There are so many pieces that must come together in order to have a great run (and especially a great race) – including following a run training plan that works for you, getting enough sleep and maintaining an overall healthful nutrition plan full of antioxidant rich and anti-inflammatory foods.
While you most likely have a training plan and know how much sleep you should get every night, do you have a plan when it comes to how to fuel your runs? How about refueling post-run? It’s ideal to develop habits and practices that you are 100% confident in – you know why you’re doing them and what they are doing for you. Note: sometimes this can take quite some experimenting – it’s rare we hit upon a practice that works perfectly for us on the first try!
Often we are sold on ideas of how to fuel and refuel from product marketing. I’m always cautious of companies with a product to sell telling me how to fuel (and refuel from) my running. I’ve powered my running over the years primarily with 100% whole foods – supplementing with sports products only here and there where I know it makes sense (and once I’ve put a ton of research into it).
To help you choose which pre and post run whole foods and sports products might be right for you, I’m here to offer you some tips and guidelines in finding your perfect fit. This post will specifically cover only the pre-run (stay tuned for post-run re-fulling tips!).
Pre-Run (20-30 minutes before you begin to run):
While fuelling your training runs and races really does begin even before the 30 minute pre-run window, the last half hour is most important to pay close attention to.
If you consume something too heavy or hard to digest – well, you’re more likely to not have a great run (GI issues, stomach discomfort, embarrassing searches for a port-a-potty or the nearest Starbucks).
However, if you consume nothing in this window on a day your nutrition earlier in the day was lacking – well, again, you’re more likely not to have a great run (low energy, feeling slow, it’s hard, you’re wondering why you’re out there). And even if your earlier nutrition was perfect, it doesn’t hurt to top up your liver glycogen stores (especially before a race).
When you’re within a half hour of running, you are best off to avoid fat, protein and fibre as these can all cause gastrointestinal distress. The fuel you reach for just before running should be high in carbohydrates, and little else.
Natural Food Options:
- a banana;
- 2-3 pitted medjool dates;
- organic dried fruit free from sulfites (sulfites can badly upset your GI system);
- 100% pure fruit juice (such as tart cherry juice);
- Homemade Sports Drink (such as this Lemon-Lime Chia one)
- a very small serving of instant oatmeal (more oatmeal and the old-fashioned / steel cut oats are better had 1 or more hours prior) with honey and/or maple syrup;
- A serving of Homemade Sports Gel (such as these Orange or Chocolate Mint ones)
Eat 2 Run Approved Sports Product ‘Shortcuts’:
- Vega Pre-Workout Energizer (NOT the sugar-free one) and Energy Gels
- Honey Stinger gels or chews
- Pro Bar Bolt Organic Energy Chews
Also (with caution):
- Clif Shot Bloks or gels (contains organic maltodextrin)
- Honey Maxx (contains non-gmo maltodextrin and xylitol)
*Note – just because I recommend one or two products from a certain company does not mean I endorse all their products (I don’t).*
Plus, look for other naturally formulated sports products that are free from ingredients such as:
- additives and preservatives (ie. sodium benzoate)
- artificial colourings
- artificial flavourings
- free fructose (listed simply as fructose)
- dextrose (commercially produced glucose, usually from corn)
- sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xyliyol)
- artificial sweeteners (acesulfame, aspartame, sucralose)
Maltodextrin (typically derived from corn) is another ingredient to watch out for. I’ve seen maltodextrin-containing products cause GI distress in some runners (even though it is a processed starch designed to be easily digested). Keep in mind most corn grown (over 80%) is genetically modified, so if using a sports supplement containing maltodextrin ensure you are choosing only organic ones (any organic product is guaranteed to be free from genetically modified foods).
Real, whole and natural foods are my favourite place to go to fuel myself properly – however it never hurts to have quick and convenient options ready for those crazy busy days!
Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers,
Sarah J Cuff, RHN
PS. Sometimes I receive emails from people who tell me I’ve inspired them. To be honest, their stories are so amazing, they completely inspire me!
Hollie Holden is one of these amazing runners. She was at a talk I gave at a Running Room last February. This prompted her to change her mindset from looking at ‘food as calories’ to ‘food for fuel and recovery’ and she began eating 2 run. Then she ran her first marathon in May… Click here to find out how she did!