PB: Nutrition During Marathon Training
Rewind back to March 2009….
My watch says I’m on mile 3…that’s weird…why am I sweating? I’m not particularly out of breath and I just ran 7 miles the other day no problem….oh well, it’s probably in my head. Just 5 more miles to go and my 8 miler will be done.
Mile 3.8…..ok something’s wrong….I can barely keep a light jog….this is a cold sweat – different from anything I have ever experienced before. I better turn around.
Mile 4.1 – I’m going to be sick. I need to finish this 8 miler. I’m going to run .75 miles and then walk .25 miles. I’ll do that for the rest of the time and then at least I can say I’ve finished the 8 miler with a halfway decent time.
Mile 4.3 – Legs, why have you betrayed me? I can only run half a mile at a time – and even that takes all of my energy. I need some water. There’s one up there.
Mile 4.4 – Of course, TODAY the water fountain would not be working.
Mile 4.7 – I hope I get home ok.
Mile 4.77 – I wonder if that truck can hit me and put me out of my misery.
At home: Ugh. I hate you, body.
The Post Run Nap
That pretty much sums up my first and only BONK. If any of you have ever experienced a bonk, the above scenario is an all too familiar sequence of events. You haven’t fueled properly. You either haven’t hydrated properly before or during your run or you haven’t eaten enough food to give your body something to use for our run.
As we grow up playing soccer and engaging in all of the typical childhood sports, we are constantly told to drink water, drink water, drink water. But as a runner, once you start to consistently run past the 8 or 9 mile mark and beyond if training for a half or full marathon, the importance of eating and drinking properly becomes not only something that will help you train, perform and recover better, but it’s the difference between a healthy training process and any number of dangerous conditions.
Now I’m not a dietician – nor do I think this is the place to write a dissertation on the background on all of the biological reasons to fuel properly before, during or after a run. I would like to share some my own little habits that I have developed that have made my training for this marathon enjoyable and incredibly easy on my body. These are habits that I have kept for the last three months and have found relatively easy to incorporate into my personal and professional life.
I cannot stress enough how strongly I believe that everyone’s body is different and reacts differently to training. I’m almost freakishly paranoid of discussing things because I don’t want to come off as preachy (I’m a novice runner who hasn’t even completed his first marathon yet). I do, however, enjoy talking about all of this and have learned some of my best habits (and shed some of my worst) by sharing and I think we can all learn a lot from each other!
Pretty simple, right? You would think so – but people ignore this. Your body may not necessarily be hungry after a long run. I ran 14 miles last Saturday and I really didn’t develop an appetite until Sunday! But let’s use some simple logic here – you just ran 14 miles. This might be one of those situations where you don’t necessarily listen to your body – you do the math. Lots of calories going out mean that some need to go back in. When I run, I don’t wait until I am thirsty to drink a sip of water. Same logic for the post run recovery – I don’t wait until I am crawling on my knees to the refrigerator until I eat…you don’t want to be so hungry that the fake plastic sandwich refrigerator magnet actually looks appetizing! Be smart and be logical – slowly replenish calories periodically after a long run as your stomach permits you to. I usually start with a protein shake (thanks for the advice Gina) that I sip down during my ice bath. Maybe half an hour later, I eat a small plate of some leftovers – whatever’s in the refrigerator that happens to look good and nutritious…(of course, I am drinking water during all of this)….and then a few hours later, I eat a balanced meal – making sure to have a carb, a protein, and something fun and fatty (I’m a cheese freak – so anything that I can pick up and have cheese hanging off of it usually does the trick).
Do you leave for a long trip with 1/8 of a tank of gas? Okay – maybe I do this. I live in Philadelphia and my long trips usually involve going through NJ on my way to visit RG’s family in Rhode Island. And in NJ, gas is cheaper and the stations are only full serve. But that’s besides the point – DON’T do this on your runs. No one’s body is built to run long distances without fuel. I am not some sort of biological evolutionary phenomenon and I hate to break the news – neither are you. Start preparing and fueling two days in advance. I’ll leave it to the smart running guru’s to set forth the exact rules of carbs/protein/blah blah – but here’s my general rule. I always eat a least three good size meals a day two days before the run. Let’s say the run is on a Saturday – starting Thursday I’ll make sure to get three average to above average meals in me. Friday, I concentrate on the “carbs.” I eat whatever breakfast I happen to eat, and then I make my lunch and dinner high in carbs (pasta, spaghetti). If any of you are fans of the Office, this always makes me think of Michael Scott scarfing down fettucini alfredo 10 minutes before the 5k for Rabies Awareness. But I’m much simpler than that – and obviously not right before the race. I usually like a pasta with little to no sauce with some sort of fun addition (my latest favorite has been RG’s pasta with tuna, capers and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top).
• Fueling DURING a race: I recently read that your body can store enough carbohydrates for 20 miles worth of running. After that, your body burns fat as a source of energy – which is terribly inefficient (hence – BONKING). During my first 15 mile run, I only brought water with me and I thought that would be enough….it was NOT and the post run “recovery” was not pretty. I went online and read about hyponatremia (essentially, your body has been overhydrated). Google hyponatremia (if you haven’t already done so after reading the last sentence) and you’ll never go on a long run with just water again!
So I had to plan early on for how I was going to fuel myself for the marathon. Now keep in mind – the body can store enough for 20 miles MAX – as in best case scenario. So even if you are running less than 20 miles, chances are the prudent thing would be to bring along some extra fuel anyway. A statistic I have read and stuck with and roughly abided by was to replenish 30 grams of carbs every 45 mins to an hour. I do sometimes run with Gatorade mixed with my water – but 1) that’s just not enough in terms of carbs and 2) sometimes I just want to drink plain water. So I needed another plan. I like the Gu gels – and when I say “like” – let’s be clear – I’m not stocking my house with Gu gels for whenever I happen to be hungry. But, they are easy to digest, go down easily and if you find the right flavor that agrees with your taste buds – you’re all set. I know I’m weird but I would actually like it if there was a Gu gel that had no flavor (since the texture doesn’t really bother me and I just don’t have any sweet tooth). Has anyone seen anything like this?
These are just some of my thoughts and habits. I’d love to hear from all of you. My general approach is to listen to my body – but I also try to approach this like a scientist and to read about what others have experienced and how others deal with their body’s reaction to training. Going from being a casual 10 mile a week runner and building up to running 35-40 miles of running per week, no matter how gradually you do it, required me to do a bit of research and planning if I wanted it all to go well. I’ve had good luck with all of the changes I have made and I’m curious to hear about some of your tricks!
And yes – in a separate post – I will discuss CHIA SEEDS!
You can find the rest of PhillyBoy’s posts here.