The Running Nutritionist: Nancy Clark Answers Your Questions
Q: I will be training this winter for the Boston Marathon. I know it's important to stay hydrated on my long runs, but is it as important in winter as it is when it’s warmer? I mean, do I have to drink quite as much to stay hydrated? And if so, is water OK? Stacey Leonard, Portland, Maine
A: Some winter runners lose a lot of sweat during long runs. For example, if the weather becomes tropical inside your running suit, you likely will need to drink a significant amount of water to replace sweat losses. But if you dress in layers, and strip down to let the cold weather cool you off, you will need less fluid replacement because you will lose less sweat.
Your best bet is to learn your sweat rate by weighing yourself before and after a one-hour winter run. If you lose one pound, that’s 16 ounces of sweat; two pounds equates to loss of a quart of sweat. You need to replace that accordingly.
As for water versus sports drink: A sport drink is designed to be taken during exercise that lasts for more than 60-90 minutes. Your pre-long run breakfast or snack should help maintain your energy level for 60 to 90 minutes. After that, you will need to consume some sort of energy. Some runners prefer a sports drink, others want water plus gels, gummi candy, dried fruit, etc.
You do want to be sure to keep your body well fueled during winter runs. To suffer low blood sugar and run out of energy is asking for trouble. That is, if you become hypoglycemic and then stumble and fall, you will have no fun stranded in the cold, miles from home.
Does salt help?
Q: I recently ran the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and it was very warm. During the race, there were several aid stations that offered salt. I have never seen this during a race. Would taking salt during a race help me in any important way? And if it would, should taking salt during a marathon be standard procedure? If it should, what would you suggest I take? Martin Perez, Rockport, Texas
A: Salt helps retain fluid in your body. While plain water goes in one end and out the other, a salty fluid (i.e., V-8 Juice, broth) enhances water retention. Because sports drinks do not supply enough salt to replace that lost in sweat, salt
packets can help.
Salt is a wise addition to the diet of marathoners who sweat a lot and will be running in the heat for more than four hours. You’ll likely notice you feel better after consuming some salt in one form or another. Beef jerky, pretzels and pickles are a few salty options if you don’t enjoy straight up salt. The simpler solution is to enjoy something salty before the marathon, such as extra salt on oatmeal, some chicken noodle soup, or chicken broth.
Should taking salt during a marathon be standard procedure? Not if you’re a fast runner who spends less than four hours on the course. But there’s no harm taking salt for slower marathoners who sweat a lot and are out there sweating heavily for hours on end.
Q: I realize there isn't any magic super food. But is there any fruit or veggie which you consider a must-do for marathoners? And if so, why? Meredith Simmons, San Luis Obispo, California
A: While all fruits and vegetables are excellent choices for runners, some are more nutrient-dense than others. For example, oranges (and all citrus fruits), berries, bananas, dark green veggies (broccoli, spinach, kale) and red/orange veggies (tomatoes, sweet potato, carrots) are all powerhouses. Rather than focus on one specific fruit or vegetable, you want to think about consuming many different colors of fruits and vegetables. Choose red apples, blue berries, purple grapes, orange sweet potatoes, white bananas, green peppers, yellow pineapple, light green kiwi, etc. Each color offers different health protective benefits. By eating a rainbow of colors, you’ll be protecting your health far better than focusing on just one item.
Mid Race Fuel
Q: I am planning to walk the Disneyworld Half marathon on Saturday and then the marathon on Sunday. I won't be any rush to finish either race. I'm wondering whether I should take some food along with me, other than GUs and gels. If so, are there some good easy-to-eat foods you could suggest I bring along with me to make both races easier to finish? Vickie Sanderson, Huntsville, Alabama
A: Yes, you definitely want to consume adequate fuel and fluids during the half-marathon, so you don’t get into a “hole” for the second event the following day. You will also want to eat a proper recovery diet after the half-marathon to prepare you for the next day’s marathon. Pancakes or French toast might be a nice post-half-marathon breakfast.
While you likely can get through the half-marathon with the fuel from your
breakfast beforehand plus some sports drinks and some snacks after two hours into the half-marathon, you will want even more fuel for the full marathon. After all, under normal circumstances, people get hungry at least every four hours. Add a few miles in between breakfast and lunch, and you have time for a few meals. And as a walker, you likely can tolerate real food more easily than runners can.
Assuming you have no intestinal issues, plan to carry different flavors of food. That is, if you rely on just sports drinks and gels, you’ll likely get “sugared out.” Some suggestions include biscotti, pretzel nuggets, fig newtons, peanut butter and jelly wraps, bagel with almond butter, trail mix, energy bars—as well as different flavors of sugary foods, such as mini Milky Ways peppermints, malted milk balls, Twizzlers – whatever sounds good and settles well.
You want to target about 200 to 300 calories per hour, starting after the first
hour or so (which will be fueled by your pre-event breakfast). Of course, I hope you will have practiced eating this during your long runs, and will also have running shorts with pockets, a fuel belt (or a friend with a picnic basket along the route) so you can easily carry the food with you.
Long Runs on an Empty Stomach
Q: I know you suggest eating something before long runs, but I get along fine without eating anything before my 20-milers. I have heard that running on an empty stomach helps me burn fat more efficiently. Is that true? And also is there any health risk to running long runs on an empty stomach? Dexter Moore, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A: You say you get along fine without eating before your long runs, but my answer is “How much better could you run?” Abundant research shows that athletes who eat before endurance exercise, perform significantly better than those who consume just water. Granted, if you eat a huge pasta dinner the night before, that food will contribute some energy to fuel the start of your run. But you will likely feel better at the end of the 20-miler if you fuel both before and during it. I suggest you experiment with pre-run fueling, observe any benefits and learn what works best for your body.
Some people think that running on empty is a good way to burn more fat. That might be true, but you limit your performance due to lack of carbs. And please note: Burning fat does not equate to losing undesired body fat. If you burn fat during the long run only to come home ravenous and over-indulge in a huge brunch, you’ll easily wipe out any calorie deficit incurred during the run.
As for health risks, if your blood sugar drops, as it easily can due to lack of pre-run fuel, you can become light-headed, dizzy, shaky and nauseous—and will be more likely to stumble and fall. Lack of fuel also takes the enjoyment out of running. For both safety and performance, fuel wisely!
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.