Part 4: Nutrition and Hydration
Over the past couple of months we’ve covered choosing a partner and training for the GORE-TEX™ TransRockies Run. Now that we’re into June already with a little over two months to go until the race lets discuss the value of nutrition during training and the race itself.
Nutrition is one of those things that’s easy to work on during training but we often just forget to actually follow through with the plans. The best way to make sure that you’re getting what you need in training and racing is to come up with a solid plan instead of winging it, and then to write the plan down to make sure you have it in reality, not just in your head.
The easiest way to make a plan is to have some experience to go by and the best way to gain experience is to try out different gels, blocks, electrolyte tabs, drinks, and bars to figure out what works for you. A good rule that most (not all) good athletes follow is “don’t do anything new on race day”. This includes nutrition. It’s best to try everything out in practice before experimenting on race day. Now if you’re not really worried about making it through 25 challenging miles in the Colorado Rockies, then by all means, experiment away August 21-26th. But if you want to make sure you don’t have any surprises or painful bonks, then coming up with a nutrition plan and implementing it in training is a safer way to go.
Here are a few tips to take with you to the running store this week. Don’t narrow your plan to just during the race or run. Think about what you can do for breakfast on the morning of big runs. Can you eat a good size breakfast then go out for a run an hour later? Do you need something light, like a bar, that has some compact calories? Keep in mind that the Cowboy Catering at TRR has a pretty amazing spread each morning and if you’re going to be tempted, as I am, to have some eggs, sausage, bacon, and potatoes, you might try it out a couple times before your runs and see how your body handles it. My normal routine is to just have an energy bar about an hour before a race, but trust me, it’s pretty hard to stay away from the buffet at TRR.
There are three key ingredients to think about nutrition during exercise: carbohydrate intake for fuel, hydration, and electrolyte replacement. All three elements are critical to feeling good and having a good experience during a race or long run and have to be carefully monitored.
During a race or run most people have about 1.5–2hr worth of glycogen stored in their body. Glycogen is the fuel your body primarily uses during a run. Generally, running slower will burn more fat as fuel and running faster will burn more glycogen. But because glycogen is an easier fuel source, you’ll eventually run out no matter how slow you run and then you’ll get the bonk. If you’ve ever bonked, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a generally feeling of weakness, fatigue, maybe some dizziness, etc. It’s not pleasant and it comes on quickly when you run out of glycogen.
The best way to replace glycogen during exercise is with a carbohydrate fuel source such as gel, a carbohydrate drink, or solid food. Because solid food is so much slower to digest and absorb, this method isn’t usually recommended but if it’s all you got, then it’ll work. Also, simple sugars such as fructose, sucrose, glucose aren’t recommended as they can result in a quick energy spike and then bonk again. The best, as recommended by researchers, is a complex fuel such as maltodextrin, a chain of glucose polymers that breaks down more slowly. If you look at most performance gels and drinks these days, they all contain maltodextrin. The plan is to ingest carbohydrates starting about 1:15 into the run, before you get close to bonking, then every 20-30min after that take some more. This will help keep some fuel in your body. The amount will depend on how fast you’re going, how much you weigh, and how fast you burn glycogen. Always remember to take it with plenty of water.
This brings us to the next point, hydration. Hydration will depend on the individual as well but the key is to not drink too much and to not drink too little. It’s a balancing act. On average, you lose about one liter (approx 34 ounces) of fluid per hour of exercise. Extreme heat and humidity and altitude can raise that amount to three liters in one hour, but you can’t replace water as fast as you lose it so a good hydration regimen starts before you even get moving.
How much fluid should you drink?
Average Athlete, average temps
20-25 oz/hr (approx 590-740 ml/hr) is an appropriate fluid intake for most athletes under most conditions.
Lighter athletes or cooler temps
For lighter weight athletes, or those exercising in cooler temperatures, 16-18 oz/ hr (approx 473-532 ml) may be perfect.
Heavier athletes or hotter temps
Heavier athletes or athletes competing in hotter conditions may consider intakes upwards of 28 oz/hr (approx 830 ml/hr).
It’s also suggested that to avoid dilutional hyponatremia (over hydrating), fluid intake should not routinely exceed 28 oz/hr (830 ml/hr). 20-25 oz (approx 590-740 ml) is the equivalent of the typical regular-to-large size water bottle, and that’s an excellent gauge to work within.
Next up: electrolyte replacement. Now, I could tell you all the recommendations for this one and you’d go out following my advise and you might still cramp and fatigue and say “Well, that didn’t work”, because to tell you the truth, I have yet to figure this out for myself. Electrolyte replacement is a tough one and quite individual. It depends on your personal sweat rate and electrolyte profile in your sweat. The more you sweat the more electrolytes you lose . . . until you change your electrolyte sweat profile by acclimating your body to hotter conditions. So it can vary, but it’s important to replace them as best you can. If you’re out running and starting to feel cramps coming on, that’s a good indication to take in some electrolytes. There are several ways to accomplish this and many products out there to help you. Electrolyte capsules are an easy way to replenish electrolytes and the same as popping a pill. Just remember to take water with it. Electrolyte tabs that you drop into a bottle of water and dissolve are a great way to give your water a little flavor and get your electrolytes at the same time. Either way works just as well.
Since the TransRockies Run is six days long and each day you’ll need to be on top of your game with as little fatigue as possible, what you eat immediately after each day’s stage is just as important as what you do during. You have a 30-45min window after the completion of exercise that your body will replenish glycogen stores more rapidly than any other time of the day. During this window it’s critical that you get in carbohydrates that are easily digestible (liquid form) so that your fuel stores are topped off and ready to go the next day. After this window eat a regular healthy meal, rehydrate, and rest up.
Now that you’re starting to get some long runs in your training and possibly a few races, head down to the local running store and talk to the employees about what works and what doesn’t, then make a few choices for your next long run, make sure you have a plan, and stick to it. After the run, reevaluate whether the plan worked, whether you liked what you were shoving down your gullet and could do it for 6 days, and then pick up next weeks supplies.