Monday, November 4, 2013

Eating and drinking!

Hi all,

Sorry I've been a bit MIA recently, but remember you can always email me or reach out on Facebook if you have a specific question!

Someone brought up the question about what to eat before, during, and after training.  This might be more info than a lot of you really want, so feel free to skim and I'll highlight the important stuff.

General diet:  In large brush strokes, you probably already know what's good for you and what's not.  I'm not saying you have to live on kale and broccoli 24x7, I'm saying that a balanced dinner of some chicken and veggies is better than grabbing something at McDonalds.  Having a balanced diet will help you feel better and will give you fuel to burn as your training increases.  Here are the main categories of foods.  The research changes almost weekly, so here are some of the key points that have become generally well accepted.


  • The Good:  unsaturated fats (mostly plant-based oils), usually liquid at room temperature.  Examples include olive oil, avocado, and nuts
  • The Bad: Saturated fats (mostly animal-based fats) tend to be solid at room temperature.  Examples are butter, lard, etc
  • The Ugly:  Trans fats are thought to be the worst kind.  Anything with the word hydrogenated is probably a trans fat.  Pre-packaged food (cake mixes, ramen, most fast food, donuts, chips, etc) and margarine are high in trans fat
  • Generally 20-30% of your diet can come from good fats.  Eliminating fats altogether is generally not the best option.  Fats will make you feel full, so you actually eat fewer calories and they have more energy per gram than carbs or protein.
Carbs get a bad rap.  The brain runs purely on carbs, and muscles run primarily on carbs.  That being said, here are some more details:
  • Eating too many carbs (or more accurately, having carbs as too high of a percentage of your overall diet) can cause spikes and lows in blood sugar.  That means uneven energy throughout the day, cravings, weight gain, etc.
  • There is what's called a glycemic index, which basically measures how quickly carbs turn into blood sugar.  Low glycemic foods take longer (e.g. beans, vegetables, fruits) than high glycemic foods (white bread, breakfast cereals, pretzels, etc).  More details if you're interested here
  • Generally 30-50% of your diet should be carbs
  • Carbs are your main fuel source for regular training
Protein repairs muscle damage, strengthens the immune system, makes hormones and enzymes, and is a small source of energy.  Training in essence is all about breaking down your muscle fibers through exercise, then rebuilding them stronger, so protein is key.
  • "Complete proteins" have all of the essential amino acids, and those only come from animal sources.  Since amino acids can't be stored for long periods, vegetarians and vegans need to get these amino acids from supplements
  • The average athlete needs 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  In other words, a 150 lb cyclist needs 3-6 ounces of protein daily.
  • 15-35% of your diet should be protein

So with that general knowledge, what does it all mean for you as an athlete?  

Before you train (especially efforts longer than 1 hour):  Eat something 30-60 minutes before you start training.  Experiment with what works.  Some love half a banana, others prefer half a bagel with peanut butter, others prefer a protein bar.  In the beginning it may cause some GI discomfort, in which case try either smaller amounts or something different next time.  The morning of the race you will have to eat something, so figure out in your training what works best.  I generally find I need some protein and carbs, so half of a bagel with peanut butter works best for me.

While you train (esp. efforts longer than an hour):  Here it's really going to be a matter of what your stomach can handle.  If you're out there for 1, 2, 3, 5, or more hours, you need to take in some fuel while you are running.  Gatorade, Powerade, there are a ton of different sports drinks out there.  Experiment with what you like and what your stomach can handle.  You'll need to either carry a bottle with you or have someone meet you periodically during your session.  I'll do a separate post just on how to drink during your run.

After you train:  Once you stop exercising, the first 20 minutes are a key window where you can take in fuel.  The goal is to take in some water, protein and sugar in that window to help your body start repairing itself, so chocolate milk actually works pretty well (milk has protein, and the chocolate version has sugar).  The Keynan runners typically drink tea with lots of milk and sugar. Most sports drinks have the water and sugar, but few have protein (since they are designed to be drunk during training, and protein is hard to digest while you're exercising).  For the first 20-30 minutes after exercising, your body is like a sponge for these things, and after that window it is harder for the body to process them.  If you're going somewhere to do your run, bring something for afterwards so you have it ready as soon as you stop.