During the last semester of my undergraduate studies (B.S. in Nutritional Sciences) I decided to run a half-marathon. My training consisted of building a “long” run up for five weeks in a row and then racing; I never took water or fuel, and essentially didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Classic! I’ve completed over 15 half-marathons to date, 7 full marathons and countless in-between distances. Sure, I learned what I needed to from textbooks, exams and certification requirements, but I maintain that I’ve learned what I deem the most important nutrition lessons while on the run.
Most of the athletes I work with come to me seeking that next-step; what’s “missing” that will improve performance, boost speed or increase endurance? What will be a game-changer for them? If nutrition is off, so is everything else. More often than not, people don’t know how good their body is designed to feel. In other words: you don’t know what’s “off” until you look at it from the other side!
Here are three of the common Nutrition game-changers that may make a difference for you, too!
- Adequate fueling in the days before a long run.
- Notice the plural form there. It’s not just important to get a good meal the one night before a race or long run. It can take up to 48 hours for your body to “process” some foods, so what you eat in the 2-3 days prior to a race or long run may still be hanging around and wreaking havoc – or doing you some favors! What’s “adequate”? That looks different for every athlete and varies by training distances and goals.
- Adequate fueling on the run/ride/swim.
- Your body can only store up to ~90 minutes worth of energy in the form of sugar (carbohydrates). Fat storage may last much longer, but if you’re racing or doing high-intensity exercise, you’re probably not burning much fat for energy (it’s not as efficient). If you’re training for an event over 45-60 minutes, it’s imperative to fuel as you go, and learn what works for you! The amount of energy needed and timing at which you’ll need it will vary by sport and athlete.
- Awareness of food sensitivities.
- It’s easy to be unaware of what you may be sensitive to if those foods are common in your diet. As I said above: you may not know what “normal” feels like, until you do. Put more directly: eliminate dairy and suddenly your waste is solid and you don’t feel bloated on a regular basis? That would indicate you may be sensitive to lactose. (This is only an example; some people have no issues with dairy at all but about 65% of adults do.)
Fine-tuning your dietary intake to adequately fit your training goals is just as important as getting in those specific training sessions. You can self-experiment or work with a Nutrition Coach to see what may work, or very obviously not work for you!