THE LONG RUN: Advice for all the miles yet to come
By Kirstin Sandreuter
Welcome to indoor track season! Wishing you good footing, warm muscles, and enough daylight to finish your runs as you navigate training through winter in Maine.
As an athlete-turned-coach in the Maine running community, I've had the very cool experience of coming back to watch younger athletes train and compete on the same stomping grounds I did just a few short years ago. Seeing your talent and passion for the sport has gotten me excited to see how your futures unfold as you continue to chase dreams!
Envisioning your bright futures has also made me eager to support you in whatever ways I can.
Over the next few weeks, I want to share some thoughts on 3 "little things" that are actually big things when it comes to their impact on your running performance - nutrition, recovery and confidence - in hopes of planting some ideas that will help you not only reach your goals this season, but be a healthy, thriving runner years from now!
Below is the first of 3 posts on nutrition. Here goes!
Nutrition Nugget 1: DON'T RUN ON EMPTY
When you run, you use energy. Food provides that energy. Just like having gas in the tank allows a car to run efficiently, food in your system fuels your body to run well.
Glucose, a simple carbohydrate that your body draws from food when you eat, is your brain and muscles' preferred fuel source. Your blood glucose level rises following a meal, and your blood carries glucose to your cells to give them energy. When your blood glucose is adequate, your body is primed with readily available fuel to power through your workout! But when blood glucose is low at practice time, your body must revert to less efficient fuel sources for energy (such as breaking down muscle protein - which you definitely don't want!).
The best way to fuel up for practice is to eat frequently throughout the day - every 2 to 4 hours is great - so your blood glucose stays stable. This means getting in a solid breakfast and lunch, along with a snack or two. The snacks you should prioritize are pre- and post- workout.
Although many runners worry about cramps from eating too close to practice, it's important to remember that if lunch was more than a couple of hours ago, your blood glucose will be running low, compromising your body's ability to get the most out of your workout. The key is to choose small amounts of easily digestible foods - these are high in carbohydrates, and low in fat and fiber - and eat them about 60 minutes pre-workout. Good examples are a handful of goldfish or dry cereal, a couple of Fig Newtons, or a banana. When you experiment with different snacks to find what settles well, and get into the habit of topping off your energy stores in the hour before practice, you can actually train your gut to tolerate a light pre-workout snack.
Your post-workout snack should ideally have a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Research has shown this is optimal to replenish muscle glycogen (the stored form of glucose) and repair muscle damage instilled during exercise. A few convenient and tasty examples of 4:1 snacks are chocolate milk, an apple and peanut butter or a Clif Builders' Bar. Whatever you choose should be eaten within 30 minutes after practice, when key hormones have been released to make your muscles like a sponge that is primed for optimal absorption of any nutrients you take in! If you miss this window, you are compromising your hard work during training and not getting as much out of it as you could. The post-workout snack is perhaps the most easy and enjoyable way to get faster, as well as be a leader by modeling good habits to your teammates - so why skip it?
Eating enough throughout the day will also help prevent a common student-athlete nutrition mistake - rushing out the door with no breakfast, catching up on homework during lunch instead of eating, skipping a pre-workout snack due to fear of stomach woes... then going home and eating everything in sight (because you "earned it," right?). Sound familiar? Well unfortunately, this way of eating is not doing your athletic goals any favors. Think about it - your body needs fuel to power your activities during the day, when you're on the go and active. At night, when you're mostly sitting doing homework, you don't have much activity left to fuel. So, although some of the food you take in post-workout is necessary to recovery from your efforts, most of it is simply being stored as excess fat because you're not using it for anything. You're forcing blood flow towards your digestive system when it should be heading towards your muscles, brain and other areas to enhance recovery as you sleep. But if you were eating regularly all day long, you'd get more out of your exercise, studies and other pursuits. Sounds good, right?
Hopefully that's enough to chew on for a while! If you remember nothing else, here's your 2-word take-away for this post:
Stay tuned for Nutrition Nugget 2: UNDERSTAND THAT ALL FOODS FIT.
Until then, run with joy and stay warm!
Kirstin is an athlete turned assistant coach for Greely High School. She studied Nutrition & Dietetics at Cornell University, where she was a member of the varsity track and cross-country teams. You can reach her at email@example.com.