Just got back from the Produce for Better Health conference in Scottsdale, Arizona (http://www.pbhfoundation.org) energized from talking about the health and exercise benefits of fruits and vegetables! Since many of the Registered Dietitian/Nutritionists (RDNs) in attendance were runners, it was fun to talk raisins and hear their personal fueling routines. While some had already “raisin-ed their run,” others were excited to give it a try.
As nutritionists, we all agreed that a high-performance eating plan could be the difference between a good runner and a great runner. So here are some sports nutrition strategies to bring your diet up to speed—before you cross the start line—because what you have before you start makes a difference in how you’ll finish!
If you go into workouts well hydrated, you’ll be able to train harder and realize better performance gains. Drink 400–600 ml (14–20 fl oz) of water or sports drink 2–3 hours before your workout. Keep hydrating by drinking another 240 ml (8 fl oz) 15 minutes before you run as you’re warming up. Consume additional fluids when conditions are hot or humid. The key is to drink enough fluid to be hydrated but not so much that’s it’s sloshing around in your stomach while you’re running.
Start Fully Fueled
Depending on whether it’s early morning, afternoon or evening, you need to coordinate your run with pre-exercise fueling to prevent hunger, maintain energy level and keep a calm stomach. Pre-run fuel boosts blood glucose levels and tops off muscle carbohydrate stores (the storage form of glucose is called glycogen). Think of muscle glycogen as your fuel tank. The more time for digestion, the larger the meal you can have. Fuel needs also vary according to the intensity and duration of your run. In other words, how much high-octane fuel do you need for a successful trip?
Let’s say you’re going on an easy run at a comfortable pace for 60 minutes or less. The closer you get to exercise, the less food you want to eat to maximize the time for digestions to minimize GI distress. Most runners do well eating a high carbohydrate snack about an hour before a run. Here are some examples:
High-Carbohydrate Snacks (30 minutes to 1 hour before running)
- 1/2 cup oatmeal with 2 tablespoons raisins
- Half of a plain bagel with jam
- 1 piece toast with honey and raisins
- Raisin breakfast bar
For a longer run, say 60-90 minutes, you need enough fuel to be able to sustain your energy level. Of course the amount you need to eat depends on the intensity of your run as well as the distance. Aim for a meal 2-3 hours before you run that’s high in carbohydrates, is low-fat and includes some lean protein. Here are some examples:
High-Carbohydrate Pre-Exercise Meals (2–3 hours before running)
- Cold or hot cereal with fruit, low-fat or skim milk
- French raisin toast or pancakes with maple syrup or berries, almond milk
- Non-fat/low-fat Greek yogurt with granola and fruit, fruit smoothie
- Breakfast burrito (scrambled eggs, salsa and low-fat cheese in a flour tortilla), 100% fruit juice
- English muffin with peanut butter, honey and banana, low-fat chocolate milk
- Pasta with low-fat tomato-based sauce, French bread, low-fat or skim milk
- Grilled chicken sandwich, baked sweet potato wedges, carrot-raisin salad, water
- Turkey sandwich with tomato, lettuce and avocado, ¼ cup raisins mixed with ¼ cup pretzels, water
Make it Work for You
Like most aspects of training, it’s important to figure out what combination of foods and timing work best for YOUR routine. Experiment during workouts! If you experience gastrointestinal distress when running, push back the time you eat before workouts. Another option: have an easy to digest liquid meal. Try a fruit smoothie or meal replacement shake as a high-carbohydrate alternative to solid foods.
We want to hear your pre-exercise fueling strategies—what do you eat before you run?