Wednesday, September 22, 2010

fuel for running... beginner's version!

So, as I've mentioned before I'm training for a half-marathon, coming up in a little over a month! I'm kind of a slacker when it comes to training, I get sidelined a lot... colds, a bad knee, and this weekend, a new tattoo. So when I headed to the gym last night, I knew I had to get in the kilometres. My goal was 8 miles (the treadmill is American!) but I pushed myself and ended up running 9.1, with an additional cooldown of 0.2m (totalling around 15km). My previous furthest distance was 7 miles, a few weeks ago!

The most surprising part (on top of the fact I actually ran that far?) I didn't feel like crap, and I don't feel like crap today either. I finally seem to be getting that little thing called nutrition figured out. I am by no means an expert but I thought I'd share the advice I've been given, and what seems to be working for me! This is a very basic breakdown, perfect for new runners who don't know where to start.

click image for source

Pre-race/ long run: a 500-700 calorie meal 2-3 hours prior. Look for a balance of simple carbs (which break down readily compared to complex carbs- the one time white bread and pasta are GOOD for you to eat!), protein (think nut butter), and potassium, which prevents muscle cramping (think banana etc!). I eat toast with natural PB and sliced bananas.

15 minutes before the run: I hydrate with either Vega Sport performance optimizer, or pure coconut water (yay potassium! I need it or it feels like every muscle in my body seizes up!). Alternatively, you can have one of you energy gels now.

Energy gels... if you know of anything (or what is) vegan, I would love to hear your suggestions! These are key for maintaining energy and providing fuel for runs over an hour. It is amazing the difference they make, I've only recently starting taking them and cannot imagine getting through last nights 15k without them!

During the run: aim for 1L of water per hour, although this may not happen! Energy gels should be taken every 20-45 minutes (depending who you ask!) throughout the run, finishing with one more gel post-run. Each gel should be followed with 250mls of water. Practice eating your gel while running, so in a race you can gel before arriving at the water station, which you'll probably walk through.

Post-race: hydrate! Replenish the fluids you've lost through sweating, especially if you don't hydrate a lot during the run. Eat a combo of carbs & protein within 30 minutes post-race. More toast & PB, or chocolate milk if you're not vegan. This is so your muscles can start to repair & recover. Vega also has a Sport Protein drink which was perfect last night. I've heard good things about taking arnica supplements, a homeopathic remedy, to reduce inflammation after a run, and took this last night as well.

Optional: depending on the amount of sodium in your gels, you may want to consider a salt pill during the run. I haven't tried these (yet!) but apparently they don't taste like salt- they are in a capsule! This is key for preventing cramping, as you lose a lot of sodium through perspiration.

Need some help creating a training plan? Check out the free SmartCoach at RunnersWorld (you need to create an account) or head to your nearest running store. I'm so lucky, my town has Running Free, who offer training clinics totally free!!

If you're a running or racing newbie, hope this was helpful.

If you run regularly- what are your pre & post meals? Do you gel? Do you salt? I would love to hear all about it!

article and personal photos copyright of Callah at


Vern said...

Good post, Shawna! Sounds like you've learned the key lessons of fuel and hydration, some of which I learned the hard way!

I live in a warm, humid climate in the southern U.S. On hot summer runs, I got severely dehydrated a couple of times before I found the right hydration formula for me. I need about 20 oz. every half hour running on a hot day.

Everone's different, so the way to find out is, on a warm day that you will sweat a lot, weigh yourself before and after the run. The difference is how much water you lost (and needed to replenish). If you drank during the run, add that to the difference. Example: let's say I ran for 2 hours, lost 4 pounds, and drank a half gallon during the run. Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon. So I lost 4 pounds (about a half gallon). Plus the half gallon I drank. So I needed a gallon every 2 hours, or a half-gallon an hour. (All based on US gallons and pounds. On metric system, the same concept, just different units: kgs lost, converted to litres + litres drank, divided by hours = liters you need to drink per hour. Just an easy web lookup to find out how much a litre of water weighs in kg.)

I run somewhere between 35 and 50 miles per week, and eat a typical vegetarian diet that includes a good amount of carbs (love pasta). I'm kind of fanatic on nutrition, so I don't eat junk or processed foods, or anything with trans-fat or HFCS. Basic fresh, healthy, whole foods. Before a long race, like a marathon, I carb up and extra-hydrate during the whole week. For long distances, you need quick-release energy to prolong using up your stored glycogen, and avoid "hitting the wall." So I use sports drinks, or gels and water, during a race. Both options give sugar for quick fuel, hydration, and electrolytes.

A long reply, but you said "I would love to hear all about it!"

Be careful what you ask for! :)

♥ Callah said...

I was hoping you'd reply since I figured you know your stuff - that was exactly what I was looking for!

which brands of gels do you use? I know GU are vegan but I heard they use GMO corn. Still on the hunt. I like hammer gels but the packets are way too hard to get into!

Emma said...

Well as you know I'm only training for a 5k so I don't run as much as you, but I've figured out a few things that work for me: meal taken at least 4 hours before running, small pre-run snack ok, hydrate hours before, and before running taking a few sips of water, not too much, and yeah, hydrate post run!

Good luck on your training :-)

Vern said...

Shawna, my favorites are the Clif products. They use natural, organic ingredients, and have a reputation for environmental responsibility. When I ran my May marathon, I carried Clif Shots (gels), and a couple packages of Clif Shot Bloks (energy chews). They worked well for me and I plan to continue using them!

For most of my training runs, I fueled mostly with sports drinks. I only used the gels and chews on my longest training runs, the 20 milers. You should always try whatever you plan to race with on some of your training runs, so you know they agree with you. You DON'T want to find out that a product upsets your stomach halfway through a long race!

For a sports drink, I use the powdered Gatorade and mix it in home-filtered water in my refillable bottles for two reasons. It's greener, avoiding plastic bottle waste. And it's sweetened with sucrose and dextrose instead of corn syrups.

Good luck on your half marathon!