Authors: The Editors of Runner's World
Eggs are a great source of the high-quality protein that runners need for muscle repair and growth. They also provide vitamin D, which has been linked to an improvement in exercise performance. Carrots provide a healthy dose of beta-carotene; the body converts this antioxidant to vitamin A, which bolsters bone strength and may help reduce stress-fracture risk, says Gidus. Red bell peppers are rich in vitamin C. This potent antioxidant attacks free radicals and may help improve muscle recovery.
Soak 2 ounces cellophane or thin vermicelli noodles in very hot tap water for 10 minutes. In a blender, combine
cup peanuts, 3 tablespoons each sesame oil and rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sugar, juice of half a lime, 1 garlic clove, 2 teaspoons chopped ginger, and ¼ teaspoon chili flakes. Divide 1 head lettuce among four bowls. Slice noodles into 3-inch pieces and place on lettuce. Evenly divide among bowls 2 shredded carrots, 1 sliced bell pepper, and 6 hard-boiled, sliced eggs (look for them at the deli counter). Drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
If you’re like many runners, you’ll spend months training for a big race. And as your 5-K, half-marathon, or marathon approaches, you’ll be taking extra care with what you eat and drink. Maybe you’re loading up on carbs, drinking lots of water, buying extra bags of broccoli and beans. But are you doing the right thing?
“How you fuel up before the race has a huge impact on your performance,” says Beth Jauquet, R.D., a nutritionist for Cherry Creek Nutrition in Denver. Unfortunately, runners tend toward extremes: Skimping on fuel, overdoing food or drink, or eating foods that cause digestive disaster.
Many runners like to top off their glycogen stores by feasting on carbs the night before a race. And why not? You’re going to burn through them the next day. But flooding your system with more carbs than it can process may lead to digestive problems that will have you running to the porta-potty every mile.
Consume moderate quantities—not huge portions—of carbs for several days prior. “Massive amounts of any food throw your system a curve ball,” says Jauquet. Have oatmeal for breakfast, potatoes at lunch, and pasta for dinner. “Eat just to fullness, so you don’t get indigestion or have trouble sleeping,” says Tara Gidus, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Not only will chugging too much water before a race leave you feeling bloated, but it will also dilute your electrolytes—minerals responsible for optimum muscle contraction. Diluted electrolyte levels can cause muscle weakness or cramping and, in extreme cases, can lead to hyponatremia, a life-threatening condition triggered by abnormally low sodium levels.
In the days leading up to your race, drink fluids as you normally would to stay hydrated. This can include water, sports drink, juice, even coffee and tea. On the morning of the race, Jauquet recommends drinking 16 ounces of water two to three hours before the start, giving your body time to process extra fluid; drink another one to two cups right before the gun goes off.
Normally, runners should make sure to eat lots of cruciferous vegetables, beans, and whole grains. And if you’re used to such foods, all that roughage right before a race may pose no problems for you. But if you’ve been living on pizza and burgers, now is not the time to become a vegan. Loading up on high-fiber foods can cause uncomfortable gas, especially if your stomach is plagued by prerace jitters.
If you think fiber might be an issue, “cut back on those foods three days before a major race,” says Gidus. That includes beans and bran cereals—but not fruits and veggies, which you should eat in modest portions. Think one cup of pineapple, a handful of cherries, or a few broccoli florets. But, Gidus cautions, if you’re racing every weekend, reduce your fiber intake only on race day to make sure you don’t trim all fiber out of your diet.
Too nervous or worried about feeling full, some runners can’t face food on race morning. But without it, you’re likely to bonk in any race. Why? Because studies show that a prerace meal keeps your blood sugar steady and provides energy to power you through. “There’s no way to get enough fuel midrace to make up for the energy you missed at breakfast,” says Jauquet.
If you know you get too nervous to eat before a race, wake up a few hours before the start—so you can eat breakfast slowly, letting each bite settle before taking another. If you can’t stomach solid foods, drink a smoothie with bananas, fruit juice, and milk. These ingredients are easy on most stomachs, provide energy, and won’t leave you feeling overly full.
If you’ve never had spicy salmon sushi, don’t order it the night before your race. You won’t know how a food affects you until you’ve tried it—and last-minute experimentation could send you bolting for the bathroom and leave you dehydrated.
Stick with what you know for a week before race day. Check the race Web site to confirm which drinks and gels (if any) will be offered along the course so you can test them out in advance. Don’t be afraid to skip the prerace dinner or hotel breakfast: If you’re not used to downing sausage burritos prerace, you’re better off sticking with a familiar bowl of pasta. As long as it isn’t huge.
Runners know it’s important to stay hydrated to run their best, especially in warm climates or warmer weather. “Being more than 2 percent dehydrated in warm environments causes a decline in performance,” says Robert W. Kenefick, Ph.D., a physiologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. To keep fluids handy, you probably stash a water bottle in a gym bag or leave a sports drink in your car. But to really improve performance, you need to be more than a casual sipper. A number of recent studies offer runners smarter ways to stay hydrated while also giving their running a boost. Here’s how you can apply some of these strategies to your own hydration plan and run your best all summer long.
