Sunday, April 14, 2013

Racing and Eating

 One of the things that is confusing for adult athletes, that are training to do their first long distance event, is what to eat and drink before during and after the race.  There are a lot of different opinions.

Some people will tell you that if you eat anything before a race it needs to be very light and at least an hour before. Other people can be seen chugging a sports drink to wash down a bagel just a few minutes before the race starts. Other people look like they are going on a grand adventure with their belt filled with special foods and drinks that are "Scientifically developed", for optimal performance.

During a race it's the same thing, some people have special fluids, gels, Goos and food to eat along the way. I've seen everything from peanut butter sandwiches to beef jerky being eaten on the move.

I'm going to give you my take on this subject. I was a competitive runner for over 30 years and a race walker after that. In addition I worked with a lot of military personnel, helping them get in shape to pass their required fitness tests and athletes training for competition. So I have some opinions derived from experience and trial and error.

My personal pre competition meal is a cereal like Special K or Cheerios, with a banana cut up on top and skim milk, I add a glass of water and a cup of coffee. I'll eat this about 2 hours before start time. I eat and drink that far ahead for a couple of reasons. 1. I want the meal digested and not sitting in my stomach. A meal eaten shortly before you start will still be pretty much there when you finish your race, so it really didn't do you any good because your body had to channel blood to your stomach for digestion of that meal and that means some of the blood that would have gone to your muscles has gone to digestion instead.

A runner because of the bouncing has more problem with stomach distress than a walker so it's even more important for a runner not to have a belly full of undigested food. My number 2. reason is that I don't want to have extra potty breaks. Your body uses the water and other fluids for a lot of purposes. One important use is to clean out the waste from the cells and then send that "Sewer water" out. This is important since your body is removing lactic acid from the exercise effort. But starting the race with your stomach full of water will just cause you to have to make a pit stop soon after you start when the potties along the way are the most crowded.

During the race you use an average of 100 calories per mile. In a half marathon you really don't need to eat anything. You have more than 1300 calories already stored in your body for use. Just drinking the sports drinks will supply you with plenty of extra calories along the way. Sports drinks are a good idea because they have the salts and sugars to replace what your using. The food in your stomach from a pre race meal, eaten just before the start, is just going to sit there and make you uncomfortable.

In a marathon you do need to keep your calories coming in but not always with food, once again you need the sports drinks for fluid replacement and the salts and sugars. But it doesn't hurt to use a gel or Goo if you have used then in training and they sit well with you. I will eat several banana halves, or orange slices, during a marathon, if they are offered and toward the end I'll have a couple of gels and maybe a bag of sports beans. When you don't eat a little along the way during the marathon you start really running out of energy somewhere between miles 18 and 22. A cup of sports drink at every water stop is a good idea and if you want to add a sugary product like a gel or Goo it's ok. But you don't need to eat a gel every mile! And once again real food will not be digested and supply energy unless your body sends that blood needed for muscle performance to digestion instead. A sugar product like a gel or a piece of fruit, is for all intents and purposes pre digested, so it is quickly useable by your body.

Of course you want to drink a little water or sports drink at every water station. Dehydration will get you during the race long before you will starve to death. A good way to gauge your hydration level is to look at the color of your urine. If its dark yellow your getting dehydrated and if it's clear your ok. You want to go to the race with clear urine not dark yellow. You start a marathon dehydrated and your going to be in trouble before it's over and you probably won't finish.

After the race eating is pretty much up to you. But remember your body has just been challenged to a difficult task and it's weak. Avoiding strong drink and very spicy food is a good idea unless you want to be very uncomfortable. I like a cold beer and something like baked fish or a pasta and chicken dish. Of course when you finish you want to drink a few bottles of water and or sports drink, your biggest challenge is rehydrating.

Thank you for reading.


No comments: