I must start this post with a disclaimer. This is not advice, this is just what works for me!
I touched on diet and nutrition in last week’s post but I thought this week I would focus a bit more on pre, during and post run nutrition. Again, this is just what I do and it seems to work for me (although I’m sure it could do with some improvement). One thing I’ve learned from running with a wide variety of people over the last few years is that everyone is very different and has their own things that work for them.
So I guess the best place to start is at the beginning – the ‘pre’.
I don’t really think too much about what I eat the night before a run, unless it is a marathon (and possibly before an ultra – I’ll let you know about that in a few weeks after I’ve done one!). I do find that when I do an early morning Pump class at the gym and I haven’t had much protein in my dinner, I do tend to struggle lifting the weights, but I don’t seem to have the same problem when it comes to early runs.
Pre-marathon it’s definitely pizza and cider… that has worked for me 3 times now and I have no intention of changing. I am sure this is at least 90% superstition but still… to change it now would be to tempt fate! (I did have the same meal before a particularly awful half marathon but I am certain it wasn’t my pre-race dinner that brought me undone that day!)
Breakfast is easy. It’s always pretty much the same. Before an early morning run it’s a nut bar. (Some people might say I am a nut bar, getting up that early to run!) I used to do the same before a parkrun but lately I’ve been getting up earlier and having a full breakfast – I think that’s certainly part of the reason why my times have improved lately but I think that’s a bit controversial, and doesn’t work for everyone.
Breakfast is normally 2 hours pre-run (and always at least 2 hours if it’s a race) but I did test that theory once on a Sunday long run day when I had been out late the night before and couldn’t face getting up at 5:30 to eat breakfast! I gave myself an extra half hour sleep-in and had no issues as a result of having eaten 90 minutes pre-run.
The idea of NOT eating breakfast before a long run has been tested too… EPIC fail that was. I would absolutely sacrifice a few hours sleep to get that meal in… I did it this very weekend as a matter of fact. Got home at 2 and up at 6 to eat breakfast. I definitely struggled on that run but nowhere near as much as I would have, had I slept another hour and not eaten. The one exception I would make to that is the Fanatics Christmas Day half marathon, which starts at 6am on Christmas Day. There is approximately zero chance of me getting up at 4am (or even 4:30) on Christmas Day for a social run. I did get up at 4am for the Gold Coast half last year but that was an actual race. With bling and all. And NOT on Christmas Day. Completely different!
My breakfast normally consists of cereal (I am partial to 2 Weetbix, a serve of muesli and a sprinkling of chia seeds) with rice milk. When I have travelled for events I have always taken my race-day cereal with me!
Prior to a race I will also have an XS Energy drink (sort of in the same vein as Red Bull but without the sugar – I find it doesn’t cause the massive spike and then crash that Red Bull has when I’ve tried it) about half an hour before the start. I do also sometimes have one before a parkrun when I want to go hard.
Now for the ‘during’. This depends if it is a race, road run or trail run. Last year I fuelled entirely on Werther’s Original hard candies for all road runs including my marathon. From memory I think I had 6 during the marathon… that was all I consumed other than water, Voltaren (I only took 2 – late in the piece) and Rhodiola energy supplements (taken at about the halfway mark).
This year I have moved towards sports drinks. I started with orange Gatorade as I just happened to have some in the fridge, and that seemed to work well. I now use the powder as it’s more economical, and also I don’t make it quite as strong as the bottled stuff. I’m using lemon-lime now and prefer that to the orange.
In my 2 marathons this year I have fuelled with said Gatorade and also musk Life Savers as a backup. No gels for me – I’ve never tried them and don’t particularly want to!
When it comes to trail runs, particularly those over 2 hours, I use real food. Along with the aforementioned Gatorade and Life Savers, I like to bring a handful of raw almonds, a white bread sandwich with some kind of nut spread (natural peanut butter or my personal favourite, Mayver’s chocolate spread) and a nut bar cut into bite sized portions. So far the longest trail run I’ve done was 35km and that was more than enough food to get me through. I am also partial to Sesame Snaps which are compact and neatly portion-controlled as well as giving a nice little energy boost.
The ‘post’ varies a lot. Firstly I have started having a protein drink after every run, as I was finding it hard to get enough protein in a plant-based diet. After a Sunday long run I have a habit of getting a potato and lentil pie from the local bakery. After the Gold Coast marathon I had a curry and the next morning my legs felt great… so I guess now I’m going to have to have curry after every marathon! (I also had curry after the 6 hour event). After a long hard run it’s not so much a question of ‘what to eat?’, but more ‘how much?’
So there you have it. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me!