I’m not a runner myself but with the 2015 Mini Marathons fast approaching I’m getting lots of questions on what to eat (or what not to eat) to enhance performance and recovery. The optimum nutritional strategy starts well before the event so don’t leave it until the night before, start now and give yourself that competitive edge. . What are carbohydrates and why do we need them? Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients in our diet (fat and protein being the others) and exist in various forms in fruits, vegetables and starchy foods such as bread, pasta and rice. We need carbohydrates to supply calories for energy and build glycogen availability in the body. Not all carbohydrates are created equal however, and the glycaemic load (GL) of a carbohydrate is important. GL is the measure of the rate at which it is digested and converted into glucose. Vegetables and some fruits, for example, are considered low GL foods while dried fruits, breads and sweets are high. As a rule of thumb, the ‘white’ version of anything usually has a higher GL than its brown or wholegrain counterpart. This concept is important for those who are exercising and training because low GL foods consumed prior to exercise have been shown to reduce the incidence of hypoglycaemia, which is a drop in blood sugar caused by the fast rate at which the glucose is absorbed – this drop can leave you feeling weak and fatigued, something you definitely want to avoid during a marathon! It’s like burning a piece of paper in a fire versus burning a log ,the paper (high GL food) is obviously going to burn instantly and provide little or no fuel whereas the log (or low GL food ) will fuel the body for much longer. What is glycogen and why do we need it? Carbohydrates are broken down as glucose. Glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscle and liver. The purpose of glycogen in the liver is to maintain steady blood sugar levels. When blood glucose dips glycogen breaks down to release more into the bloodstream and fuel physical activity. Therefore, for marathon runners, the amount of glucose available (and so glycogen) may determine their ability to maintain energy levels, thus affecting their performance. Food to eat the week before / general guidelines I already mentioned that good sports nutrition starts well before an event and general nutritional advice would include the following: · Increase intake of vegetables and fruit – 7 portions of veg per day and 2 fruit, in all the colours! · Remove white from diet (white bread, pasta and rice) · Eliminate sugar · Increase water intake – at least 2 litres per day depending on your build and activity level · Choose good quality meats, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds as protein · Choose avocado, coconut oil and oily fish as good sources of fat Carb loading Carb loading is a training strategy used by athletes prior to exercise in an effort to increase body stores of available glycogen. Carb-loading is most beneficial for endurance athletes who engage in activities of 90 minutes or more in duration and can be done for 3 -4 days with the final pre-event day spent resting. However, as it takes your body around 90 minutes to use up its glycogen stores it does not really apply for shorter distances like a 10K. It’s like it doesn’t really matter if you have a tank full of fuel or half a tank if you are just doing a quick spin to the shops. If you carb load too much you run the risk of making yourself feel lethargic, heavy and slow. You can practice carb loading ‘lite’ where you include small amounts of slow-release carbs in 2-3 of the meals in the days preceding the event e.g. oats in the morning and quinoa, brown rice or a portion of sweet potato at lunch or dinner. Food to eat the morning of Have your main pre event meal 2-4 hours prior to allow enough time for your stomach to empty sufficiently, allow your blood sugar to normalise and to top up glycogen. The perfect pre-race meal will prevent hunger before and during the race and be easily digested. Your aim is to eat low GL carbohydrates to provide sustained energy and some protein to prevent muscle wastage. Some suggestions include: · Oatcakes with nut butter · Homemade breakfast muffin · Oats with milk · Small bowl of brown pasta with tuna · Mixed beans / lentils in a stew Avoid anything too high in fat, too high in fibre, too filling, too salty or spicy. Basically anything that could potentially upset your stomach! The morning of the race is not the time to test your digestion. That means if you haven’t tried Bulletproof coffee by now, the morning of the race is not the time to do so! Food to eat the hours before Small snack if you need it (you may not). A piece of low GL fruit like a peach or a handful of berries should suffice. Fuel foods to take during race and at what point to take them. During exercise lasting less than 60 minutes there is really no performance advantage to be gained by consuming additional carbohydrates. For 60-90 minute durations very small amounts may be beneficial for some and this could be even just swilling a carbohydrate drink in your mouth without even swallowing it or sucking on a sweet. Carbohydrate receptors in the mouth signal the brain that food is on its way and this overrides your brains perception of effort and fatigue! Pretty cool eh! If the race is going to take longer than 90 minutes additional carbohydrates may help increase your endurance. This could come in the form of: · Bananas · Handful of raisins · Isotonic drink - 250ml squash+750ml water+1/4 t of salt · Coconut water, a natural isotonic An isotonic drink generally contains between 4g and 8g of sugar (carbohydrates) per 100ml and has about the same osmotic pressure as bodily fluids. It is taken up by the body about as quickly as water. They are intended to quench thirst and provide energy to the body by topping up carbohydrate. Coconut water is a natural isotonic and is an alternative to manufactured sports drinks which often contain fructose and other additives. It contains naturally occurring electrolytes, sodium, chloride and potassium, amino acids, antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory and blood pressure lowering properties making it natures perfect sports drink. Food to eat at post training window to optimise recovery Post-workout nutrition can help you recover, rehydrate and refuel. High GL carbs are critical for recovery and immediately after exercise the athlete requires 1g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight. This is then repeated at the subsequent meal. The addition of protein further enhances the magnitude of glycogen re-synthesis. This is because the protein carbohydrate mix stimulates a greater output of insulin which speeds the uptake of glucose into the muscles and therefore promoting glycogen synthesis. Recovery smoothie · 300ml milk · One pot (125g) yogurt · 1 banana · Berries · 2-3 dates Recovery drink · 300ml coconut water · 1 scoop (30g) protein powder · 1 banana · Berries · 2-3 dates Alternatively, if you feel like you prefer solid food a protein bar with some apple juice is another option. Food to eat at evening meal The focus on this time frame should be similar to that in the immediate post-exercise phase, with a shift towards taking in more solid foods. Carbohydrate sources in this phase should be in the form of starchy vegetables e.g. sweet potato, butternut squash or grains like brown rice or quinoa. Animal products are the best sources of this protein due to their high quantity of essential amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids. Fish, shellfish, beef and turkey breast are excellent choices. Recommendations for fluid intake during race Aim to drink adequate water to fill and empty your bladder before the race. As the thirst sensation may only occur after a 1.5 to 2 litre loss of fluids it may not always be an accurate indicator of when and how much to hydrate. You may find the guide below useful: · Drink 500ml to 750ml 2 hours before the activity · Drink 250ml to 500ml 15 to 20 minutes before the activity · Drink 125ml to 185ml every 15 minutes during the activity · Drink 500ml within 2 hours after the activity Continue drinking after exercise until urine is clear. Finally, don’t forget to sleep well coming up to the event! Sleep deprivation can lead to poor performance and prolonged recovery time. Sleep needs to be timetabled with training schedule and extra sleep may be needed prior to competition.