The what, when, and why of eating for race day. And every other running day.
We’ll be the first to admit that although we may not be able to calculate an 18% tip on a charcuterie board (full of calcium and protein, guys) plus obligatory glass of merlot (because resveratrol) off the top of our heads (yeah—math isn’t really our strong suit), but the nutrition to workout ratio is pretty damn important and something we're actually kind of curious about. And like math, when it comes to exercise and eating well, things aren’t, well, as easy as ╥ (LOL, had to). Throw in a new running routine like this one and things get a hundred times more convoluted. As in, what are we actually supposed to be eating when training for a four-hour marathon? What’s the perfect training meal plan? When is the best time to eat (before, after, during)? And practically every other long distance run-related nutrition Qs you can think of.
what are we actually supposed to be eating when training for a four-hour marathon?
So in tandem with our commitment to lace up and actually run, we're trying to eat enough nutrition-packed fuel foods and thus avoid any mid-run collapses (seriously, though, this haunts our daydreams). In the spirit of things, we chatted with Jenn Randazzo, registered dietician for Vega and Kaia FIT, to lay down the ground rules on when we should be eating pre- and post-run, how to stay properly energized, and how to be generally well-nourished for our new (read: more intense) running routine. Remember, guys: food = fuel.
WHAT TO EAT BEFORE AND AFTER A SHORT RUN
"Fuelling properly for a short run, one that’s less than five miles, is still important, especially if you’re interested in running faster, trying a hillier course, or hitting the pavement during a heat wave. Nutrient-dense carbohydrates, protein and fat all play a role in fuelling before and after a short run; however, when these nutrients are consumed are key. To feel energized during your short run, try following the guidelines of this sample meal plan."
TIMING: 2-4 hours pre-run
NUTRIENTS TO CONSUME: complex carbohydrate + protein + fat + simple carbohydrate (optional) + caffeine (optional)
• 1 slice of whole grain bread + 2 tbsp nut butter + fruit jam
• ½ cup oatmeal + 2 tbsp nut butter + 1 tbsp maple syrup
• ½ whole grain bagel + ½ avocado + salt and pepper
• 1 cup coffee (optional)
• 1 cup yerba mate or green tea (optional)
TIMING: 30-60 minutes pre-run
NUTRIENTS TO CONSUME: simple carbohydrate
• ½ banana
• ¼ cup raisins
• 1 date (pre-pitted)
WHAT TO EAT WHEN YOU'RE TRAINING
"Whether you’re training for a 5K or 15K, the same nutritional principles and guidelines apply. A combination of energizing carbohydrates, easily-digestible proteins and healthy fats is the ideal way to fuel because each supports unique aspects of the body’s fuelling and recovery process."
CARBOHYDRATES: support energy, speed, stamina, concentration, recovery and better fluid balance.
PROTEINS: support muscle strength and mass.
FATS: support stamina, aid in fat-soluble vitamin absorption, and helps minimize GI upset.
While the exact amounts can vary between athletes, the recommended breakdown of daily macronutrient consumption is:
• CARBOHYDRATES: 50-65%
• PROTEINS: 10-15%
• FAT: 20-30%
YOUR MARATHON MEAL PLAN
THE DAY BEFORE
"Consume nutrient-dense, easily-digestible foods that provide a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Slightly increasing the amount of carbohydrates you consume in the day(s) leading up to your race can be incredibly beneficial. This is often referred to as 'carbohydrate loading'."
To 'carb-load' properly, do a few simple calculations:
1. DETERMINE YOUR DAILY ENERY (CALORIE) NEEDS.
Take your weight in pounds and multiply by 25.
2. DETERMINE YOUR MACRONUTRIENT NEEDS IN GRAMS BASED ON THE RECOMMENDED NUTRIENT BREAKDOWN.
3. ADD 100-150 GRAMS OF CARBOHYDRATE (you can actually start doing this 3 days prior to your race!).
Determine energy needs:
120 pound female x 25 = 3000 calories
Carbohydrate: 3000 x .65 = 1950 grams
Protein: 3000 x .15 = 450 grams
Fat: 3000 x .2 = 600 grams
Add 100 – 150 grams of carbohydrate:
1950 grams + 150 grams = 1100 grams of carbohydrate
THE MORNING OF
"You’ll probably be feeling a little jittery the morning of your race, but don’t let those butterflies affect your appetite. The hours right before you hit the pavement are critical fuelling opportunities."
