Pro nutrition: The best energy food for running
By Stephanie Ede
4 min read
Having just qualified as 3rd overall female for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs, her long term sights are set on the full Ironman World Championships in Kona.
If you’re looking to up your running mileage or beat your PB it’s important to fuel your body properly before, during, and after your run to ensure you’re running at your best. I’m going to share some of my advice on how best to fuel your muscles to keep you running further, faster and for longer.
What you eat before you hit the road or the treadmill all depends on when you’re running and what kind of run you’re planning. Many people don’t have the time, or the stomach to eat and digest food before a workout, especially if it’s taking place in the early morning. As a general rule of thumb, I have a small snack 1-2 hours before a short run (less than an hour) and a larger snack or small breakfast before longer runs or a run later on in the day. A pre-exercise snack of 100-300 calories is plenty for runs of up to 1 hour.
Small Snack Examples:
An energy gel with water
An energy bar
For longer runs, or if you run later in the day, aim to consume 300-500 calories 1 to 2 hours before. Long lasting breakfast combinations will be rich in complex carbohydrates, have a small amount of protein and a little healthy fat, ensuring you have everything you need to keep you ticking along.
Larger Snacks or Breakfast Examples:
Porridge with fruit compote or honey
Muesli with Greek yogurt
Toast with peanut butter and banana
Running and stomach issues
I don’t believe anyone who says they’ve never experienced any kind of stomach issues when out running! Even the most experienced runners get eating wrong and end up with those dreaded issues whilst out on a training run or even worse, during a race. We just can’t predict exactly what our bodies will do and when. Studies have shown that 30 – 90% of endurance athletes suffer from some form of stomach/bowel distress, with the percent increasing with longer distances. What can we do to avoid those on-the-go gastrointestinal complaints?
Avoid certain foods pre-run
Although pre-run foods should be high in carbohydrates avoid any that make you feel full or heavy and in particular, in the 2 to 4 hours before your run, avoid the following foods known to cause gastrointestinal distress.
High fibre foods for several days before your event
Excessively fatty foods
Too much caffeine
Foods high in fructose, particularly sports drinks that are sweetened with only fructose. (Somewhat paradoxically, drinks that contain some fructose along with other sweeteners such as glucose appear to be less troublesome).
Get a routine going
Practice, practice and practice again. If you’ve had problems in the past, practice new nutrition strategies, both pre-event and while running to see what works for you.
Less is more
Despite what you might think, you can have too many calories on race day. Remember that it’s always easier to add more calories, but not so easy to “remove” them when running!
Whether it’s a drink or a drink mix or a gel, liquid calories are far easier for you to consume and process whilst running under race day stress.
My go-to nutrition brand – Science in Sport
To start I have 500ml of Hydro (Berry) every morning when I wake up. Why? It gives me the kick start and boost I need first thing in the morning and fills my body with added electrolytes ready for my training session. It also tastes great which makes me gulp it down quicker than water!
Pre and post runs I have trialled using Beta Fuel along with GO Electrolyte drink which I use to fuel much longer runs. I find these provide ample amount of carbohydrates, taste great and are a good way to take on board fuel to prepare for a heavy training day or a big race (marathon or long distance multi-sport race e.g. a triathlon).
Personally, I take on a Energy Gel around every 8km. The amount fluctuates with pace and total run distance, but without fail I always get some fuel on board around that mileage. However, I would not take a gel on a 10 or 12k run for example, I reserve gels for the runs over 90 mins. Flavours wise, I love the fruit salad or vanilla and berry with added caffeine at the later stage of the run – it works a treat! These flavours sit well with my stomach, but I like to mix them up as there are so many delicious ones!
As an Ambassador for Science In Sport I have been using REGO and the Protein 20 bars for the last 4 months now and believe they help me recover quicker and also give the best blend of carbs and protein.
I always prepare REGO in advance as timing is critical for me. At the track, it’ll be in a sachet in my bag. If I am running from home, I’ll mix it up in advance and pop it into the fridge so I can consume it as I get through the door. Maximising recovery is a key part of my training. REGO aids the recovery process so that you can come back stronger, ready to go again. There are a good variety of flavours but my personal favourite is chocolate orange.
I also love the taste of the Protein 20 bars. These provide an added energy boost before a session or are a perfect snack during the day. They are low in sugar and really high in protein (20g) so tick all of the boxes. My favourite flavour is chocolate peanut crunch.
I stand by the range of SiS products that I use, they work for me and my requirements and really help fuel my training.
Home-made is also cheap and easy
When you have some spare time (which is not very often if you are anything like me!) making your own energy snacks is a great way to save money and make sure you know exactly what you are eating. One of my favourite recipes is actually specific for cyclists, however it can definitely be used by runners too. These rice cakes are a Great Britain Cycling Team staple and provides a perfect fuel for endurance sports and have been proven on the world’s toughest bike races.