Nutrition is Tantamount to Good Performance

Mercy Health Tip of the Week — by Matthew Fourman, MD, Co-Medical Director, Mercy Weight Management Center

As with all athletic activity, nutrition is tantamount to a good performance. Running as a form of sport and exercise has very particular nutritional requirements. To perform your best, you will need to concentrate on what you eat and when you eat.

The number of calories you need to consume daily depends on the duration and intensity of your workouts. Keep in mind that you’ll burn roughly 100 calories for every mile you run, depending on your size. If you run 4 miles, you’ll burn about 400 calories more than you would have if you hadn’t exercised.

Three to Four Days Before the Race

Emphasize carbs for energy. Your diet should consist of about 70% carbohydrates, 20% fats, and 10% protein. Increase consumption of complex carbohydrates. Carbs will give your muscles and brain the fuel they need to get through the race. Things like rice, tabouleh, oatmeal and other whole grains are good sources of complex carbs.

The Night Before

Don’t experiment. While we all love to try new foods and taste new flavors, it’s best to stick with what’s familiar and what works for you the night before the race. Eat a nutritious meal composed of whole grains (whole wheat pasta or brown rice); grilled or steamed vegetables or a salad (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and light dressing); and a small amount of protein (grilled chicken, fish, or lean red meat). Again, stick with what’s familiar. Make sure you continue drinking water.

Race Day

Morning of Race (Three Hours Out) — Eat a healthy breakfast of 400-600 calories. The trick is to top off your energy stores without eating something that will feel heavy in your stomach. Some good options: Oatmeal or cold cereal with low-fat milk, or half a bagel and some low-fat yogurt. Stick with what’s familiar and has worked well for you in training.

Drink water to stay hydrated. Avoid fatty foods that could make you feel nauseated, full, or lethargic. You don’t want your body wasting energy on digesting something heavy. If you’re used to doing so, have a cup of coffee. Caffeine can make your run seem easier, but beware: it can also stimulate your digestive tract.

During the Race

Keep hydrated. It’s a good idea to take a drink at every drink station, even if you don’t feel thirsty — especially on a hot day. However, it’s important not to over hydrate. Hyponatremia is a rare but serious condition in which the body’s natural balance of electrolytes is disturbed by too much fluid. Consider taking Gatorade or another electrolyte-replacement drink along with water to make sure you don’t experience “water intoxication.” If you feel nauseated, dizzy, or overtired, stop running and seek medical attention.

Maintain your blood-sugar levels. If you’re running a long race (a half-marathon or longer), it’s likely that some fueling stations along the route will offer energy gels containing carbohydrates and caffeine. This may be a good energy-replacement option for you if you’ve tolerated energy gels well in your training runs.

After the Race

Drink Gatorade or another sports drink to replace electrolytes, the sodium, and the potassium that you burned off during the race. Eat a piece of fruit, some pretzels, or something with sugar to start stabilizing your blood sugar levels and aid recovery. You may not feel hungry after the race, but it is important to consume something — even if it’s just a sports drink — to avoid fainting and aid recovery. Avoid eating a huge meal immediately after the race. Your body has been taxed and overeating may nauseate you. Don’t overindulge until you’re sure you can stomach a large amount of food. Let your body recuperate.

Stretch gently after the race, and consider booking a massage to help your taxed muscles recover. Consider your time on the table a reward for your effort.

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* This content is not intended to replace any formal training plans directed by licensed coaches. You should always get your doctors go-ahead prior to embarking on any fitness regime. Mercy Health, Glass City Marathon and the Toledo Roadrunners Club are not offering this content to replace a monitored training plan. — Use this content as conversation starters with your doctors, nutritionists, coaches, etc.