How important is nutrition to an athlete? I’m often asked this question as many people believe that if you train hard enough, you can get away with eating just about anything. I have said it before and I will say it again, you can’t outrun a bad diet. So what will a well planned diet do for you?
Excess weight is the obvious one to start with. You wouldn’t go into a race with a few extra unnecessary kilos thrown into your backpack would you? Maybe in training it might be beneficial to build strength, but in a race, it’s just crazy. So why would you go into a race at anything more than your ideal racing weight?
Recovery is something that is often overlooked. Many people I have worked with have previously come out of a race and gorged out on anything they can get their hands on. While this is sometimes hard not to do, it’s a far better idea to have a post race nutrition plan in place where everything is ready to go, removing the temptation to get stuck into that sausage sizzle at the sidelines of many races, as tempting as it may sound. A good ratio of macro nutrients can shorten your recovery time by providing all the necessary nutrients your body needs at this time.
Pre race and mid race nutrition is probably the most important thing you can look at. I am so often finding people who suffer GI (gastro intestinal) distress mid race which can be disastrous. If you talk to anyone who has done an ultra, chances are they have experienced this kind of thing at some time or another. Having someone look over your eating plan can sometimes be worth its weight in gold as they may be able to find something that stands out as an irritant to the gut, tweak things just a little and you find yourself running with a new lease on life again.
Over the last decade, gels have been a favourite of most racers. Highly processed and flavoured sugar hits that are really only designed to get you over the next few k’s at the tail end of a race when you are starting to slump or hit the wall. What is a far better idea is a slow released product that is very similar to what nature provides us which gives you a sustained release of energy over the long term.
I like to use the example of a rocket compared to a 747 jumbo jet. The rocket will get you to the heights you may want to get to at a very rapid rate, yet the crash back down to Earth will leave you worse off than before you took off. This is the gel. What you want is something that uses a less explosive fuel, like on the Jumbo jet where you may not get the altitude that the rocket will give you, but your flight will last far longer.
The advantages of this type of fuelling are many. But the main one I like to think of is the fact that the slower released fuels will still allow you to tap into your fat reserves. Fat is a massive reserve of energy on even the most lean athletes and far more than we can store in sugar. When your blood sugar is raised with the gels, your body wants to get the blood sugar levels back to normal as quickly as possible. Now obviously the effects aren’t as pronounced as if you weren’t running in a race, but they are still there and still detrimental to your health.
If your goals are to run and run long like in a marathon or even an ultra, please take time to try a few different options for your choice of fuel. With the running market being so huge at the moment, there is an endless supply of companies out there with a massive variety of products to test out. If you would like some advice on your fuelling options or just generally nutrition advice, please feel free to email me with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have tried many different things and have found some great options that work well for me. Everyone is different so giving yourself plenty of time before the race to trial these things is essential.
Sometimes a bit of experience can help you avoid the disasters that I have experienced along my journey.