Maybe you’ve set a target to run your first 5km, signed up for a half marathon or are looking to challenge yourself in an ultra distance event. While proper training is essential, nutrition is the key to success. Here’s how to fuel your fitness training in the lead up to race day.
By now your mileage will have increased substantially, and you may be training multiple days a week. Your general diet should be well balanced with slow digesting carbohydrates, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, with additional energy from snacks before and after training. A good pre workout snack ensures you have enough energy to complete your run and preserves muscle mass to keep you strong and speedy.
However, a snack will only do you good if the food has been digested, so aim to eat 1 to 2 hours before your workout. Good options include a piece of fruit, muesli bar, or fruit smoothie as these provide the body with readily available carbohydrates.
As you prepare for your race, consider whether you will use sports drinks, gels or other snacks during your run. You probably won’t need to snack during the race for runs up to a half marathon distance, provided you’ve eaten well beforehand. But for longer distances (greater than 90 minutes) consider when and how much extra food and fluids you need. This is all based on trial and error. Experiment with gels, snacks or drinks in one of your training runs to ensure you get your timing right and that the foods don’t cause any digestive upset.
It’s likely you will taper your runs as you prepare for the big day. During this time it’s important to keep up with a normal balanced diet, and choose foods that you know your body digests well.
The day before your event, it’s recommended to limit your fat intake and base meals around easily digestible carbohydrates, with low amounts of protein to top up your muscle glycogen stores. Long distance running jolts the intestinal system and may cause digestive upset, so your aim is to be well fuelled, but keep it as light as possible.
The most important thing to remember during your run is hydration! Being dehydrated impairs the body’s ability to regulate temperature, increases your heart rate and makes exercise feel harder.
How much water you need is highly individual based on your genetics, fitness, exercise intensity and weather conditions. However, as a general rule you should sip regularly rather than gulp during your race. Plain water is best, but you can also use a sports drink for extra energy and fluid replacement for longer distances.
Firstly, congratulations on finishing! If you followed the nutrition strategies outlined above you should have completed the race with ample energy. As you cool down and stretch, continue to re-hydrate with water and have a light carbohydrate snack, such as a banana. Then refuel properly within a few hours by having a moderate balanced meal.
Try to choose something healthy and satisfying like a stir-fry with vegetables and rice, instead of a greasy burger. Eating fatty foods post workout will slow the absorption of nutrients and delay muscle recovery. Also try to limit your alcohol consumption as it may further dehydrate your body. Over the next few days return to your normal diet and be guided by your hunger and satiety levels as to how often and how much you need to eat.