It’s a pretty widely understood and accepted fact in the health and fitness world that nutrition is a much greater part of the equation than exercise. Even knowing that, though, many people struggle with exactly how to fuel up for their workouts. In this post, we’re going to look specifically at running and how to make sure you’ve given your body what it needs to perform at it’s peak.
First: Timing and Intensity
Before we really get into the nutritional side of things, it’s important to identify exactly what your run is going to look like. A 30-minute, moderate intensity run requires a totally different fuel mixture than a longer run that stretches several miles.
So, before you design your pre-run snack, honestly consider how challenging it will be and how long it’s likely to last. Primarily, this will impact the overall size of your snack but will have little influence on the nutrient profile.
Second: Your Fuel
The principle guideline to stick to when constructing your pre-run snack is to make sure you have plenty of carbohydrates in your system. As these digest, they will function as your main source of fuel. At this point, you may be thinking “But I want to burn fat!” Yes, and you will. But dietary fat is different than body fat. We’ll cover that in a more detail in a little bit. Be patient.
To be sure that your body has all the fuel it needs on hand, your pre-run snack should include an ample amount of easily digested, fast absorbing carbohydrates like fruits and breads. While everyone’s nutritional needs are different, a good estimate to start with is this: If your run will last less than an hour, eat around 15g of carbs. For runs closer to an hour in duration, your carb intake can be around 30g. A banana, for example, is a favorite pre-run snack since it packs about 27g of carbohydrates that will get to work quickly.
But, bananas are also reasonable low in fiber – which, in this context is a good thing. Fiber slows digestion and, during exercise, can cause some… problems.
The same can be said of fat. Eating high-fat foods as part of your pre-run ritual can cause digestive problems and won’t do your performance any favors. Also, since fat breaks down more slowly than carbohydrates, it’s not used as readily for fuel. As mentioned, though, your body will still break down the fat already on your body for fuel, leading to weight loss – if that’s your concern.
Then, of course, we come to protein – the king of the macros. Unlike carbohydrates and fat, though, protein is not (typically) used for fuel. Instead, it’s used to build and repair muscle fibers – along with a host of other tissues and hormones. While protein isn’t totally necessary to your performance on that particular workout, having a small amount of the healthiest protein powder before you head out can help to reduce muscle pain and soreness afterward.