“That wasn’t bad”“The inclines were tough, but I feel pretty good now”“It didn’t seem that long, how far did we go today?”“My legs don’t feel too tired”
Let’s start with protein because that is probably the most critical component as you increase exercise intensity or duration. When you run, you create tiny tears in your muscle fibers and protein is required to repair that damage. For female long-distance runners, experts suggest taking in about 90g a day (or 1.6-1.8g/kg of body weight). That’s a lot of protein – it takes a concerted effort to get there. Make it “clean” protein when possible – lean meats, fish, nuts, yogurt, lentils/pulses and low-fat milk (this is the one low-fat product that most nutritionists agree is fine). Most professional runners eat salmon like crazy – I’ve never heard a nutritionist say that salmon is THAT much better than other fish, but a lot of very experienced runners sing it’s praises.
A lot of trainers will encourage you to increase your carb intake, but I don’t fully agree (particularly for our type of running). It may be necessary for athletes training at extemely high intensity zones, but that’s not what we’re doing. I can explain this is more detail if you’re interested, but this is the bottomline…. we are trying to teach our bodies to use fat as fuel. Fat is easier to access as an energy source and requires less fine-tuning in terms of timing carb intake during exercise. Our bodies have about 1000-1200 “easy access” calories available which will get most ladies about 10-11 miles (depending on their weight and fitness level). After that we will use gels (carbs) to fuel that last 2-3 miles of a half-marathon. If you increase your carb intake on a daily basis, then your body starts expecting a constant feed of carb fuel and may begin to resist going to fat as a fuel source. Your body needs carbs so don’t completely cut them out – just choose clean carbs, complex when possible, ie. grains, wholewheat products, basmati rice (the longer the grain the better – long grain basmati is better for you than even brown rice). Bread is not evil, just don’t rely on it as your major carb source. Sourdough bread is better for you (usually made with naturally occuring yeast) than traditional loaves.
Fat is necessary in our diets. I would make a nutritionist cringe by explaining it so simply, but basically fat creates a slower release of energy/fuel. It’s as though you’ve taken a time release medication rather than a typical dose when you combine a bit of fat with your other nutrition sources. Fat from avocados, olive oil, nuts, etc is obviously better for you than fat in brownies, cookies, etc (sorry about that!!!). Some current research is suggesting it is actually it’s the sugar in those products rather than the saturated fat that is causing a big problem with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We can let the scientists battle that out – for us, just try to get your fat from more natural foods.
With all nutrition, the closer you can get to whole food, the better (ie. apples are better than applesauce, whole vegetables are better than pre-packaged ones). Basically, the closer your food looks to how you would find it “in-situ”, the better. That concept is one thing on which all nutritionists/dietitians seem to agree.
Before you run, I would suggest the following:
- 50g carbohydrates
- 5g protein
- 2-3g fat
That could be a half bagel with cream cheese, yogurt with nuts (if the nuts don’t upset your stomach), a smoothie, or try oatmeal/porridge – it wins the prize for a near-perfect carb/protein/fat mix for pre-run. Most people find simpler carbs work better before a run than complex carbs as they are more easily digested (so a plain bagel instead of a wholegrain/seeded bagel). Ideally, eat the pre-run meal 90 minutes before running. Sometimes that is just not possible, so the closer to the run that you eat, the more you should consider simplier carbs for easier digestion.
The latest research on coffee/caffeine pre-exercise, suggest there is no impact on performance, but a huge impact on perceived exertion. This is interesting to me – basically these new studies conclude that given two athletes who have eaten the exact same thing, and are asked to perform at the exact same level, and who have the exact same result feel differently about how hard the session was. The one who has caffeine in their system will feel it was easier – their “perception of exertion” is lower.
Within 30 minutes after you run, I would suggest the following:
- 50g carbohydrates
- 10g protein
- 2g fat
The protein piece is critical as is the timing of this food. Again, a nutritionist/scientist would cringe at how I try to explain this, but here we go… when you exercise your muscles are agitated/traumatized. The cell membranes temporarily become more porous (instead of a wall, it’s more like a mesh allowing the flow of nutrients easy passage). Some post-run ideas would be a latte and yogurt, a latte and a piece of fruit or a latte and half a skinny muffin. I’ve attached the Starbucks nutritional info to make this easier for you. Basically a tall, skinny latte has 15g of carbs, 10g of protein and 0g fat – so you’re looking for another 35g of carbs in addition to the latte. All of this pre/post run info would apply to longer runs and what qualifies as a long run is different from runner to runner. You are probably just fine eating whatever you normally consume until about mid-end January when our runs lengthen.
Lastly, get it right about 80% of the time and you’re golden. What you’ve read above is the ideal – shoot for the ideal and accept about a B as your grade, OK, maybe a B+. An A- is definitely overachieving and a A or A+ is just downright weird. Don’t tempt yourself to become obsessive with food. It’s very common in the running world and it’s just not necessary. We are not Olympic athletes – we are super-fit, moms/wives/sisters/friends who run. Most of you are cooking for your family, kids, husbands and leading full lives which include meals out, evenings of over-indulgence, and times when you just don’t have the willpower to make super-healthy choices. It’s OK.
If you are hoping to trim down and want help in that arena, let me know. We can make some adjustments to the suggestions above and give you a better chance of achieving that goal. Most of you will experience an increased appetite as a result of this training. That is normal. You may have heard some of our more experienced runners saying they didn’t lose a pound when they started running. Usually it’s because you’re hungrier with increased activity levels, so you eat more. It’s been my experience that women don’t lose or gain weight in training, but they have more energy, they can eat more and often digestive issues disappear.
Sorry about the length of this email – it’s a lot of blah, blah, blah!
See you Thursday,