About 90 minutes before your race, nibble on something that will provide you with sustaining energy. Your small meal should include complex carbohydrates, easily-digested protein and a little fat. Below are some of my personal favorites.
NUTRIENT-DENSE SMOOTHIE: ½ banana + ½ serving of plant-based protein powder + 1 tbsp almond butter + 1.5 cups cashew milk + 3 ice cubes
PB+J: sprouted, whole-grain toast + 1 tbsp almond butter + 1 tsp natural fruit jam
GLUTEN-FREE OATMEAL: ½ cup of oats (or quinoa) + 2 tbsp almond butter + 1 tbsp maple syrup
About 20 minutes before your race, consume a small amount of simple carbohydrates to top off those muscle glycogen stored. Some simple options include the below."
• ½ banana
• 2 dates (pre-pitted)
• 1 tbsp. coconut oil
• ¼ cup raisins
DURING THE RACE
"During your race, consumption of simple carbohydrates is important as it provides continuous energy to the muscles. While your feet are hitting the pavement, eat between 30–60 grams of carbohydrate every hour to fuel those muscles and help prevent fatigue."
• ¼ cup of raisins
• 2 dates (pre-pitted)
• ½ banana
AFTER THE RACE
"After you cross that finish line, take a minute to celebrate. However, as soon as you’ve finished smiling for the cameras, take a minute and concentrate on replenishing your nutritional losses. Although many of us reach for our protein shake immediately after a race, simple carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy to replenish your muscle glycogen."
Within the first 30 minutes, consume:
• 0.3 grams of simple carbohydrate/pound of body weight
• 10-20 grams of protein
If you don’t have a calculator, aim for a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein.
About 90 minutes after, consume a more complex meal that includes a combination of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat. Some of my favorite nutrient-dense post-run meals include:
LENTIL TACOS: lentils + lettuce + pickled vegetables (carrots, onions, jalapenos) + salsa + avocado.
QUINOA VEGGIE BOWL: quinoa + grilled veggies + black beans + hot sauce.
BLACK BEAN VEGGIE BURGER: spouted bun + black bean burger + grilled onions, lettuce, tomato + avocado.
WHAT ABOUT WATER?
"Proper hydration is critical for the success of your race, whether you’re trying to beat your PR (personal record) or just finish without being scraped off the street. It begins well before the day of the race; you should really focus on making sure you’re consuming adequate amounts of water (which can come from foods too!) earlier in the week leading up to the race."
To help manage your hydration status, follow this simple guideline:
When to drink and how much
2-3 hours before activity >> 2-3 cups (16 -24 oz)
15 minutes before activity >> 1-2 cups (8 – 16 oz)
Every 15 minutes during activity >> ½ to 1 cup (4-8 oz)
After activity >> 2 cups for each pound of body weight lost*
To replace water loss during exercise:
1. Weigh yourself immediately before your workout and then immediately after.
2. Subtract weight after exercise from your weight before.
3. Consume 2 cups (16 fluid ounces) of water per every lost pound.
"There’s not a 'one-size-fits all' approach when it comes to what a runner’s diet should look like. Whether you follow a vegan, Paleo, or an anything-in-between diet—your diet should be full of nutrient-dense, energizing foods that make you feel good. While the foods you include in your diet can vary wildly, the nutritional composition of those foods should be very similar. An ideal runner’s diet includes nutrient-dense foods that provide a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates, easily-digestible proteins, and healthy fats. Personally, I have the following staples in my fridge and pantry at all times."
SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES (for quick-burning energy): bananas, oranges, brown rice syrup.
COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES (for sustaining energy): Dave’s Killer Whole-Grain bread, locally-sourced corn tortillas, oats.
EASILY-DIGESTABLE PROTEINS: sprouted tofu, sprouted black beans, quinoa.
HEALTHY FATS: avocado, coconut oil, walnuts.