Every run is an opportunity to learn - to get better.
In 2018, I was racing a late summer half marathon. It was my 7th half at that time. The race was going great and I was confident. It was 75 degrees with high humidity and at mile 8 - I. Hit. A. Wall.
So many disturbing thoughts were going through my head…
“I still have 5+ miles, how am I going to get back to the finish line alive?”
“This is the worst I have ever felt running in my entire life.”
“I am officially NEVER running a full marathon and I may quit running altogether.”
By Dominique Hoecherl - mom, soccer player, and running aficionado
Running is more than lacing up your shoes and hitting the road
Many factors were a part of this tough moment.
The weather was a recipe for disaster. Anytime it is 70 degrees or more with high humidity & dew point the starting line feels comfortable (so confidence is high which means I may push the pace a bit), but it can go really bad - quickly.
I walked away from that day humbled, learning more about myself, and that I cannot beat science with effort alone.
Fuel has so much to do with how we feel, and if we want to feel good running then nutrition before, during, and after a race is key.
Heading into future runs and races in rough conditions, I have learned to control the controllable…. I learned to adjust my fuel and level of effort accordingly.
And in case you were wondering... I did finish that race. I didn't quit running. And since then have run a full marathon and other multiple halves. All while following these guidelines below.
General Guidelines for Proper Nutrition for Running
There are a few general guidelines for fueling for running that are key to feeling good and performing at your best.
- Once you find what works for you, stay consistent and use that for race day.
- Never try anything new on race day.
- Experiment during your training to work on timing and such to give you the best results.
Pre Run Meal
I personally try and eat 1 – 1.5 hours prior to running. A 2:1 carb to protein ratio is optimal for feeling your best; meaning - 2 grams of carbs for every 1 gram of protein.
My favorite is oatmeal with Propello Life Whey Protein powder mixed with fruit and flax seed. I am a creature of habit so this works for me most days, and provides me the fuel I need my best effort on those long runs.
Pre Workout Supplement
Also, adding in some sort of pre-workout drink with caffeine is key to giving me that extra boost needed for a sustainable effort.
Science says that using a pre-workout can reduce the perceived effort, improve muscle gains and endurance, and greater usage of fat as an energy source. As stated by sports nutritionist Drew Price to Men’s Health, “Caffeine reduces levels of perceived effort so you can train harder. It improves your body’s ability to use fatty acids for energy, conserving carb stores and delaying fatigue.”
During Run Fuel
If the run is longer than 1 hour 15 minutes some sort of nutrition is important. This is because your body will run out of its preferred energy source (blood sugar - aka: glycogen) around 1 hour.
To prevent performance drop off and feel your best, I like to consume about 30 grams of carbs for every 50 minutes of running.
I prefer running gels because they have carbohydrates and also often have electrolytes and sometimes a bit more caffeine for that boost needed to close out a long run or a race (note: I do not use extra caffeine racing a half marathon length, but when I did my marathon and trained longer miles I used this technique). Finding one that has a good taste, texture and ingredients is something to play with during the training period.
If running gels aren't your thing, there are other options - gummies, chews, etc...
Post Run Recovery Meal
Recovery starts the moment you stop running, and it is one of the most important factors in making time improvement, reducing muscle soreness, injury prevention, and bouncing back after a hard run.
The key is to re-fuel within 30-45 minutes of completing your run. This is an important window of time because your muscles are very responsive to nutrition and will quickly use the nutrients to rebuild and repair muscles.
This recovery meal can be a meal (if your stomach can handle it), or it can be a protein shake and easily digestible carb (figs, bananas, etc...). Aim for 2-4:1 carbs to protein ratio on this recovery meal.
Everything works better when you are hydrated! And the key is to stay ahead of it every single day.
Electrolytes play a critical role in feeling strong while running. We lose so much sweat while we are running so replacing it with sodium, potassium and some magnesium is important to positively impact performance.
Having a plan and practicing that plan prior to race day is key to having a successful race. This starts during training. Find what works best for you and stick to it.
Lastly, a few days before race day be sure to really stay on top of water & electrolyte intake; especially if it is going to be hot and humid!
Customize a plan that works for you and take your performance to the next level
Now that you are armed with ideas to create your nutrition strategy, it is time to test them and customize your plan.
Any run can be a test-drive for nutrition, so don’t wait until too close to your big race to try new things. For best results, try to have your plan figured out at least two weeks beforehand.
Good luck and I can’t wait to see you on the road and the starting line!
About the Author
Dominique Hoecherl - wife, mother, and collegiate soccer player in the past. Dom got into running more consistently when she moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2015. Since then she has ran 12 half marathons and 1 full marathon in 2019.