Q&A with running nutrition expert Nancy Clark - August 2011
Caffeine Cold Turkey
Q: I like to drink a hot cup of coffee before running in the morning, but it's hot here and I know caffeine is a diuretic. Is it wise to give it up before I run and instead just have some coffee afterward?
~Susie, Katy, Texas
A: Once upon a time, caffeine was thought to be a diuretic. We now know that is not the case among people who are accustomed to drinking coffee. You might pee sooner, but not more than you consumed. The Army even conducted their own research into this because many soldiers who exercise in the heat love their morning cup of coffee. Good thing the research concluded that coffee is fine to drink pre-exercise, even in the heat. So there is no reason to give it up.
Q: I don't like to eat before I run in the morning, but I know it's important. If there were just one food to eat--easily digestible--which one would you recommend?
~Martina, Altamonte Springs, Florida
A: That’s a tough question because people vary so much in their ability to tolerate pre-exercise food. Let me give you a few popular choices: banana, orange juice, granola bar, yogurt, English Muffin (with or without peanut butter), chunk of bagel, oatmeal and just about 100-300 calories of any carbohydrate-based food (fruit, vegetable, grain) that settles well.
The purpose of this pre-exercise snack is to bolster your blood sugar, which can easily drop overnight while you sleep. If you happen to eat a lot of food at night, your blood sugar may be adequate, and you can forgo the morning pre-run snack. But the problem with eating a lot at night is it can easily lead to fat gain. So clearly, the wiser choice is to eat less at night and grab a pre-run snack. You can even eat as you run out the door. Just as long as you will be running at a pace you can maintain for more than 30 minutes, your body can digest the food and put it to good use.
Food To Prevent Anemia
Q: I’m not a vegetarian, but I don't like red meat. My problem is I have a history of anemia. When I was in college, I was anemic and now that I’m training for my first marathon, it's always in the back of my mind. What can I eat to get enough iron without eating a steak every week?
~Robert, Austin, Texas
A: You can easily bolster your iron intake by enjoying some chicken/turkey thighs or legs (the dark meat has more iron than the breast meat), turkey burgers (the dark meat that gets ground up), pork chops, darker fish (such as tuna and salmon) and enriched breakfast cereals (such as made by Kellogg’s or General Mills).
Be sure to include a source of vitamin C with each meal (such as berries with breakfast, sliced tomato on the lunchtime sandwich, and broccoli with dinner). This enhances iron absorption. And if all that fails, you can simply take a multivitamin and mineral pill which provides the recommended daily intake for iron.
In The Air
Q: I’m a flight attendant who eats a lot of meals on the go at the airport. Unfortunately, my choices are very limited, as I have to eat less-than healthy. Are they any healthy choices you can suggest at your typical fast food places such as Wendy’s, Subway, StarBucks, etc?
~Mary, Decatur, Georgia
A: These days, you can find healthy (read that low fat) options at most quick service restaurants. You just have to look for them. If you are too hungry when you arrive at the counter, you may notice only the fatty, belly-busting options. (Hint: do not let yourself get that hungry. Plan a snack beforehand!) But if you look around, you’ll see grilled chicken sandwiches, low fat latte’s, bagels, fruit cup, salads (with the dressing on the side).
Your best bet is to go to the restaurant’s website and look for the nutrition information. Try to find foods that fit within your calorie budget (500-600 calories/meal)and fat budget (50-60 grams fat for the entire day). If you end up having one fast-but-fatty meal, just be sure to balance the other meals with lower fat options filled with fruits and vegetables. Alternatively, do what I do: travel with a few peanut butter and honey sandwiches tucked into your backpack. You’ll save money and invest in better health.
Q: Does eating salty foods such as pretzels and pickles actually help prevent dehydration before long, hot summer runs? I can stomach a pretzel or two, but not a pickle in the morning. Are there any other foods I can eat before my run, which might help?
~Anne, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A: Eating salty foods helps retain water and delays the rate at which you might become dehydrated. So, extra salt is a smart idea before a long, hot summer run. You can easily boost your salt intake by adding salt to your pre-run oatmeal, enjoying some warm chicken broth or chicken-noodle soup (or any kind of soup for that matter). Chug a V-8 juice, have a salt bagel, or some toast with cheese. Some runners keep boiled potatoes on hand, roll them in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and enjoy them (warm or cold) for a tasty pre-run snack.
If you have a sports nutrition-related question for Nancy Clark, send your questions to shoeguy@Mizunousa.com. We’ll pick five questions a month for Nancy to answer. If we pick your question, you’ll receive a Mizuno technical T-shirt.