Are you planning to compete in a fun run next year, or an endurance event like a marathon?
Running is an energetically taxing sport which places a high demand on your body. The time and intensity you run will determine the different nutrition strategies put in place.
Effectively, the more frequently you run and the longer you run the more energy you’ll need to meet these demands.
You can’t sprint a marathon
Whilst the best marathon runners are very quick, there’s a good reason you can’t sprint a marathon. The instant energy systems used in a sprint race don’t have the longevity to support that pace for long periods. With a longer distance ahead of you the body moves at a steady pace where oxygen can flow more freely, and you can utilise stores of carbohydrates and fats as fuel for your run.
Carbohydrate stores aren’t infinite however. If running for longer than 60-90 minutes (depending on how well fuelled you were before you started your run), your performance might start to decline if you don’t have an additional carbohydrate intake during the run. For longer runs you’ll need to think about nutrition strategies to fuel during your run.
If you’re starting to feel flat or fatigued within 60 minutes of a run then you might need to increase your carbohydrate intake in the lead up to your run by using the whole day to prepare for your run – not just the meal beforehand.
Time your meals in the lead up
Timing meals around your run will be important not just nutritionally but mechanically. As you run there is a lot more turbulence and movement of the gut in the abdominal cavity. In addition to this, as you are active blood flow moves away from the gut to the working muscles.
If you eat a large, heavy or fatty meal within an hour or two before a run, this food can move around in the gut leading to discomfort, a stitch or even vomiting.
Everyone is different in just how much food they can tolerate in their gut when they run, so it might be something you have to practice to understand the limits of your body and how much is enough, but not too much. It may be that a banana is fine but if you have a banana smoothie its too much!
If you can’t eat a lot ahead of your run, use the meals and snacks away from your run as an opportunity to build energy stores so there is fuel available to burn. This might mean eating a more carb-dominant breakfast and morning tea if you are planning on going for a run in the afternoon.
All this plays a role in how you train for your endurance run, so when it gets to the day of the event you know exactly what you need to eat and when so that it sits well in your stomach.
What will fuel my run?
Having wholegrain carbohydrate foods in your meals and snacks allows you to steadily turn over and top up stores of carbohydrates over the day without getting over full.
Then on top of your regular daily intake you may need an additional pre-run energy boost. While you might utilise fats, a handful of nuts isn’t the best thing to eat pre-run to give you a boost – carbohydrates are. If you are prone to stomach discomfort but need energy for your run it might be useful to have a lower fibre carb option before you run, a banana, rice cakes with jam or honey, 300ml Powerade, a slice of toast with vegemite.
This boost of carbs 30-40min beforehand will be more easily digested and absorbed, meaning it’ll be ready to be utilised during your run and get you started to then engage energy stores.
Can I get up and run first thing in the morning on an empty stomach?
If the run is short, less than 30 min, or a low intensity run then you might be able to do this on an empty stomach (fasted). However, if it’s making you overly hungry later in the day or you feel flat and lethargic when on your run it may not be the best strategy for you.
If you aren’t up early to digest a full breakfast before running have a carb boost similar to that mentioned above; it might get you started but not to fill you up.
Planning ahead is better for performance and will help you to feel good when you train. It will also help prevent overeating and over-compensating after the exercise is complete.