Most runners understand the importance of carbohydrate loading before a long distance race or competition. Endurance work can be taxing on the body, requiring your energy levels to drop, so many runners enjoy a ritual of pasta or beans and chips. Most of these athletes understand that carbs provide energy, filling their muscles with glycogen and water. Though, many do not apply this theory to their every day training. Nutritional timing is not a new form of athletic theory, but it has recently been taken more seriously in professional athletic arenas because of the intense impact it has on the long-term training capabilities of an athlete. Below is a small overview of nutritional timing as it can apply to athletes and endurance competitors.
The snacks you eat before a run are important because they will help your muscles find extra energy during taxing runs. Naturally, your muscles only store enough glycogen to fuel your body during activity for one to three hours. For runs that pull more glycogen from your muscles than can be stored, such as hill sprints or long distances, your body needs a surplus amount to later tap into.
If your workout is not to begin for at least two hours, you will want to fuel with a slow digesting food. This means a carb-filled snack paired with fat to decelerate digestion. Your body will later turn both these carbs and fat into glycogen. Some good meal options include peanut butter sandwiches, or a bowl of cereal and milk, even yogurt and fruit.
For athletes who count carbs, try and aim for 75 grams, this should be enough to keep you going and not let you feel too hungry.
The equation changes when your time between snack and workout is diminished. If you only have a few minutes before hitting the track, make sure your snacks focus on quickly absorbed carbohydrates. Your options here can include a sports drink, an energy bar or gel, or carb-loaded fruit like bananas. The amount of carbs you want to try and consume should be around 20 to 25 grams.
These pre-run snacks can also be consumed during your workout if you have an endurance event that will last longer than your glycogen supply (upwards of one hour). Keep a gel pack in your pocket for a quick pick me-up that will keep your muscles fueled, delaying any cramping that intense lactic acid build up will cause.
After you finish a run, the goal is to replenish your body so it can begin to properly heal. Getting food to your muscles is essential, so try and get a snack down during your cool-off. The ideal snack will contain both protein and carbohydrates. The carbs will refuel your glycogen stores, while your body will transform the protein into amino acids, which are then fed directly to your muscles to repair any small tears that have occurred during exercise.
Those who have had a lifting session will want to focus on protein consumption with around 20 grams per serving. If you have just completed an endurance run, keep your protein down to around 15 grams, getting most of your calories from carbohydrates (50 grams). Chocolate milk is often an athlete favorite for post-workout snacking, but other options can include protein shakes (combined with complex carbohydrates or fruit). A protein bar, or even trail mix can be great options.
Without having to worry too much about your carbohydrate levels, it is a good idea to consistently give your body a small amount of carbs throughout the day. Try eating a few bananas as snacks, maybe with peanut butter, the day before a race.
Assist your body’s ability to remove lactic acid from its system by applying a short massage after the race. The actual physical pressure from a portable massager will increase your muscle’s ability to heal and repair.