Guest Post: Nutrition for Healthy Training

Hey, hey everyone! By now I’m somewhere in the Caribbean ocean, prancing around with dolphins and what not. I’ll be here to tell you all about it really soon, but in the meantime, Katherine, from the Runner Wife has a great article on how to eat healthfully when training for an event 🙂

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Hello RAN readers! I’m Katherine, the RunnerWife. First of all, I have to thank Paige for giving me the chance to guest post about a topic near and dear to my heart. Hope you’re having a fabulous cruise, dearest!

The topic that means so much to me is FOOD. Not just food, but the best food for race training. I don’t purport to be a nutritionist, but I hope my personal experience can provide a bit of insight into your own meal planning while training.

A bit of background: I started exercising in 2005 after I finished graduate school and got a full-time desk job. I started with the elliptical machine and stairclimber and finally got up the guts to try my hand at the “dreadmill.” I started by running for 2 minutes and then walking 1. Gradually, running became more comfortable, my pace improved and I hit the pavement for outdoor running. By late summer 2006, a friend and I were joking that we should run a marathon someday. Apparently, she wasn’t really joking because she found a link to a half marathon being held that November and, before I knew it, we were lacing up our shoes for 5, 8 and 10 mile runs. I’d never trained for anything before and the only guide I followed provided my weekly mileage requirements.

Not surprisingly, the combination of nerves about the impending race and my increased exercise caused me to lose a good bit of weight. In fact, I dropped from 130 in July to 114 by race day. Whoops! I also got a nasty cold the day after the half mary that stuck with me for almost two weeks. My muscles were toast, my lungs were angry, and I felt lousy.

When I signed up for two more half marathons that spring (March and May 2007), I vowed to take better care of my body. I had lofty time goals to achieve and a wedding to plan at the same time so I knew I’d need to be in top form to be the super woman I’d promised myself. The lessons I learned that winter have been absolutely invaluable and they’ve nourished my mind and body through six half marathons and two full marathons (not to mention a fabulous winter season of 5k neighborhood races (with beer!), turkey trots, trail runs, 10ks in Quantico, and more.) So, without further ado, please find my top 5 nutrition tips for health training:

1. Keep a running/food log

This tip covers several bases. Not only will you start to see trends of energy level in relation to certain foods, but you’ll also be able to track your intake in relation to mileage so you don’t end up with too much of an excess or deficit. Above all, I encourage you to honor your hunger signals, but keeping a log will prove to be incredibly helpful.

2. Maximize pre- and post-run nutrition

Like I said before, I’m not a nutritionist and there are tons of resources and even more opinions on what you should/should not eat whether you are training or not. Instead of telling you exactly what to eat, I’ll tell you what works for me. The following is my diet assuming I have a long run or race on Saturday:

Friday

No dairy, no alcohol. Larabar or oatmeal in AM and salad with nuts and seeds or chicken for lunch. Snacks include fresh fruit and trail mix.

Dinner: 4oz. organic chicken sautéed in olive oil served over 1 cup whole wheat penne with fresh tomato sauce made of fresh and sundried tomatoes simmered with fresh basil, salt, pepper and oregano. Dinner is eaten by 9pm.

Saturday

6am: wakeup, eat larabar, drink 10oz. water

8am: RUN! (I drink water and eat Gu during runs and races – 1 Gu every 4 miles)

Immediately post-run: Banana with peanut butter and at least ½ L water

Post-run lunch (eaten within 1 hour of run): Sandwich with whole grain bread and whatever fixin’s I crave – usually cheese, hummus and greens – and soup. More water.

The basic goal I shoot for is a healthy balance of carbs/fat/protein both the night before and after my run. My morning larabar provides simple sugars as well as good fats and complex carbs that will keep me full longer and won’t upset my stomach. The post-run banana gives my muscles a quick shot of simple carbs from a natural source and starts the recovery process.

3. Clean up your diet

In addition to the extra focus I place on my pre- and post-run meals, I find that my diet is generally much cleaner when I’m training for a race. That is, abstaining from fatty, processed foods is definitely a no-no the night before race day, but it’s also unlikely they’ll appear on my plate much at all until well after the race. That said, no one is perfect. Sometimes, I crave unhealthy foods, but that’s life! I’ve found that a large part of self care is giving my body good whole foods that help it run efficiently whether I’m running 20 miles or watching 20 minutes of TV.

4. Listen to your body

As your mileage increases, you may find that your body responds better to some foods than others. I found that dairy aggravated my stomach on runs longer than about eight miles. Lots of people have trouble with high fiber meals. Keep your food/running log nearby and look out for any meals that have you running to a gas station!

5. If it ain’t broke…

As race day approaches, you might be tempted to tinker around with your diet. Maybe you’ve had oatmeal every morning before a long run but your friend swears by bagels with almond butter. As much as you might want to try her breakfast, try it after the race! Whatever you do in the last few weeks before your race, don’t change your food routine. Your body is going to be pushed to its limits soon, so don’t put it through any undue stress by introducing new foods, or loading up on something you don’t normally eat (white pasta, included). If you do, you run the risk of sidelining yourself with some pretty nasty muscle or stomach cramps. I’ve even been known to bring all of my race day food with me to my destination (hello jar of peanut butter in my suitcase on the flight to San Francisco) to be sure I knew what I’d be eating.

Remember that what you eat might not be right for someone else and what someone else eats might not be right for you. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you don’t have to eat meat to be a healthy runner. (Go Matt, Caitlin and Megan!) If you love cheese and it doesn’t bother your stomach, enjoy! And if you have a tough run or a bad race, just remember it’s not the end of the world. Run, first and foremost, because you love it. If you have one rough race, just think of all the good ones you have to look forward to in years to come!!

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