So we've covered the basics and use of electrolytes, now to fine tune those carbs and proteins and use them to your advantage. There is a lot of buzz about nutrient timing at the moment so let's get down to it!
Protein is part of every single cell in our bodies, from those powerful calf muscles you're developing, to hormones, to the hair on your head! The quality of the protein we eat and the effectiveness of our digestive system has a direct effect on the quality of our tissues. Without getting too technical (because, let's face it, that can be boring and I don't want an audience full of glazed eyes) protein is broken down into amino acids within the digestive system, these are then used to create everything we need. Some amino acids our body can produce using other amino acids but some are essential meaning we need to eat them! As athletes, the demand for these essential proteins is increased because tissues are broken down and rebuilt quicker and more often. The general consensus is between 1.5g and 2g of protein per kilo bodyweight per day for active individuals. There has been little evidence to show an increase in muscle mass with anything over that so you really don't need to go overboard with the protein intake! Excess animal protein in the body also puts increased pressure on the liver and kidneys as they have to eliminate byproducts and it can give a metallic taste in the mouth.
How much protein do you need without having to get the calculator out all the time? Rule of thumb is to have a source of protein, plant or animal, about the size of your fist with your meal. You can add a little more per meal if it is a plant based source. Be sure to combine different foods to ensure you are getting the full range of amino acids that you require. A nice chicken and bean chilli or fajita are great examples! The source of protein you are eating needs to be of adequate quality also. Keep your food choices as close to their natural state as possible (as discussed in my first blog), you're looking for whole cuts of meat and fish, free range eggs, dairy products, beans, peas, nuts and nut butters, seeds and even vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Breakfast is usually the place where people fall down with protein intake but you if can add some nuts and seeds, a nut butter or an egg to breakfast you're on a winner! You could otherwise add a little more to other meals or snacks throughout the day if you feel you fall into this category. If you are undertaking fasted workouts or training you need to add protein to your first meal of the day to aid muscle synthesis. Combining protein with some carbohydrate will increase absorption allowing for more effective protein synthesis so always try to include both together. Another factor to take into consideration is the two hour window of opportunity post training or workout that allows for optimal synthesis so the body has the raw materials it needs when it is working hardest to replenish and rebuild.
That's the easy bit over, now to carbohydrates! Let's start two to three days pre race, this is when the carb-loading begins as preparation for the big event. The words carb-loading are a little misleading and can sometimes make people think they need to eat bucket loads of pasta for days and days beforehand. The truth is, the body can only store about 2,000 calories worth of energy in the form of glycogen, mostly in muscle tissue but some is stored in the liver also. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose or sugar in the body. Excess glucose that is not burned off or stored as glycogen is stored as fat! This energy store is certainly adequate enough to sustain you for the 13k race option of Run the Line without having to take on extra food but you may benefit from a small amount of added fluid sugars so do read on. For the 26k option you will certainly need to take on more carbs pre, during and post race. Rather than overload your system with an excess of unnecessary carbohydrate in the days leading to the event, simply add a little more to your three main meals or add a couple of carb containing snacks for these few days. The type of carb is important here and should have a slow sugar release. Examples include brown pasta, oats and 100% wholemeal bread. Combine them with protein, fruits and vegetables to ensure stable blood sugar and insulin release. Oat cakes with nut butter and some fruit on top is a favourite pre race snack of mine. The evening before the event is the time for that carbonara! You are looking to have your glycogen stores full to the brim for the run. Timing is important here too, eating late in the day places a huge stress on the digestive system and liver as they try to digest and absorb when the body should be resting. This results in a groggy and tired runner, not a happy picture for race day!
Timing and type again play a role at the race day breakfast table, the meal needs to both top up glycogen stores from the overnight fast with a quick release sugar and provide a source of instant energy upon starters whistle 2 hours away from a slow release sugar. A good example would be wholemeal toast with cashew butter and sliced banana. It is easy to assume that you need a big breakfast to keep your body fueled but an oversized meal can in fact hinder performance as the body tries to cope with providing energy for the task in hand and trying to digest a big meal. It is wiser to have your normal amount of food two hours pre race to give your body the time it needs to digest and have a small snack on hand to have 30 minutes before you start running. The oatcakes and banana also are quite handy to have here.
During the race is the time for those fast release sugars be it in liquid or solid form. There are a number of sports drinks available to provide an instant sugar hit but do some trial and error research with these before race day if that is your chosen form as they do not agree with everyone! I mentioned coconut water in the last blog for it's electrolyte composition but it also provides the correct amount of sugar to the body from a natural source making it a great all rounder in the one bottle. Sip liquid sugars every couple of kilometres to keep the energy balance stable. Whatever drink you choose, look for a sugar concentration of between five and eight percent, so 5- 8g of sugar per 100ml. You may need to take on solid food also and timing is vital to ensure there is no dip in energy output along the course. As I mentioned above, we have a store of glycogen to keep us going for a certain amount of time but you will need to eat before this runs out so if you know you start hitting a wall at 16 or 17k, you need to eat well before this. Think of that steam train again, the coal does not all go in at the one time, it is added little and often to ensure a steady energy output and your body is the same. One example would be to take fuel on board around the 8k mark and again at 12k, 16k and 20k. There are a number of fuel options available besides gels which can upset the stomach (another of those trial and error situations). Energy bites or power balls are a great option (there is a recipe on my Facebook and Instagram pages for those who are interested), medjool dates are another good option and can be stuffed with a spoon of cashew butter for some added magnesium or one of my favourites, dark chocolate covered cranberries give an instant sugar hit if you're really feeling the drag.
You have reached the finish line, you've got an amazing medal hanging around your neck and you're strutting your stuff taking selfies in that lovely new t-shirt you've just earned. Even us nutritionists are only 80% angel, we too enjoy tea and cake at the end of a race and let's face it, no matter how many races you've done, that is always the best cup of tea you've ever had! Timing wise, the two hour window for optimally replenishing the body applies here also and the body needs protein and fibre in the meal along with the carbohydrate to ensure stable blood sugar levels. You're now into recovery mode so ,when you're finished your cake, be aware that the body still needs good food to support this and have you race ready for the next time. The buzz of race day is fantastic and a balanced recovery diet can keep that energy flowing rather than leaving you feeling deflated. Happy trails people!