Dietitian & 3:14 Marathoner Heather Larson answers common running nutrition questions. Fueling for your runs, both during them, and throughout the day can be really hard to nail down, but once you learn what works for your body, you’ll see huge improvements in your performance and how you feel.
Below are some of the questions that I hear frequently, and each are great places to start adding in small tweaks to your current intake to figure out what makes you run and feel your best.
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1- How to avoid ‘hanger’ after long runs or high mileage week?
You avoid hanger by not letting yourself get into a deficit. Think about your post run eating as part of the workout. It can be as simple as having a granola bar in your bag to grab right after running, but making sure you have something within 30 minutes, rather than waiting can help curb the ‘hangry’ cravings. If you let your body sit in a calorie deficit for a few hours after your hard efforts, you’re going to end up so hungry that you will want to eat EVERYTHING in sight.
2-How do you know if you are eating ‘too much’ or not enough?
Learning to trust your body to tell you how much to eat is a huge part of nutrition. If you struggle with trusting your hunger signals to dictate your eating, the book Intuitive Eating is a quick read and a great resource, for learning to eat until you are full, and not beyond. On the other end, if you aren’t eating enough, you are going to notice decreases in energy, and increases in the amount of time it takes you to recover. If you notice you are ravenous in the afternoon, craving sugar and hoping for a nap every day, but sleeping enough at night, you might not be eating enough.
3- Can you lose weight while marathon training?
It depends on why you are running the marathon. Is your goal to run a PR, and you’re close to your ideal body weight? Then, probably not as your primary focus. Can it happen related to an increase in mileage and intensity of training? Sure. But to increase your milage and your intensity without leading to an injury, you HAVE to eat well and refuel your body every single day. Creating a large calorie deficit can lead to energy and performance declines. Is your big goal weight loss, and finishing the marathon (while a HUGE accomplishment) secondary to the weight loss? Then, yes.
4- What are the best types of foods to eat before a long run?
Carbohydrates that sit well for you. Oatmeal works well for me, if I have about 45 minutes for it to digest. If I need something quicker, a banana or Honey Stinger Waffles sit well 15-20 minutes before heading out the door. For people with more sensitive stomachs. liquid sources of carbs can be a good place to start. I like Generation UCAN, and how long it keeps me full. If you’re not used to anything in your stomach, even starting with 6-8 ounces of full flavor gatorade 15 minutes before you run can help get you used to having something in your stomach.
5- Should you eat before your run?
If you are going to be one your feet more than 60 minutes, absolutely! Your muscles can store enough glycogen (the storage form of glucose) for about 45 minutes of activity. Your body can also use fat to turn it in to glucose, however, the byproducts of this system can drain your energy and leave you feeling flat, which is why we need to help our body by giving it carbohydrates before we run for any long duration.
6- What to eat after & why?
When you run, you are making your muscles work. They are going to deplete their glycogen (energy) stores, as well as needing to rebuild from your workout. To restore your glycogen, you need carbohydrates. To give your body the amino acids it needs to repair muscle, you need protein. To feel satisfied, you also need a little bit of fat. Do you remember seeing the chocolate milk adds with athletes when we were younger? There is a lot of science behind those adds! 8 ounces of chocolate milk is going to have 25 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, and some fat (depending on which kind you get). This is a great combo, especially if you need something quick. If you have a little more time, I like to make smoothies with fruit, protein powder and add ins like spinach and chia seeds for a nutrient boost.