A study published in the April 2010
Journal of Athletic Training
found that runners who were dehydrated when they started a 12-K race on an 80-degree day finished about two and a half minutes slower compared to when they ran it hydrated. Dehydration causes your blood volume to drop, which lowers your body’s ability to transfer heat and forces your heart to beat faster, making it difficult for your body to meet aerobic demands.
Drink eight to 16 ounces one to two hours before a run. Sports drinks and water are good choices, says sports nutritionist and running coach Cassie Dimmick, R.D. Iced coffee and tea are fine, too. Didn’t plan ahead? Fifteen to 30 minutes before going out, drink at least four to eight ounces of fluid.
A study published in 2008 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, reported that cyclists who drank cold beverages before and during their workout exercised nearly 12 minutes longer than those who drank warm beverages. And in a study published this year, runners who had an ice slushy reportedly ran about 10 minutes longer than when they had a cold drink. In both cases, the drink that was colder lowered body temperature and perceived effort, allowing participants to exercise longer.
Before going for a hot run, have a slushy made with crushed ice and your favorite sports drink. To keep drinks chilled while you run, fill a bottle halfway, freeze it, and top it off with fluid before starting. Running a loop? Stash bottles in a cooler along your route, says Dimmick.
According to a study in the July 2009
Journal of Sports Sciences
, when cyclists recorded their plan for hydrating during workouts—including exact times and amounts—they drank more frequently and consumed more fluid midworkout than their nonplanning peers. “Planning helps people remember how much and when they need to drink,” says the report’s lead author, Martin Hagger, Ph.D., of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
Note your thirst during your runs, and write down how often and how much you drink. Review your notes to help you plan when to drink. Set your watch to beep every 15 minutes as a reminder to consider your thirst. “Drinking smaller amounts at regular intervals can help you absorb fluid more effectively,” says Dimmick, “and avoid stomach sloshing.”
Don’t feel like downing a gallon of Gatorade? You don’t have to. According to a study in the April 2010
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
, runners who rinsed their mouths with a carb solution right before, and every 15 minutes during, hour-long treadmill sessions ran faster and about 200 meters farther than those who rinsed with a placebo. “Carbs trigger reward centers in the brain,” says Ian Rollo, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors. The brain senses incoming energy “which may lower the perceived effort,” he says.
For shorter runs, when you want the benefits of a sports drink minus the extra calories, swishing just might do the trick. It’s also good news for runners who get queasy from ingesting a lot of sugar at once. But for runs over an hour, find a drink you can stand to swallow (see “What’ll You Have?” below).
Your midrun fluid needs depend on for how long you’re going.
One Hour or Less
Three to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. Water is usually fine. For a tough run over 30 minutes, consider a sports drink to give you a kick of energy at the end.
One to Four Hours
Three to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. A sports drink with carbs and electrolytes will replenish sodium. Prefer gels? Chase them with water to avoid sugar overload.
Over Four Hours
Drink three to six ounces of sports drink every 15 minutes, after which use thirst as your main guide (drinking more if you’re thirsty and less if you’re not).
Replace fluids, drinking enough so you have to use the bathroom within 60 to 90 minutes postrun. Usually eight to 24 ounces is fine, but it varies based on running conditions.
Researchers conducting a recent study gave cyclists an energy bar, either with or without caffeine (equal to one cup of coffee) before and during a long, hard ride. They found that cyclists who had caffeine rode farther and thought faster on cognitive tests than the no-caffeine group—useful news to runners in endurance events and adventure races, where quick decision-making is key.
Consider drinking a cup of coffee before your next speed workout: Australian scientists gave fit athletes a 300-milligram dose of caffeine one hour before running five sets of 6 x 20-meter sprints. They found that runners who had caffeine sprinted faster than those who didn’t have caffeine. Researchers think the stimulant enhances reaction time and running speed.
Bounce back postrun with carb-and-protein drinks
Gatorade Recover 03
Each 16.9–ounce bottle has 130 calories, 14 grams of carbs, 16 grams of protein, and 0 grams of fat.
Runners found the sweet-and-salty drink thirst-quenching with no chalky texture.
Fewer carbs make this best suited for moderate workouts. You’ll rehydrate and recover without consuming a ton of calories.
One pack has 170 calories, about 32 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein, and 0 grams of fat.
The flavors were watery, but testers noted that their energy quickly returned.
The 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio is perfect after moderate to intense runs.
EAS Myoplex Strength Formula Nutrition Shake
Each 14-ounce bottle has 210 calories, 23 grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fat.
Runners found it very satisfying with a not-too-thick consistency that sat well in their stomach.
The extra protein is ideal after stressful workouts, like a run and strength training.
Shamrock Farms Rockin’ Refuel
Each 12-ounce bottle of protein-fortified milk has about 300 calories, 48 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 4.5 grams of fat.
Testers thought it was filling and loved the sweet, creamy flavors.
Lots of carbs restock glycogen after a long run. It’s a tasty meal replacement, too.
Runners know they need carbs postrun to rebuild their glycogen stores, but a recent study suggests caffeine may also enhance recovery. Cyclists rode hard for two consecutive days to drain their glycogen stores. They then drank a carb beverage, with or without caffeine. Researchers found that having a drink with caffeine rebuilds glycogen stores 66 percent more than a carb-only drink.