Nutrition Basics

Breakfast of champions.

Breakfast of champions.

If you’re just getting into running, you’re probably like I was: hungry, all the time. Now that I’ve been running for awhile, I have developed some strategies for balancing my nutrition during training. No joke, I actually gained weight when I trained for my first marathon. I ate everything in sight, and I suffered injury after injury. I blamed my shoes, but in hindsight, my poor diet might have had something to do with it.

I’m not a nutritionist, but I can safely tell you that what you eat and drink during training makes a huge difference. I know that it sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re like me and you run 25-30 miles a week during training season, you feel entitled to eat whatever the heck you want! But not so fast, you still need to be mindful. Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way.

  • Don’t skip breakfast. Like, ever. Eat it before you get in the car or before you open your email at work. Heck, whip up a smoothie and drink it on the way in! This will help you avoid the mad rush to Chik-Fil-A at noon.
  • Try to eat more protein than feels possible. Its benefits are real and important. I’m not a huge fan of fake food, but I will drink the occasional Muscle Milk if I’m protein-starved. And a scoop of protein powder in your smoothie helps after a hard workout. If you can drink milk, make it chocolate and recover with a yummy treat.
  • Hydrate all day, every day. If you are going to be doing speedwork or long runs, you better be hydrated. In addition to water, I’ve added green tea to my afternoon for a little caffeine and extra hydration. There are other good things about green tea, and every little bit helps when you’re in the throes of training.
  • Get snackin! I eat all day. Try keeping nuts, dried fruit, chocolate or whatever you love stocked in your desk or car. Don’t feel bad about snacking; just don’t keep cookies and candy around. They’re empty calories and not worth the investment.
  • Alcohol. When I’m training, and I mean seriously training, I cut out alcohol (save for a couple very special occasions). It sounds lame, but I promise you’ll feel the difference. Your pants will fit better too. And when your race is over, you’ll be able to celebrate, very cheaply.

My daughter recently reminded me of an interesting phenomenon that happens when you eat better and run more: you don’t want to eat junk food, you actually crave the healthy stuff. Maybe it’s evolutionary, like when we migrated across the plains and there was less time to find and eat Taco Bell. Or maybe, as you log your miles and become more aware of your overall health, your diet just follows suit. Either way, the world of physical fitness and diet are inextricably entwined. You can’t really do one really well with out the other. — Amie

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Bad Angel Rule #75

Don’t Skip Breakfast.

I live by this rule more than your average bear, and for good reason. Allow me to explain.

Years ago, I was living in upstate New York and beginning to dabble in running (see also: Maggie’s Origin Story). One lovely Sunday morning in June, I woke up early, went for a short jog, quickly showered and headed off to church. Without breakfast. About 10 minutes into the sitting/standing/kneeling circus act of Catholic mass, I collapsed like a pile of bricks into the pew. I awoke in the lap of some kind woman who said she was a nurse as dozens of parishioners gawked at me. Minutes later, I was being hoisted onto a stretcher, wheeled out of the church and into an ambulance — my first and only such ride to date. Talk about an overreaction. Turns out, I just needed something to eat and drink.

So you’d think I would’ve learned my lesson after that, right?

Weeeeeeeell, a couple years later, I decided to skip breakfast before hitting the gym one morning. About five minutes into my run, I started feeling a little woozy. I went to turn the speed down and then BAM! Passed out. On the moving treadmill. When I came to, there were two trainers hovering over me, including Cory, who taught my beloved circuit class. As they helped me up to a sitting position, Cory asked, “Did you eat anything this morning?” “No,” I answered sheepishly, knowing full well this was the problem. He gave me some fruit snacks and water, and I marveled at my lack of injuries. I really could’ve effed myself up on that fall, but only my pride was damaged that morning.

And so it came to be that I will never skip breakfast before a run again.

But what to eat? Lemme break it down.

Protein + carbs = success. Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a drizzle of honey is my go-to, take-it-to-the-bank pre-run breakfast. I’ve also found success with Luna bars; scrambled eggs, toast and a slice of bacon; and oatmeal. Things that DON’T work for me? Orange juice, high-fiber fruits, dairy. Everyone’s different, though.

Don’t overeat. For runs under an hour, one slice of PB toast is enough; anything over an hour, and I’ll have two. Basically, eat enough so you’re not starving, but not so much that you can’t move. (Note to self: Start employing this strategy for after running as well — instead of shoving food in my face until I want to explode).

Give yourself time to digest. No shoving that last bite in as you step out the door, or you might be throwing up that bite in about two minutes. I find 30-45 minutes is long enough to let the foot settle and absorb to give you the energy you need.

Figure out what works and stick with it. Once you find a winning combo (or two), stick with them through thick and thin. If you’re traveling for a race, BYOBreakfast. Now is not the time to experiment.

What’s your go-to pre-run breakfast, Angels? — Mags