When I began to run, one of the first things I realized was that the way I had been eating wasn’t going to cut it. In the early days of pounding the pavement, I made these mistakes:
- I never ate breakfast. I tried to be an early morning runner without eating anything before I went out for a run.
- I thought being a runner meant eating a lot of carbs.
- I didn’t get enough protein.
- I was terrible about hydration.
- I thought running meant I could eat anything I wanted, guilt-free. Oh, if only.
It didn’t take long into training for my first race to realize I had to make some real changes, and quick. I did a lot of research and was quickly overwhelmed by all of the information out there–and a lot of it was conflicting. I read what seemed like every book on the topic, and my favorite one was The Runner’s Diet from Runner’s World magazine. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it! It does a really great job of breaking it all down: figuring out calorie intake, protein and carb ratio and offers detailed plans of what to eat and when to eat it. I still pick it up often and find it useful.
But what really came out of all my research was this: every runner has to figure out what works for their own body.
For example, I know I need to eat a good hour before I start a race–any later and I cramp up. My favorite pre-race food is a nuts over chocolate Luna Bar (also my favorite thing to eat before early morning exercise classes!). If I’m going to do anything over a 5k, I bring these babies. The vanilla is my favorite.
Ironically, the thing I want most after a run is a banana. It’s ironic because any other time I despise bananas.
I know I can’t handle anything new or unexpected the night before a race. I usually get jumpy before a race–and nerves and new food isn’t a good combination. My favorite “night before” meal is a bowl of spaghetti with my favorite sauce and ground turkey.
I struggle with a bit with my protein intake. I’m a picky eater and I don’t eat a lot of meat, so I’ve had to get creative with finding sources of protein I like. My favorite post-workout protein fix is a smoothie. I’ve been known to have my husband make one as I’m walking home from the gym so it is ready for me when I get home!
After a lot of trial and error, here is what I know about myself and hydration: I need to stop at every water stop there is. And if I can’t find a list of where the water stops are going to be, I bring my own bottle. I live in Georgia where it is humid all year and the hills are rolling. Does this mean I pee a lot on race courses and when I’m out training on my own? Yep. In fact, I plan my training runs around places that have public restrooms (because I refuse to pee outside. I just can’t bring myself to do it, despite the years of Girl Scout training I had).
Probably the biggest misconception I had when I started running was that it gave me the all clear to eat whatever I wanted. Nope. When I was reading The Runner’s Diet one of the things that hit home with me was this bit of information:
One mile. 100 calories. That’s it. That means a 5k doesn’t cancel out the giant hot fudge sundae you scarf down afterwards. A little depressing, isn’t it?
Of course, I also believe that life is short, and if you want a sundae (or reeses pieces covered rice crispy Mickey treat, as the case may be)–well, you should eat it! Just make sure you’re eating the bananas and drinking enough water, too.
What did running teach you about nutrition?