Nutrition Tips for runners – from 3 experts
Elite runner Ben Ruthe, pictured centre, & nutritionists Mikki Williden, left, & Sarah Sinclair, right, share top nutrition tips for runners.
Nutrition Tips for runners – from 3 experts
By Rachel Grunwell
What can you eat to best fuel your running?
It’s a question a lot of runners ponder. So I chatted with two qualified nutritionists who specialise in this field (who are also runners) – as well as an elite runner from the Bay of Plenty who has won some top titles.
I asked one nutritionist about what to do about the tapering period, and another about what to do on race day. While, the athlete gave his own perspective about what works best for him. He also made a good point that nutrition is an individual thing ultimately. I’ve interviewed many of the top nutritionists throughout NZ and it’s a point that these experts all hammered home too. However, here are some incredible tips and words of wisdom worth noting. I know I’ll be putting some of this great advice into action with my next event – the Rotorua Marathon on April 30 – the next major event on the NZ run calendar. Some of this advice may help you too – for any event. These experts are all awesome and I rate them all highly.
FUEL AROUND TAPERING TIME
It’s close to tapering time for those participating in the Rotorua Marathon, like me. But use this information for any event you may have in the future. Firstly, tapering means backing off the training miles in the lead up to the race. This also means you shouldn’t be fuelling your body up as much as you might think…
It’s a “common mistake” around this time for runners to keep eating like we do while doing the big training miles.
Nutritionist Mikki Williden says it’s a real issue.
“Some people end up being heavy, lethargic and brain-fogged when they turn up to the start-line,” she says.
She knew of one guy who carb-loaded so much during a taper period that he ended up around 4kg heavier when he turned up at an event start-line.
“People overeat all the time when it comes to running,” says Williden.
So during the taper period – which can be a few weeks or as little as 10 days before an event depending on the individual – here are some of Williden’s tips:
Reduce your food intake over this time. You don’t need as much fuel because you are not using up as much energy.
2. Tap into your hunger cues; Do not eat to schedule.
3. If you suffer from nerves then reduce your vegetable intake a few days out from the event. Williden is usually an advocate of “10 serves of veg a day”, but around this time too much fibre can upset the gut and take up a lot of stomach space “which can make you feel bloated”.
4. Don’t take vast quantities of sports drinks leading up to a race. It can be too much liquid energy. “You’re better off making your own smoothies or having natural electrolytes like coconut water,” she adds.
5. Eat more frequently in the day before the event, but reduce the size of meals. This helps with having “a comfortable stomach”.
ps Williden says her favourite pre-race meals are things like Japanese (think salmon don), or a roast pork meal with kumara.
FUEL FOR RACE DAY
Raceday nutrition is different for everyone. So what works well for one person may not work well for another. Probably the most important advice for race day, is that you should practise your own race day nutrition while doing your training runs. And it is wise to experiment with different options as it can be a matter of trial and error to pinpoint what exactly works best for you.
Sarah Sinclair, a nutritionist who specialises in nutrition for runners through her business RUNtrition, recommends eating things on race day that are “nutrient dense, with complex carbs, with healthy fats and ideally a few antioxidants to boost (think whole foods and real foods where you can). And of course drink some fluid.”
Do not eat too much prior to a race – but make sure this meal is at least 2 hours before your race/event.
Lots of people find Oats/Oatmeal or a granola works well for them, whether or not you add milk/or yoghurt is an individual thing. Some things can upset the GI tract. “Bananas are generally always safe, a piece of plain (not too fibrous) toast with banana and nut butter works well too”.
5 top tips from Sinclair:
1. Practise your nutrition strategy well ahead of race day – the before and duringfoods/fuels.
2. Prep it the night before – at 4am you don’t want to be searching around for the last scraping of peanut butter.
3. For your event fuel – always take extra, just in case – or have supporters on the course with extra.
4. Just take a sip or two of water/fluid at each drink station -you do not need to drink the whole cup, over hydration can be as dangerous as dehydration. And if you are not gunning for a sub 1:45h in a half or 3:20 full, walk the drink stations – I promise you, you will make up the time by not choking on your water.
5. Always eat within 30 minutes of your race/event finishing to help refuel the body and ensure optimum recovery and avoid alcohol however tempting until you have fully hydrated (i.e. at least gone to the bathroom after the race/event).
An Elite Runner’s perspective:
Meanwhile, I spoke with elite runner Ben Ruthe because I knew he would give a unique opinion here – and a fresh perspective too. And he’s worth listening to because he is a gun-runner (so is his gorgeous wife too, by the way). He’s the bloke who won the Auckland Marathon in 2008 and also has six national titles to his name (under various distances), to name just only a few of his incredible accomplishments.
The Bay of Plenty based runner says he honestly eats what he craves, but avoids excessive amounts “of things that aren’t good for you”. So to decode here, he means don’t drink alcohol like you are a party-animal, and don’t consume sugar like you might if you were Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…
Ruthe strongly advises testing out race fuels well before race day so you know if they might upset your stomach.
He recommends to keep eating the foods you usually eat close up to an event too ie don’t change things radically. He says his father-in-law Trevor Wright (who represented England at the Commonwealth Games and could run a marathon in 2:12.28) used to love steak and chips and so he continued to enjoy eating this favourite meal right up to running his events. But it’s an individual thing, he adds.
But generally his approach is quite chilled. He reckons it can affect your performance if you focus too much on everything being precise food-wise around race day. “It can knock your confidence if you get hung up on everything being perfect,” he says.
He reckons rather than focusing too much on food on race day, rather focus on “enjoying” the event…
Meanwhile, you can enter the Rotorua Marathon by clicking here
- Rachel Grunwell is a wellbeing columnist for 2 magazines, marathoner, yoga teacher (who specialises in ‘yoga for runners’) and blogs on Inspiredhealth.co.nz . She’s running the Rotorua Marathon this year (her 12th marathon). Her last run-related story was on TV3 presenter Mike McRoberts set to take part in the Christchurch Marathon, which was published in newspapers nationwide & on her blog.
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