Best Fueling Practices for Before, During and After Workouts
Contributed by Jeff Henderson - MIT Head Coach
One of the great aspects of the weekly long run is that it serves as an opportunity for you to practice your race day strategy. This includes the amount of time you need from the when you wake up to the start of your workout or race, the fuel you take in before heading out, and what you do during and after your workout or race. Even marathon veterans have to make adjustments from one season to the next. Take advantage of each long run to fine tune your workout/race rituals so that come race day you have a solid routine to follow.
Some of you who are new to the world of marathoning may wonder why you see people out on the trails with fuel stuffed into snazzy little belts in the manner a marsupial carries around their kin. Maybe you’ve overheard debates on the efficacy of recovery snacks or drinks (not of the alcoholic type) or dipped on a conversation of the best pre-workout meal. As you get into the longer mileage you will discover that it becomes increasingly important to fuel yourself properly before, during and after your workouts or races. The purpose of this article is to help you determine the best and most efficient manner way to fuel yourself before, during and after your workouts or races.
There is no magical solution to the amount and type of fuel that will be of most benefit to you before, during and after your workouts or races. We each have different fueling needs, BUT there are some guidelines that you should follow and experiment with.
When looking at your training schedule for the week take into consideration your work and family schedules so that you can be prepared before heading out for your workout. If your workout is the first activity of the day you need to determine how much time you will need to fuel yourself properly.
Typically eating at least an hour if not up to two hours prior to your workout is ideal. We recommend consuming enough fuel that doesn’t leave you feeling full, but enough that you won’t be craving a cheeseburger half way through your workout. What you eat depends on a couple of factors: first, choose foods that are high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, protein and fiber; second, eat what you’re comfortable with. Depending on your particular dietary needs I recommend taking in 300-600 calories before your workout. Things like whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, cereal, bananas and energy bars can be great sources of fuel before a workout or race. Make sure you are also hydrating before heading out. At minimum be sure to consume 8 ounces of water after rolling out of bed on your way out the door. Then, continue to hydrate throughout your workout. Don’t get bamboozled into eating what works for someone else. Experiment a bit to find the best fit for you. Once you find the best solution for you make it part of your pre-workout ritual and carry it over to race day.
Throughout the course of your workouts your body is utilizing stored glycogen is your muscles. After 60-90 minutes your body begins searching for other sources as your muscle glycogen slowly gets depleted. Sugar in our blood and glycogen in our liver are typically the next place your body looks for more fuel. Then, it is up to you to continue providing your body with some source for which to convert carbohydrates into glycogen. Walk into any specialty running shop and you’ll see shelf after shelf of energy gels, electrolyte drinks, chewing blocks that resemble gummy bears, salt tablets, tasty bars with every imaginable flavor and my personal favorite…jelly beans! ! It’s like a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when marathoners come in searching for their treat of choice. Sadly, there is no golden ticket. But, by trying all of the various options you will be able to determine what works best for you.
Everyone digests food differently. For some, gels cause stomach aches. Others can’t seem to juggle jelly beans while walking or running. The biggest key is to not wait until race day to start experimenting. You have a long season ahead. Try some gels one week. Waffles the next… and so on. There are varying recommendation for when and how often to take all of these delightful pleasures. For example, GU recommends taking one gel 15 minutes before your workout or race and then one every 45 minutes. Depending on your metabolism you may find it necessary to take fuel more or less often. For most, taking in 100 calories per hour is sufficient.
There is much evidence showing that you should not take gels, blocks, beans etc. along with and electrolyte drink such as GU Brew or Gatorade. Our bodies are able to convert carbohydrates to glycogen fairly efficiently, but the percentage of carbohydrates will greatly affect how efficiently this process happens. Doubling up on carbohydrate intake by taking a gel and energy drink at the same time can overload your body’s ability to convert carbohydrates into glycogen. Ideally, you want to chase gels, blocks, etc. with a little H2O. At the stops when you aren’t taking solids go ahead and take a swig of GU Brew to help keep your electrolytes up and give yourself an additional burst of carbs to keep you going.
Within the first 15-30 minutes your muscles are very eager to rebuild your glycogen stores. Once you return from your workout you need to think about what you can do to aid in your body’s ability to recover more quickly. Food and drinks with a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1 are most ideal. Carbohydrates should most definitely be the focus, but make sure your post-workout snack also has some protein. Clif Bars, Bagels with peanut butter or chocolate milk from our friends at Snowville Creamery are great sources for a post-workout snack with proper proportion of carbohydrates and protein.
Remember that everyone’s bodies work differently. What work for you training partner may not work for you. If you are still working to find the right solution, be patient. With experimentation and practice you’ll discover the best solution for you. As always, be sure to keep yourself hydrated. You’re being true to your training schedule. Don’t forget be diligent about your nutrition before, during and after your workouts or races.