boulder hopping was the activity of the day, it took me almost 90 minutes to move between aid stations only 4 miles apart.

Unless you have a stomach of steel, it may be easier to try and consume smaller amounts of calories every 15 minutes to get the magic 200-240 calories in an hour.  Another strategy is to mix solid food with liquid calories.  During a marathon you might consume Gatorade or some sports drink every few minutes and then down a Gu with water at an aid station.  Always take gels and chews with several ounces of water to prevent a “gut bomb”.  For even longer events like 50 or 100 miles, you may eat half a PB & J sandwich with a cup of Ginger Ale or a Coke to be sure to get your calories.

When you run ultra-distances, you start to think of nutrition in a different way.  Most of the experts report that carbohydrates are the way to go for your “in run” fueling needs.  But is their a place for other fueling options . . . say protein?  The answers continue to be divided.  In general, the faster you go, the more carbohydrates you use and the less protein and fat that is broken down for fuel.  Breaking down carbs seems to be the body’s general preference to get nutrition to the muscles faster.  But if you are not planning to break the 2 hour marathon record or running 30, 50, 100, or more miles, is protein a good option on the run?  The science currently says that supplementing carbohydrate drinks or gels with protein (in a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein) MAY result in some increased performance, but this is a big MAY as some studies have shown no increase in performance.  Protein has also sometimes been linked to stomach issues.

So the bottom line is, mid-run fueling with protein might be helpful for some runners but it should be taken with caution on a run.  Test out adding protein to your “in-run” nutrition for shorter workouts and build up the amount of protein to see what your body will tolerate.  Here is a list of some possible “on the go” protein options to use during a run:

  • Justin’s Nut Butter – comes in easy to use individual serving packets (just like a Gu)
  • Beef or Turkey jerky – you can buy these in bite size pieces but they can be tough to chew on the run
  • Huma Chia Energy gel – still has the carbs and electrolytes but also gives a boost of protein in the form of chia seeds
  • PureSport – a liquid option for folks wanting lower carb, lower calorie, but with added protein
  • Accerlerade – higher protein drinks and gels
  • Bacon – I’m not even kidding about this one.  Precook some bacon to get it extra crispy and throw it in a bag for a quick snack on the go.
Feed “the Beast” – part II

Feed “the Beast” – part II

The saga of eating on the run continues.  Now that you know why you need nutrition for longer runs, it’s time to dissect what to eat.  During long runs of 13+ miles, the body needs to replenish calories, specifically carbohydrates, and salt.  When we sweat, we lose both water and salt, so the best nutrition options are those that provide quick, readily digestible calories and salt (think sodium and potassium).  There are three main types of in-run nutrition:  liquids, sports gels/chews, and real, honest to goodness, solid food.

Let’s start with liquid options.  Most runners have heard of the classic Gatorade.  But there are a number of options now available to runners as powders to add to your water.  Options include GuBrew, Tailwind, and Sword.  This list goes on forever as new vendors come on the market whispering the sweet Siren song of performance enhancement without stomach problems.

If you’re feeling “hipster chic” you can also try coconut water.  At 90 calories per 16 oz serving, coconut water contains all the key electrolytes including magnesium, potassium, and sodium.  In fact, coconut water contains more 2x the potassium in a banana which is an extra bonus as potassium intake is linked to preventing muscle cramps.  I can’t say I’ve tried this option because I’m not a fan of the flavor but I can see a lot of upsides to this option.

Final point on liquids; whatever you do . . . for the love of puppies, DO NOT HAVE DAIRY!  Science tells us this is a bad idea.  Nature tells us this is a bad idea.  Do not subject yourself or others to this form of explosive GI tract apocalypse.  Save your dairy for a safe post-run chocolate milk.

Energy gels, chews, and beans.  These are a good option for people who can eat anything on the run and don’t want to think about their nutrition.  Grab a gel, eat 3-4 chews, or snag a handful of sports beans.  Each option has 80-150 calories and salt.  Many gels and chews also come with or without caffeine.  There is a buffet of options for this form of nutrition.  These options are tough if you have trouble with the “mouth feel” of the gels or you struggle to chew when your mouth gets dry.  For me, I can’t do most gels.  There is a brand called Gu which I think is onomatopoeia because that’s the sound I make when I try to use most gels.  I have found that the more natural gels made with chia seeds or Stinger honey packs go down a bit easier because of their lighter texture.  Whatever you choose, make sure you consume them with lots of water.

