Q&A with running nutrition expert Nancy Clark - September 2011
Carbo-loading without pasta
Q: I'm running the Chicago Marathon in October and know I have to carbo-load before the race. I know potatoes and pasta are preferred for carbo-loading but I don't like pasta. Are there are any good foods you can suggest that work just as well before a marathon? And how soon before the race should I begin loading?—Matt, Naperville, Illinois
A: Pasta is not the only food for carbo-loading. Rice is popular, as are potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, yams, noodles, tortillas, breads, bagels, oatmeal, cereals, any other grain-foods and all fruits and vegetables. If you want to carbo-load at breakfast, do so with pancakes, French toast, oatmeal with raisins and other cereals with fruit.
When carbo-loading for the marathon, plan to maintain your tried-and-true daily carbohydrate-based training diet (to avoid intestinal problems), but in the week or two reduce your training. By tapering your training while you maintain the same calorie intake, your muscles will have the fuel they need to replace depleted carbohydrate (glycogen) stores and the time to do so. (Muscles need 24 to 48 hours with little or no exercise to carbo-load.)
If desired, you can carbo-load at breakfast, or even two or three days in advance. As long as you do not exercise hard, the glycogen will stay in your muscles and be ready on marathon morning.
Post long run foods
Q: When I finish a long run, just about the last thing I want to do is eat. But I know it's important. Which foods would you recommend that are easily digestible and will help me recover quickly?– Michael, Charlotte, North Carolina
A: Eating right after a long run is important, but it’s only important if you will be training again within the next six hours. That’s unlikely for most runners who have just completed a long run. Even so, you will feel better and recover slightly faster if you refuel within the hour after you run. But if you want to wait until your appetite returns in a few hours, you’ll still be able to recover in time for your next training session in the next day or two.
While your stomach may not feel hungry after your long run, your muscles are starving and dehydrated. Runners who feel lousy after a long run are often surprised to discover that sipping on some chicken broth, ginger ale, or sweetened iced tea while nibbling on a few pretzels or saltines makes them feel better. Getting some fluid, sugar and sodium into your system will help your body return to normal pre-run status.
Q: If you could eat just one food before a long run, what would it be? The reason I ask is I'm just not hungry in the early morning, but I want to get something into my stomach before I run. -- Marissa, Topton, Pennsylvania
A: Each runner’s body is different, so I cannot provide a universal answer that will work for everyone. Some popular early-morning options include 100 to 300 calories of: Banana, orange juice, fruit smoothie or some toast, English muffin, chunk of a bagel or handful of dry cereal. You can also try a Luna Bar, PowerBar or Fig Newtons. Some runners prefer flavored yogurt or chocolate milk.
If you are not hungry, you likely ate a big dinner the night before; that food will fuel the first part of your run. So, instead of forcing a pre-run snack, you could take fuel with you for during the run. When your blood sugar starts to drop, you can energize yourself with some sports drink, gels, gummi candy, energy bar, twizzlers, or whatever settles well.
Q: I like a good steak. Actually, I like all types of red meat. But most of my running friends say eating red meat is just about the worst thing I can eat for marathoning. I don't eat a steak the night before a race, but is there anything wrong with eating red meat? Will it hurt my running?– Carlos, Mount Vernon, New York
A: To the detriment of steak eaters, juicy steaks are fat-laden; fat makes them taste good but adds a ton of calories. Because the fat is the health-culprit, you can simply choose lean steaks, and enjoy them guilt free . Red meat is actually a nutritionally sound choice for runners because it is a strong source of readily absorbable iron (to prevent anemia) and zinc (to help with healing).
When eating lean steaks, like London broil or top round, be sure to balance the meal with lots of carbs: baked potato, whole grain rolls and steamed vegetables. You always want to eat carb-protein combinations because the carbs fuel the muscles, while the protein helps build and repair the muscles.
Fat reduction advice
Q: I know my diet has too much fat in it. I say that because despite running I can't seem to lose weight. What is the ideal percentage of fat that should be in my daily diet? And do you have any suggestions how to reduce my fat intake? – Walt, Westboro, Massachusetts
A: Lack of weight loss is most likely because you are eating too many total calories, not just too much fat. While excess calories of fat are very easily fattening, too many total calories is the bigger problem. Try knocking off 100-200 calories from your evening snacks.
For most runners, I recommend a diet with about 25 percent of the calories from fat (about 50-75 grams of fat per day). The average American eats a diet with 34- 37 percent of calories from fat. You want to eat a little bit of (preferably healthy) fat with each meal because:
- -the fat helps absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- -the fat adds flavor and enhances the enjoyment of the meal (so you will feel less of an urge to eat ice cream for dessert)
- -a little fat is needed to replace the fat stores within your muscles that enhance stamina and endurance during runs.
- -fat keeps you feeling fed, so you are less likely to snack on yet-another fat-free pretzel, apple, or rice cake that adds needless calories but leave you feeling unfed.
By monitoring total calories, not just fat calories, you should see some weight loss. If not, get a nutritional check-up with a local sports dietitian. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org will help you find that nutrition expert.
If you have a sports-nutrition question for Nancy Clark, send your question 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.