Nutrition Q&A with Nancy Clark -- June 2001
Do you have a sports nutrition question for Nancy Clark? If you have a question you’d like her to answer, send it to Shoeguy@Mizunousa.com. If we pick your question for Nancy to answer, we’ll send you a beautiful Mizuno DryScience T-shirt.
Balancing carbs with proteins
Q: To lose weight, I was on a high protein, low-carbohydrate diet for about a year. Now, I'm trying to lose even more weight by becoming a dedicated runner. I know carbs are important for a runner, but can you give me some idea about the ideal balance of carbohydrates to protein that I need to run safely?Annie Sampson, Far Hills, New Jersey
A: The carbohydrates in fruits, vegetables and grain-foods are important for runners because only carbs convert into muscle glycogen which is the fuel that keeps you from “hitting the wall.” Glycogen depletion is associated with fatigue. You will have lots of trouble running hard with a low-carb diet.
The good news is carbohydrates are not fattening; excess calories are fattening, in particular, excess calories of fat. People lose weight when they give up carbs because they actually give up the dietary fat that accompanies the carbs such as butter on the potato, mayo on the sandwich and cheese sauce on the pasta. Initially, dieters also lose water-weight, because for each one ounce of carb stored in your muscles as glycogen, your body stores about three ounces of water. When you deplete the carbs by running, you lose the water (weight).
So you should plan a sports diet that includes quality carbs as the foundation of each meal, such as cereal for breakfast, sandwich bread with lunch and such starches as rice, noodles, pasta and potato with dinner. Round out the meal with more carbs from fruits and veggies. Include at least 200-300 calories of grain-food per meal—about 1/3 of your plate. Protein should take up about 25-30 percent of the plate and be the accompaniment to the carbs, but not the main focus of the meal. Choose additional “quality carbs” from fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads to round out the meal. These are preferable to the sugary carbs (sweets and treats) that can also fuel your muscles but fail to invest in optimal health.
Q: Lately, I've felt really tired on all my runs. I do fairly high mileage (50 miles a week) and run two or three marathons a year. Someone suggested that I might be anemic. How would I know if I was and what can I do to I prevent it? Brendon Hills, Denver, Colorado
A: Unusual fatigue is usually a sign of anemia. If you are unusually tired, you certainly want to consult with your doctor and get your blood tested to rule out anemia. Be sure to ask the doctor to measure your serum ferritin. That’s your stored iron. The iron in your blood can be at a normal level, but if your iron stores are depleted, you’ll feel tired during exercise.
To prevent anemia, enjoy iron-rich foods on a daily basis. Red meat is one of the best sources of iron, but if you are a non-red meat eater, other common sources of iron include dark meat chicken (legs, thighs) and iron-enriched breakfast cereals. Enjoying fruit and/or vegetables (rich in vitamin C) with each meal will enhance iron absorption. Taking supplemental iron (as in a multi-vitamin/mineral pill) can help reduce the risk of becoming anemic if you do not eat red meat or iron-enriched breakfast cereals.
How much to drink during marathon training
Q: I live in the Southwest and train all summer for a fall marathon. Obviously, I know all about drinking adequately during and after my runs. Should I be at all concerned about drinking too much?Ron Wallace, Peoria, Arizona
A: If your stomach is sloshing, stop drinking. Drinking too much plain water can dilute the sodium in your blood and create medical concerns. The safest bet is to learn your sweat rate, so you know how much you need to drink to replace sweat losses without overhydrating. You can do this by weighing yourself naked before and after a one-hour run (during which you track the amount of water you consume). If you lost two pounds, despite having consumed a quart of water (32 ounces or two pounds), your sweat rate is about 4 pounds per hour, or a half-gallon of fluid. Once you know your sweat rate, you can drink the appropriate amount of fluid, without over-or under-hydrating. I suggest you also enjoy a salty pre-run snack (baked chips, pretzels, salt on oatmeal, a few pickles, chicken broth). This will help retain fluid in your body.
Is a cooler sports drink better than room temperature?
Q: I like the commercial sports drinks and have no issues with them. Actually, I drink Gatorade during the day even when I'm not running. Is there are any advantage to drinking a sports drink (over water) before I run? Also is drinking cold water or a cold sports drink better than drinking one at room temperature? Jeff McGeehin, Macungie, Pennsylvania
A: Consuming a sports drink right before a run is fine, particularly if you have not eaten any other pre-run snack for energy. In general, Gatorade and all sports drinks are designed to be consumed during runs that last longer than an hour rather than as a casual beverage. While dentists and the Gatorade accountants love the fact you drink Gatorade throughout the day, you are wasting your money and possibly eroding your dental health. Sports drinks are little more than sugar water with a dash of salt for sodium. You can get plenty of sodium (an “electrolyte”) via standard foods. Drinking sports drinks throughout the day is needless. A cold beverage tends to be more palatable than a warmer beverage. Cold fluid will also cool you off a little bit, so drinking a cold beverage in hot weather is better than one at room temperature. One good tip is to freeze a bottle of sports drink in the freezer and plant it behind a bush along your long running loop route and enjoy the cold beverage as it melts during the run.
Post long run refueling
Q: When I finish a long run, I feel pretty nauseous and don't feel like eating right away. Is waiting an hour or two before eating after a long run OK? Optimally, how soon should I eat? And what should I eat that's nutritious and won't make me feel bloated and sluggish later? Bonnie Bartlett, Des Moines, Iowa
A: Eating right after a hard run is important if you do double workouts and plan to exercise again within the next six hours. But if you will not be training for another 24-48 hours, you have little need to rapidly refuel. Your muscles will have plenty of time to refuel and recover. Chicken broth or some type of brothy soup or other salty food may taste good if you are feeling nauseous. Ginger ale along with a few saltines or bland crackers is another option. Because each person’s body responds differently to post-exercise fuel, you’ll need to experiment to figure out if something salty or bready does the job of settling your stomach. You likely do not want heavy, fatty foods such as peanut butter or cheese omelet.