Monday, October 6, 2008

Carbs and running...what's the deal?

Hello there! I am fresh off my first half-marathon...completed in stride this past Saturday in Central Park. I have to say, for someone who hasn't always been a fan of running, the race was awesome. My legs felt the repercussions for a few hours afterwards, but it was a really fun, energizing way to start my weekend off. Sorry to say, I have no pictures to prove anything, so you'll have to take my word for it.
As the New York Marathon is quickly approaching, I figured this would be a great time to bring up the whole 'carb-running' discussion. Inevitably, every year around this time, someone -- or multiple people -- ask me about race training and carbohydrates...which is an excellent question. When, what type, how much? When to taper? Ever thought, "I'm running a race tomorrow -- this is the perfect excuse for me to have a ginormous pasta dinner!"
Sorry to put a damper on your pasta party, but you'll be much better if you incorporate good quality carbohydrate sources into your diet throughout your training period -- whether you're training for a 5K, 10 miler, half-marathon or the whole 26mile load. Overloading on carbs a few days or the night before the race doesn't give your body enough time to create a storage space for energy reserves (the technical term being glycogen)...which you'll slowly and steadily release during the race. Essentially, you've trained your muscles to hold and use energy reserves effectively and efficiently. This is the idea around 'complex' or wholegrain carbs, they're slowly digested and thus, they slowly release a steady stream of powerhouse energy.
About 2 weeks before the big race, you'll want to start tapering your workouts to allow for your muscles to build up enough energy stores. Since you're not as active, you can bump down the amount of carbs you're eating each day just slightly. Continue to focus on complex carb sources which serve as our body and our brain's optimal fuel source. We're talking brown rice, sweet potatoes, lentils and beans, quinoa, barley, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, wholegrain breads and cereals. Having a huge pasta dinner the night before the race may just make you feel unnecessarily full and may potentially upset your digestive system if it's a bit sensitive...and that's definitely the last thing you want to deal with on the morning of race-day!
The morning of, reach for a light, energy-packed breakfast (under about 300 calories or so) for peak performance. My personal fave: banana with peanut or cashew butter, but a slice of whole wheat toast with PB or a bowl of oatmeal or cereal with fruit with also do the trick. Whatever has been working for you during your training period, stick with it. Trying something 'new and supposedly improved' right before the race could wreck havoc on your stomach if it's sensitive.
Lastly, make sure you hydrate and hydrate some more in preparation for race day. Learn when and how much to drink. Drink 4 to 8 glasses of extra water for a few days prior to the event. For an endurance race like a marathon, drink 2-3 glasses of water up to 2 hours before the guns go off. Then drink 1-2 cups 5-10 minutes before the start of the race and then ¼ to ½ cup of water or Gatorade every 15-20 minutes or so during the race. For endurance workouts, races and exercise greater than 60-90 minutes, you may want to try out sports drinks to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to give you a boost of fuel. You may also want to try carbohydrate gels during a marathon again to replenish muscles and keep energy levels running strong. Again, test-drive gels, ShotBlocks, sports jelly beans, and sports drinks prior to race day to prevent any digestive problems.
Most importantly...have a great run, have fun! When it comes to running and food, slow and steady definitely wins out every time.

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