Friday, June 29, 2012

The Importance of Fueling Properly

Food is such an interesting thing. We absolutely have to have it in order for our bodies to run, and yet we are so weird about it. We overeat because our minds tell us that is what we want to do. We pick foods that do NOTHING for our bodies nutritionally because our minds, and our taste buds, give us the green light. We want to feel great, look great, and perform great, and yet we aren't willing to eat in a way that promotes such feelings, body shapes, and performances.

I often times will discuss this with my clients...if someone was to give you a million dollar vehicle that looked AWESOME and ran like a dream, you would take care of it. If the person giving it to you instructed you that it was CRUCIAL that you put only supreme gas in this priceless vehicle, you'd do it. Because guess what, if you didn't...the car wouldn't run. It's as simple as that. EVEN IF your car is just a normal car, you would not fill that normal car of yours up with water, or with whatever other liquid you could find. Why? Because you know that without the right kind of gas, your car WOULD NOT RUN.

So why in the world, do we not do the same thing with our awesome bodies? Why are we putting crappy fuel in our bodies that barely allows us to run? Why do we constantly fill our tanks with useless calories that aren't doing much for us?

WELL, in training for the Utah Valley Marathon that I ran a few weeks ago I learned a lot about the way my body works and having the right kind of nutrition. I went into this marathon training eating Paleo. This meant that my macronutrient percentages weren't what the normal runner's would be. I had a higher amount of fat (albeit good fat), higher amounts of protein, and even though I still was eating a BOATLOAD of fresh produce, by removing all grains from my diet I had a lower percentage of carbohydrates. I researched a lot as to what endurance athletes who lived according to the paleo lifestyle ate, and I added more sweet potatoes, quinoa, and bananas to my diet before I would have my long runs. This worked fine for my runs that got up to about 8 miles, but past that I could feel my body running out of gas, and it felt crappy. I am a mentally tough person, and I can muscle through a workout even if I am feeling crappy and tired, but it got pretty brutal. I remember I did a 12 mile run that I thought was going to kill me. I realized very quickly that my carbohydrate percentages were too low. There are some endurance athletes that have been perfectly capable of running and staying very strict with the diet. For whatever reason I was not one of them, and I knew I didn't want to have to muscle through all of my runs, or else I would HATE the rest of my training.
So, I added in some of the foods I would eat before my long runs prior to my eating Paleo. Keep in mind I was still eating GOOD foods. I wasn't just binging on crap because I "could." I added in things like oatmeal with honey or a slice of whole grain bread to give my body the boost I needed. I can't even TELL you the night and day difference I felt. I would eat something that was a little higher in carbs before I went to bed on the night before a long run, and then I would eat a good breakfast that was higher in carbs. The difference between the way I felt during my runs was absolutely AWESOME. I also was sure to add in my usual Shot Blocks, or GU Chomps during my runs as well.

Now, when I trained for my races in the past I was eating more carbohydrates in my diet in general. But, I remember having the "carb load" mindset, and I would actually over do it I think. I didn't understand the importance of what I was fueling my body with, and how it would effect me. Because with this last race I knew that specific meals were helping to increase my glycogen stores, I was very conscious. It is also interesting to me to think back on the past races I trained for, I was very much in the "weight loss" mind set. I didn't want to eat a diet that was too high in carbohydrates because I didn't want to thwart the weight loss process. I have since realized that it is really important to eat the right amount of carbs, and to eat higher quality carbs to give your body what it needs. Here are some basic tips I'd offer if you are in training and would like to be sure you are fueling your body adequately.

- Start your race with your energy stores full. AKA eat something before you have an intense bout of exercise. Some people need 30-60 minutes to let their food digest a bit.
- Eat something beforehand that is easy for your body to process, but gives you a good source of energy. Some good examples would be, oatmeal, a banana, toast, or cereal.
- For individuals that are running intensely, 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per lb of body weight is a good rule of thumb. You can also look at it in percentages 60%-65% of your diet should be made up of carbohydrates. 
- During exercise, athletes need at least 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. If exercise is going to be more intense than 2-3 hours, upping your carb count to 45-90 grams per hour would be smart.
- Be sure to hydrate yourself before, during, and after your run. Water is a big part of feeling good while you are working out, and being dehydrated will be a quick path to feeling awful.
- The most important thing that I would suggest is to know before you go! Don't try out new foods or a new eating plan on race day. Use your lung runs to test out what works for your body and what will digest well!

Curious about what you should eat after the run? Read HERE about post workout meals!

What is your favorite way to fuel for your long workouts? Can you tell a difference between when you do and don't eat right to fuel your body, not just for races but all the time?  

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