Athletes of all sports and abilities commonly ask me what they should eat before, during and after a competitive event:
When should I eat the pregame meal: 2, 3 or 4 hours beforehand?
How many gels should I take during a marathon?
What’s best to eat for recovery after a soccer game?
The same athletes who worry about event-day fueling often neglect their day to day training diet. Hence, the real question should be: “What should I eat before, during and after I train?” After all, you can only compete at your best if you can train at your best.
As you prepare for each workout, remember you should be training your intestinal tract as well as your heart, lungs and muscles. To get the most out of each workout, you need to practice your pre-, during- and post-event fueling as well as your sports skills. Then, come day of the competition, you know exactly what, when and how much to eat so you can compete with optimal energy and without fear of bonking nor intestinal distress.
For help with personalized advice on optimizing your training diet, find a local sports dietitian by using the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org. (SCAN is the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition Dietary Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association.) Alternatively, many active people have found my Sports Nutrition Guidebook to be very helpful.
Fuel wisely and enjoy training faster, stronger and longer.
I’m training for the Boston Marathon as part of a fundraiser for the Leukemia Society. This will be my first marathon, and I’m very nervous; I’m afraid I’ll run out of energy and “hit the wall.” I know I should “carbo-load” before long training runs. Does this simply mean stuffing myself with pasta?
Stuffing yourself with pasta the night before your long runs is one way to carbo-load, but there’s another approach to consider as well. Here’s what I recommend for your training runs:
1. Cut back on your running one or two days prior to the long training run. Your muscles can store maximal amounts of glycogen only if they are given non-exercise time to do so.
2. Eat the same tried-and-true carbs you (should) have been eating as a part of your daily training diet. As you know, you can only train at your best if you fuel your muscles daily with a carbohydrate-based diet: cereal for breakfast, sandwiches made with hearty bread for lunch, pasta for dinner.
3. The night before the long run eat well, but do not eat so much you upset your digestive system and wake up feeling like a beached whale.
4. Eat adequately on morning of the long training run. This is your time to practice fueling as you might do before the marathon itself. Figure out if you prefer bagel with peanut butter, oatmeal, energy bars, cereal … this your time to experiment so you learn which foods—and how much of them—settle well and enhance your run.
5. During the long training run, maintain a steady fuel intake by drinking sports drinks, and carrying with you hard candy, twizzlers, sports gels, energy bars, dried pineapple and other forms of easy-to-digest carbohydrates. You should target about 200 to 300 calories per hour, after the first hour of running. Fueling during the event helps prevent you from “hitting the wall” and also replaces the need to stuff yourself the night before.
By practicing your fueling during your long training runs, you’ll be able to learn how to fuel on Marathon day and will have no need to worry about hitting the wall.