Anyone who has been running for a while has developed some strong opinions about the food they eat and when they eat it before and after training runs and races. By trial and error they have learned what works best for them. Not surprisingly, given the way attitudes and theories on most any subject have a way of changing over time, “professional” notions of how and what runners should eat have run the gamut over the years.
I remember reading a Runner’s World article, “Running on Empty” suggesting that the best way to approach even a very long race, was with an empty stomach. There have been coffee advocates insisting that a jolt of caffeine is helpful prior to a race. I remember reading about a top Ironman competitor who fueled up with a dozen potatoes.
Carbo-loading prior to a race has stood the test of time. Many races sponsor spaghetti dinners the night before an event and there’s usually a meat and non-meat version of the accompanying sauce. Complex carbohydrates provide slow and steady fuel for long runs. A pre-race meal should go easy on fat, which takes a long time to digest and fiber that can cause bloating and intestinal problems during a long period of exertion. One runner says she’ll eat “anything but eel” before a race but insists on the importance of a glass of wine. My choice is a whole box of macaroni and cheese.
Runners burn about 100 calories per mile and to function most efficiently in action, their muscles need extra protein. Good sources are eggs, nuts, fish, chicken and tofu. The healthiest fats are found in olive, flaxseed and canola oil and avocados. Eight cups of liquid consumed evenly during the day is recommended. Water is the number one choice but other liquids, as long as they are not dehydrating like coffee and soda, count. One runner inhales a whole batch of tapioca pudding after long runs.
Quirks and superstitions around eating prior to and after a race are common. Early on race morning, my choice is a bagel with peanut butter. During a race I drink three small gulps of water at every aid station and at mile eight of a half-marathon I suck on a gel cube.
On race morning runners choose from: oatmeal with milk and dried fruit, energy bars, a waffle with syrup, or a bowl of rice. Smoothies, fruit juice and sports drinks are popular. Before surgery for a painful hip, one runner consumed coffee, a Power Bar and four ibuprofen. He’s dumped the drugs and now favors peanut butter toast and a banana with his coffee. It’s important not to try anything new and drink plenty of water along with whatever you eat. Practice a pre-race eating routine and discover what works best for you.
After the race, refuel within 30 minutes as the body utilizes nourishment most efficiently during this window. At the end of an event you’ll find everything from beer to burritos, barbecue to bananas. Go with whatever looks best to you.
“You are what you eat,” may be a true saying. Also true: “Variety is the spice of life.”