By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT
As temperatures drop and the air becomes crisp, fall is an ideal season to lace up and head outside for a run. From Halloween themes to turkey trots and Santa runs, fall offers a host of events for experienced and amateur runners alike.
Imagine: It’s race day. The temperature is just right, the air is fresh, camaraderie is high and your best run seems like it’s at your fingertips. But if one critical piece of the picture – nutrition – is missing, the race will probably not be your most enjoyable or fastest. Whether you’re running a 5K or a marathon, include nutrient-dense foods before and after the race.
Before You Lace Up:
Regardless of what’s on the menu for pre-race dinner, carb stores (or glycogen stores) will be somewhat depleted after the body goes into fasting mode during sleep. In other words, you can’t rely completely on last night’s spaghetti carbonara to successfully carry you through this morning’s 10K. Instead, replenish carb stores with a mix of carbs, protein and fat to ensure steady energy and to reduce conditions like fatigue, muscle cramping and low blood sugar (or hypoglycemia) while you’re out on the road or trails.
Before heading to the race, it’s best to eat a meal combining carbs, which will break down into sugar (glucose) and provide the body with energy, and fat and protein to keep blood sugar levels stable, and avoid muscle breakdown and soreness. Shoot for a meal with mostly carbs and a small amount of protein and fat from foods like peanut butter, eggs and yogurt. Test new pre-race meals during training or go for what’s familiar (1).
And what’s more familiar than a peanut butter sandwich? It’s a tried and true race day staple for many runners. The combo of carbs from the bread, and protein and healthy (unsaturated) fats from the PB offers an ideal pairing for a pre-race meal. Plus, PB delivers more than 30 essential vitamins and minerals, including niacin (vitamin B3), which helps with digestion and converting food into energy, and manganese, which helps the body metabolize carbs and protein. Adding banana slices to the sandwich will create a mix of carbs (2, 3, 4).
Timing is a key factor in fueling up. To eat a full meal, rise early and start noshing about two to three hours before start time to allow for adequate digestion. But getting out of bed at 4 or 5 a.m. for a 7 a.m. race may not be in the cards, in which case a smaller meal about 60 minutes before start time can suffice. However, timing of meals can vary from runner to runner, so test the waters beforehand (5).
Here are a few pre-race meals to try:
- Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich: 2 pieces whole grain toast, 1 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 sliced banana
- Peanut butter Oatmeal: 1 cup cooked oats, 1 Tbsp. peanut butter, 1 cooked apple
- Bagel with eggs: 1 whole grain bagel, 1 scrambled egg, 1 cup berries
After Sweet Victory:
Once you’ve given it all you’ve got, the body should recover properly, which means it shifts from a catabolic state, or a period of breakdown, to an anabolic state, or a period of rebuilding. It’s when protein intake is crucial to help repair and rebuild tired muscles, and prevent muscle damage. Plus, it’s time to replenish the body with carbs to replace your once-again depleted carb stores.
Understandably, post-race adrenaline and celebrations can make it difficult to focus on proper nutrition. However, try to eat a snack with a combo. of carbs and protein 20 minutes after the race, because muscle glycogen synthesis and repair happens faster when food is consumed immediately. It can be simple- an apple with peanut butter, a handful of GORP (good old raisins and peanuts), or a peanut butter and fruit smoothie all offer a perfect combination of carbs and protein. Or if you prefer to partake in the post-race libations, a glass of beer and a peanut butter granola bar will also do the trick.
Within 2 to 3 hours after the race is over, eat a complete meal with complex carbs, plant-based or lean protein, and good fats to continue recovery. Shoot for a 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio. Keep it simple and stick with a peanut butter sandwich with fruit and a glass of milk. Or get a little fancy and go for a protein-packed pasta or rice dish, like Udon noodles with pork and peanut sauce (7, 8).
Here are a few other post-race combos. to try:
- • Hummus Pita: 1 large whole wheat pita with 2 Tbsp. hummus, 3 oz. grilled chicken, 1 cup mixed veggies, 1 cup fruit
- • Salad with Peanut Dressing: Garden salad with 1 sliced pear or apple topped with peanut dressing (try hot peanut dressing), 1 cup quinoa
- • 2-3 Egg Omelet with ¼ cup goat cheese, 1 cup spinach, 1 baked sweet potato, 1 English muffin
Before race day, create a nutrition plan of attack to help you feel energized during the run and recover afterwards. With the combination of plant-based protein, good fats and abundant vitamins and minerals, peanut butter will be one of your best tools to staying on top of your fall running game to the finish line, and beyond.
1. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. Nutrients. 2014;6(5):1782-1808. doi:10.3390/nu6051782.
2. Simple carbohydrates: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia Image. Simple carbohydrates: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia Image. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/19534.htm. Accessed September 29, 2016.
3. Niacin: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002409.htm. Accessed September 29, 2016.
4. Manganese: MedlinePlus Supplements. U.S National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/182.html. Accessed September 29, 2016.
5. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. Nutrients. 2014;6(5):1782-1808. doi:10.3390/nu6051782.
6. Ivy JL. Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2004;3(3):131-138.
7. Ivy JL. Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2004;3(3):131-138.
8. Poole C, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Kerksick C. The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. J Sports Sci Med. 2010;9(3):354-63.