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Running and nutrition go hand-in-hand. Choosing the right fuel in the run up to race day can determine your overall performance.
Nutrition is vital for fueling and recovery as well as changing your body composition (over a longer period of time!). Different types of training runs need different types of fuel. Whilst easy or recovery runs can be fueled by your own body fat stores, it is essential to choose the correct food for long runs (before, during and after), tempo runs and interval sessions.
In the lead up to the half marathon (or marathon), it is important to mirror your race day fuel plan in your long runs before, to train your gut to tolerate carbs on the go!
In the fortnight leading up to race day, stepping up your protein intake will help repair muscle fibre after all the endurance training.
Protein-rich foods will increase muscle strength and structure. Eggs, salmon, Greek yoghurt, chicken breast and tuna are excellent, lean sources of protein to load into your diet in the weeks before a half marathon.
Essential fatty acids are vital to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. You can easily increase healthy fatty acids by adding flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds to your breakfasts, salads or stir fries, snacking on walnuts, and increasing fish, shellfish and leafy vegetables for lunch and dinner.
Reduce inflammation by including lots of Vitamin K rich leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and chard, plus dark chocolate, blueberries, cherries, chia and flaxseeds, pineapples and salmon. Ginger is known to reduce indigestion, muscle and joint pain – add this and turmeric (another anti-inflammatory) to smoothies and meals as much as possible.
Potassium rich foods to stabilise blood pressure and heart rhythm, reduces water retention, controls muscle contraction and nerve impulses and aids digestion. Bananas, potatoes, melons and cooked spinach and broccoli are all good sources.
Consciously choose natural foods full of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals. Vitamins for energy production, immune function and blood health and minerals for growth, bone health, fluid balance. As well as the impact on your muscles and bones, this will keep any coughs or colds at bay. A large sweet potato provides the daily requirement of Vitamin A to boost the immune system and strengthen bone tissue.
Increase your carb intake for 24 – 48 hours before the race. Simple, easily digestible carb sources are best, such as pasta, bread, rice, cereals and potatoes. Minimise fat, fibre and protein on these days.
By manipulating food fuel, energy stores are increased without making you feel excessively full or bloated.
The idea of ‘carb loading’ is not an excuse to just ‘eat everything’.
Always important, but even more so in the lead up to a running event. Help to prevent fatigue, exhaustion and over-heating by simply stepping up your water intake in the week or two before a race – but certainly in the last few days before. This is as important, if not more important, than during the race itself.
Aim for 3 litres a day for 3 days before race day.
Realbuzz states: “During a high-intensity workout, such as spinning or running, you could lose 500 to 1000ml (approx 18-35 fl oz) per hour, and if this fluid isn’t replenished, dehydration will set in, causing a raised heart rate, increased blood pressure, a far higher rate of perception of effort, and ultimately, a decline in performance (even a dehydration level of 2 per cent can have a noticeable effect on your sporting prowess).”
The night before
Eat a high carb, low protein, low fat dinner, early the night before the race.
Protein and fat take longer to digest. Avoid anything spicy, creamy or sugary. Do not eat too late so you have the best sleep the night before.
Breakfast: set the alarm early. Aim to eat 1-3 hours before start time.
Cereals, toast, bagels all make for a easily digestible, energy packed breakfast.
You can’t go wrong with porridge topped with honey, blueberries, banana, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Toast and almond or peanut butter and a black coffee will get you set for the 13 miles ahead.
A sports-specific energy drink (uncarbonated) and plenty of water in the approach to the run will make sure you’re hydrated with a boost of energy ready for a speedy start.
Isotonic gels…always have a practice run (or two) beforehand to avoid triggering the dreaded runner’s stomach (read the Runner’s Need article with top tips). Two to three gels is the ideal amount for a half marathon, at 30, 60 and 90 minutes. Avoid gels with caffeine until the last half hour.
Dextrose tablets are a great alternative or addition and will keep that energy propped up throughout the run.
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