If all else fails, there is always good old fashioned real food.  Ultrarunners are hysterical at aid stations.  At a 50 and 100 mile races I have seen runners eating beer and burgers.  My husband ate a chicken salad sandwich during his last 100 miler.  It all depends what works for you.  If you can eat a chili dog and ride a roller coaster without losing your lunch, this is probably a good option for you.  I can’t even look at food during a run without feeling queasy.  However, if this is your jam, consider a mixture of sweet and salty to satisfy your mood.  Some salty options include, pickles, PB & J Uncrustables, Cheez It’s, PB pretzels, potato chips, or salted boiled potatoes.  For the sweet, there’s Pay Day bars, brownie bites, frozen grapes, dried fruit, watermelon, or bananas.

Lastly, nutrition only works if you consume the right amount on the run.  If you have the best nutrition plan in the world, it will be wasted if you don’t eat or drink regularly during the run.  Make sure you test out all of your planned nutrition options for any stomach issues and taste appeal.  Chews may taste great for the first half of the run but by mile 20 if you’re gagging, they aren’t a good option.

Feed “the Beast” – part I

Feed “the Beast” – part I

When runners move up in distances from 5 K to marathon and beyond, they have to start thinking about nutrition in a way that may seem foreign.  To further complicate the issue, a simple Google search will yield a Golden Coral Buffet’s worth of ideas on what to use for fuel and technical instructions on how many carbohydrates are needed per hour based on the phase of the moon and the length of your mother-in-law’s toe nails.  Certainly, for anyone who has mucked up their nutrition, getting the right amount of calories at the right time is very important, but it does not require a PhD in Biochemistry to get it right.  But just in case it does, I’m here for the people.

There are lots of pieces to the nutrition puzzle, so in this first post we’ll discuss why the body needs nutrition at certain distances but not others.  In part II we’ll talk turkey – what options exist for fueling?  Finally, in part III, we’ll dive into the “soup to nuts” of eating on the run, as in when to eat and how to consume the nutrition to avoid the dreaded “gut bomb”.

Let’s dive into the mystery of nutrition.  As I am a big believer in people taking ownership of their running experience, let’s discuss why nutrition is needed, particularly as the miles pile up.  When you are performing in an endurance sport like running, you use two main forms of energy, carbohydrates and fat.  Carbs are the easiest and most readily available to the muscles, while fat takes longer to serve up.  Now add to that fact, the body can only store a limited amount of carbs “ready to use” in our muscles.  This form of carbs is called glycogen.  Science tells us our bodies can store about 90 minutes worth of glycogen in our muscles.  So . . . what happens after that?  Well, things can get a bit messy when our muscles run out of glycogen and we don’t supply more carbs.  We won’t becoming raging zombies, but we will “bonk” or begin to see a drop in physical performance and mental focus (remember our brain uses a lot of carbs in the form of glucose).

Runner’s often talk about carb loading the night and/or days before a big race.  Here’s the reason:  Runners want to top off the glycogen in their muscles.  By race morning, we want our muscles completely full with glycogen so that we can go faster and farther before needing to tap into other energy sources which are less efficient.  So how much do you need to carb load?  Again, we go to the science.  Women are less responsive to carb loading than men of equal weight, so we need roughly 8 g/kg of body weight, the day before the race or long run.  Guys, you can get the same effect with a bit less – sorry, you can skip the extra doughnut.  So for those of us who don’t work in kg, that equates to approximately 3.6 grams of carb/pound of body weight (if I did my math right).  For a 150 pound woman, this equates to 540 g of carbs the day before the race.  That’s quite a bit of carbs.  To put things in perspective, a banana is 27 g of carbs, 1 slice of 14 inch, regular crust pizza is 36 g, and a single pancake, 6 inches across is 22 g of carbs.  If eating this many carbs is a big jump from your norm, definitely try a bit of carb loading before training runs of 14+ miles.  You want to know how your stomach will react to a bolus of carbs on a long run and not on race morning.

So now you understand why runners carb load and how carbs can effect performance.  The last piece of the puzzle is nutrition on the run.  Energy sources designed for runners such as, chews, GUs, sports drinks, etc are formulated to be digested rapidly and used quickly by the body.  That being said, anything we eat/drink on the run still has to be absorbed into the intestines, passed into the blood stream, and shuttled off to the muscles.  This explains why runners want to maximize glycogen because it’s already at the muscles and ready to use and why it’s so important for runners to time their nutrition during a run.  If you wait too long to take in energy, you will use up your glycogen before the new carbs come to town and  . . . “bonk”.

Stay tuned for the next post where we will sidle up to the runner’s buffet to sample the options.