Anne Mauney is a registered dietitian with a masters of public health in nutrition and the writer behind the food and fitness blog fANNEtastic food. She also owns her own nutrition counseling private practice and co-authored the Nutrition for Runners Program.
As a marathoner myself, I know that a great training plan is only part of your success — race day nutrition is the other key and it matters, big time. Proper nutrition for exercise will increase energy, prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, correct GI distress, and optimize recovery so you’re performing at your best. Here are some of the biggest mistakes I see my sports nutrition clients making — and how to avoid them yourself. Happy running!
1. Skipping Breakfast
I often hear from clients that exercise early in the morning without eating anything first, and then wonder why they lack energy towards the end of their sweat session. Without any fuel before a run or workout, you’re likely to bonk. Your body needs energy to power through the workout — don’t deprive it! Aim for fuel that is lower in fat, protein, and fiber (all of which slow digestion), and higher in simple carbs, like toast with a thin layer of nut butter and either sliced banana or some jam. Heading out the door in seconds? Try something smaller, like a few bites of banana, a date or even a couple handfuls of a lower fiber cereal.
Want some make-ahead recipes to try pre-run? Check these out: 5 Minute No Bake PB Granola Bars (vegan and gluten free), Almond Butter Banana Breakfast Bars (vegan) and Banana Spelt Muffins.
2. Overdoing it on Fuel the Night Before a Run
Obviously it’s important to make sure that your carb stores are full and ready to go on race day, but you can easily do this by making sure to include a carb source at each meal the week before the race. Flooding your system with carbs or anything too greasy or heavy the night before the race will just leave you running to and from the porta-potties. Aim for something that includes carbs but also has some good protein, too.
My favorite is a reasonable portion of either pasta, brown rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes with some grilled chicken or salmon, veggies, and your sauce of choice. Simple and hits the spot.
3. Not Adequately Refueling
Restricting calories too much can cause bones to weaken and may result in stress fractures. If you’re undereating, your muscle is not adequately being repaired and built after long runs! Be sure to eat something within 30 minutes of a run, aiming for something rich in carbs and protein. If you are feeling queasy after a long workout, try liquid nutrition first and then have a real meal later. Chocolate milk has the perfect post-workout carb to protein ratio (about 4:1) and is great to tide you over until you have a real meal, or you could make yourself a smoothie, like my Chocolate Cherry Espresso Smoothie (be sure to add some protein powder to it, or use regular chocolate milk) or Hidden Veggie Cherry Lemon Smoothie.
4. Trying Something New on Race Day
Never try a new fueling strategy on race day because you don’t how your body will react to it. Check the race website to confirm which drinks and gels (if any) will be offered along the course so you can test them out in advance, or bring something with you that you know your body responds well to. Also, if you’re traveling for a race, come prepared with your favorite pre-run breakfast, or find out where you can buy it nearby.
5. Not Taking in Any Calories During the Run
Speaking of my favorite fuel: if you’re running longer than an hour or so, you’ll need to start taking in some carbohydrates while running – generally about 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. The human body has a limited supply of carbohydrates and once this “fuel tank” starts to run low, your performance will suffer. Exactly how much to take in will be based on your height and weight and will also involve a little trial and error, so practice different types and amounts of fuels during your runs leading up to race day and see what works for you.
For example, during a 20-mile run when I was marathon training, I might take in one gel, two to three peanut-butter-stuffed dates and a small granola bar (aim for lower fiber, fat and protein bars in this case — opposite advice from normal life)! In summer in particular, sports drinks (like this homemade sports drink recipe!) can also be a great option.
Have you made any of these common nutrition-related running mistakes before? Any other tips to share? —Anne