When it comes to discussions of fueling for runners, the focus tends to be on mid-run nutrition.
Which totally makes sense.
The problem is, what you take in during a run is only part of the puzzle.
It may be a big part of the puzzle, but there are other components of a good fueling/nutrition strategy that need to be considered beyond what you consume during your run.
Other Components to Keep in Mind
Beyond what you take in during a run, where else should you be aware of what you are doing with regards to fueling?
Hydration status, your pre-run meal, and just eating well in general are all good places to start.
We know that our bodies are something like 70% water, right?
As such, it only makes sense that our bodies work best when they are sufficiently hydrated all the time, not just while running.
So how do you do that?
I’m not going to tell you that you can/should “only” drink water, but there is no doubt that water has the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to helping improve/maintain your hydration status.
I’m also not going to try to tell you that there is a minimum amount of water (or whatever) that you need to consume every day to maintain adequate levels of hydration.
The amount of water (or whatever) you need varies from person to person. It also depends on your level of activity and the climate you live in.
Probably the best way to know if you’re hydrating well enough is to just keep an eye on your urine when you use the bathroom.
If it’s fairly clear/light yellow? You’re probably doing alright.
But if it’s a deeper yellow, or boarderline orange (or darker!), that’s a pretty good sign that you need to drink some more water on a regular basis.
What is your go-to pre-run meal? And when do you eat it?
As far as I’m concerned, your pre-run meal is basically everything you eat for the ~12 hours or so before your run.
So if you’re running first thing in the morning, that would include your dinner the night before, any snack that you have before bed, and anything you eat before you start your run.
Pay attention to what you’re eating 10-12 hours before your run, and see if you start to notice some trends based on what you eat and how you feel during your runs.
Then plan your menu accordingly.
Eating Well in General
I think this one is fairly self-explanatory, but eating healthy food is a key component of being healthy overall.
And being helathy is kind of beneficial in improving your running.
It’s OK to Indulge
One thing I want to make clear is that it’s perfectly ok to indulge when it comes to the foods you eat.
If you like dessert, enjoy dessert.
If a good craft beer, vintage wine, or aged scotch is your jam, cheers to you.
Please don’t feel like you need to “earn” anything that you eat or drink along the way.
It’s ok to eat dessert or have a cocktail simply because you want to, full stop.
That said, it is also important to remember that the things you’re eating and drinking outside of the times during which you’re running matter.
So my advice, for whatever it’s worth, is to simply be aware of the things you’re eating/drinking and how those different foods impact how you’re feeling over the next 24-48 hours and see if you spot any trends that develop over time.
If you find that certain foods have more of an impact on you than others, I’m not saying you can’t/shouldn’t consume those items that you enjoy.
Eat them, just be smart about when you do so, in hopes that it doesn’t cause any major disruptions to your training/racing plans.
What Works for Me
Just like cracking the code for your mid-run fueling requires a fair bit of trial and error, you are likely going to have to do some trialing and erroring to optimize your diet when you’re not running.
And just like your mid-run strategy is likely to change and evolve over time, you need to be willing to adjust what you do on the daily as necessary.
So with that in mind, here are some of the things that I have found that work for me.
If you want to try them? Cool. If not, no worries.
I’ve been low-carb since the end of 2017, and it is something I don’t see myself giving up any time soon.
While all the “experts” say that runners should be taking in plenty of carbs to fuel performance, I’m not convinced.
Sure, there aren’t a lot of studies that promote low-carb diets as adventageous for runners, but there are a lot of issues with those studies, including the duration of the study and how the training is structured during the study.
All I can say is that I’m running more than I ever have before, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, I’ve set multiple marathon PRs, and I’ve been pretty much injury free since I made the switch to a HFLC diet.
Am I saying that all this only happened because of my dietary approach?
I’m just saying that what I’m doing seems like it’s working for me, so maybe it’s not as detrimental to performance as some “experts” may have you believe.
I started dabbling with intermittent fasting several years ago.
My reasoning had nothing to do with my running and everything to do with the possible link between intermittent fasting and a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
But when I started to dip my toes into the HFLC way of fueling, intermittent fasting made even more sense as training fasted helps the body to become fat adapted.
For me, I typically break my fast around noon and aim to stop eating by 8 pm in the evening.
Do I color outside the lines on occasion?
But the beauty of intermittent fasting is that there are few hard and fast rules in terms of “how” you do your fasting.
Certain “Rules” in Place
While I like the idea of intuitive eating, I really struggle with finding balance if I don’t put some loose rules in place.
I’ve found that a regular menu, at least during the week, helps me avoid too much grazing.
Two hardboiled eggs at noon is how I break my fast just about every day.
My next meal usually happens around noon, and there are three options that I usually consider for my “lunch.”
Dinner varies based on what we have on hand and what I feel like cooking on any given day, but my first two meals of the day require very little thought/planning.
Another rule that I have implemented is that I only imbibe on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.
I’ll rarely have more than a single drink on any of those days, but without this rule it’s likely I’d have a drink most days of the week.
I also have put some boundaries on my dark chocolate consumption.
Left to my own devices, I’d have multiple servings of dark chocolate per day.
Once I set a rule allowing myself to eat as much chocolate as I want on Saturday but none the rest of the week, I’ve cut my chocolate consumption by about two thirds.
When it comes to your overall running performance, what you do during your runs/races from a fueling perspective obviously matters.
But what you consume when you’re not running matters too.
What is One Way You Fuel Your Runs When You’re Not Running?
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