With another marathon coming up (in TWO days!), nutrition has been on my mind a lot! As an endurance athlete, my goal, always, is to fuel my body with the healthiest, most nutrient-dense foods that I can. I could train until the cows come home, but if I’m not properly fueling and refueling my body, I’m never going to improve or make any gains.
Primarily, I eat a plant-based, vegetarian, whole-food diet. I do eat some seafood, but otherwise, I am meat/poultry, gluten, and dairy free. This just happens to be what works for ME… meaning it might not be right for you!
I’ve never been afraid to experiment with my diet and I’ve tried various styles over the years… vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, raw, modified paleo, Mediterranean, ayurveda, the wine diet (joking… wait, is there one??)… trying to find the optimal way of eating that makes me feel my best and perform by best. Currently, my diet most closely resembles the anti-inflammatory diet as recommended by Dr. Weil. You can read about it here.
Trying new things, whether it be foods, food groups, or systems of eating can produce some interesting results if you are willing to experiment and really pay attention. I learned long ago that I thrive when I eat multiple meals and snacks throughout the day. Honestly, I eat about 7-8 times a day! I’m much happier without gluten. My body craves vegetables, but not much fruit. Quality fats are essential. Dark chocolate and wine are non-negotiable because I’m miserable if I try to restrict them. I might add that deprivation is never a solution unless you are severely allergic. You’ll just end up cranky!!!
So back to my point. As far as racing nutrition goes, there is a ton of sound information out there but I thought I would mix it up a little today and share some of the things that work for me.
The goal is to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak, with whatever food choices you make in the days leading up to a race. Many experts in sports nutrition recommend that you stay away from heavy, rich, fried, and fatty foods and limit processed foods, whole grains, and fiber as the event nears. It is also suggested that you avoid trying any new foods in the days leading up to an event. That experimentation that I encouraged earlier, yeah, not a good idea two days before a race!
Carb-loading is a popular term and a common practice among athletes. Basically, carbohydrates provide the perfect source of energy in the form of glycogen that is stored within the muscles. It is a more efficient fuel to burn, as opposed to fat. Carb-loading before a race or event, and consuming carbs during, means that your body won’t have to resort to fat stores to provide fuel. It is a much less efficient fuel source because the body has to work harder to convert it. Ultimately, it could mean a decrease in performance which no one wants when they are racing! This all works only if you decrease the amount of running you do leading up to race day during your taper so that you build up your stores.
I have seen several plans that include increasing simple sugar sources, which of course, makes total sense. I prefer, however, to only ingest them during long training runs or a race. After using Clif Shot energy gels for a while, I found that I just couldn’t stomach them any more. I switched to Clif Shot Blocks and my tummy is much happier!
My strategy is simple. I eat cookies. With oats in them. And bananas. And chocolate.
Seriously though, it should be simple. For a Sunday race, I begin to add more carbohydrates to every meal beginning on Thursday. I’m not adding more meals or bigger portions though. (Or trying not to!) The idea is that the carb sources replace the other components of a typical meal.
I’m not sure what percentage of carbs I’m eating overall but 85-95% is the recommended amount. I know that “white” carbs are easier to digest and have less fiber but I’m not a big fan of them (with a few exceptions) so I stick to my regular sources: oats, brown rice, brown rice pasta, quinoa, and sweet potatoes are my main ones. Bananas are another go-to. I gradually reduce my protein intake, but not eliminate it completely. For me, eggs are a great source of protein that are easily digestible.
The evening before a race I eat the same thing every time: a good amount of brown rice pasta with some garbanzo beans and homemade marinara sauce. Sometimes, if on hand, I’ll have some gluten-free bread, and maybe a very small, simple green salad. Typically, I also have a little wine. A glass or two. I know my body and I know what I can handle so I’ve never had any trouble with a consuming a couple of glasses. It often helps calm my pre-race nerves too. That said, I’m actually foregoing wine this time around. I did have 4 oz. last night but that was it until after I race Sunday. No real reason other than just to see what happens. (For the record, if I totally blow it Sunday, I’m blaming the lack of wine!!)
I would add that I try to eat as early as I can allowing for a few hours to digest before getting to bed. I hate eating late anyway since I tend to go to bed early.
Race day morning is a little trickier. It depends on the start time and if I can eat at home or if I have to eat on the road. I try to eat a good meal a couple of hours before the start time, usually protein pancakes or overnight oats, and then eat a banana about 30 minutes before go time. At the Vernonia Marathon in April, the start time was really late – after 9 am – and I had breakfast at home really early, before 5:30. Even though I had a snack beforehand, I remember standing at the starting line hungry. For a girl who HATES to be hungry, it was not a welcome feeling and I will absolutely make sure that doesn’t happen again this weekend!
Speaking of, all of this talk about food has made me HUNGRY! ; )
I’m not an expert and I can only share with you what I’ve learned from my experiences. There are so many great resources out there if you are seeking advice on pre-race fueling or sports nutrition in general but I’ll leave you with a few articles that have been helpful to me!
Fill ‘Er Up – Runner’s World
What Do I Eat Before My Race? – Runner’s World
Carbo-loading: Tips for endurance athletes – Active.com
The Truth about Carbo-Loading – Run your BQ
Carb-loading do’s and dont’s – Canadian Running