Over the last 6 years I think I’ve learned quite a bit about fuelling for my runs but it seems there is always more to learn. Most of what I know is based on experimentation but I try to pick up bits and pieces wherever I can (hence my interest in seeing the Dietician recently) and the other night I picked up a few tidbits that made a ton of sense.
I don’t have a nutrition background of any sort and even though as an engineer science-y information makes a lot of sense to me, sometimes things don’t always stick. Am I supposed to have protein before or after? How much? What kind of carbs are best? I know what seems to work for me but sometimes I can’t always remember why.
Tuesday night I attended a Runner Information Session put on by the kind people at Run for Water
and they had some really great speakers lined up. One of them was a local fitness trainer whose background is in functional fitness and nutrition. I just loved the way he explained things. Easy to understand, easy to remember, so I thought I’d share.
I’m by no means an expert so I’ll try not to butcher what he said and it went something like this…
What is fuel?
In it’s most basic sense, Fuel = Energy. Our bodies burn fuel to create energy and fuel is made up of three main components:
How does your body burn fuel?
To better understand how your body handles each of these components, he explained things in terms of burning each one on a fire…
- Fat. Physically, fat is kind of a solid glob of matter. Throw a big hunk of fat in the fire and it will melt and burn slow.
- Protein. Physically, protein is more granular with some space between the molecules. Protein would burn faster than fat if you threw it in the fire.
- Carbohydrates. Physically, they have the most space between the molecules and in a fire would burn the fastest.
Your body essentially works the same way: fat will burn the slowest, protein a bit faster and it will burn carbohydrates the fastest.
What type of fuel?
When you think of what kind of fuel your body needs, it helps to think in those same terms. The faster your body can burn and process the fuel you give it, the faster you will get the energy you need…
- If you need a quick burst of energy (i.e. when you’re pushing really hard), choose a fuel high in carbohydrates
- If you need more sustained energy (i.e. on a longer, sustained effort), choose fats and proteins
When should I fuel?
When you should fuel relates back to how your body burns each type as well. Here’s how he explained it…
- 2-4 hrs before a run: You have time before your workout begins, this is when you can fuel up with slower-burning foods higher in protein and healthy fats. Foods that take longer to digest but that aren’t too heavy are perfect.
- 30 mins before a run: Now is when you want to choose a fuel that will process quickly and give you a burst of energy in the short term. Juicy fruits are perfect for this.
- During a run: If you’re running longer than an hour you probably need to be fuelling on the go. The exact plan is highly individual but in general, you’re going to need some protein and fats in addition to carbohydrates to keep you going longer term.
- After the run: Your body has just burned a bunch of carbs so you’ll want to replenish those first, within the first 30 mins. Fruit is a great post-run choice because your body will easily process the carbs right away. 1-2 hours after your run comes the repair mode where your body will want some protein and fat.
So what’s the best thing to eat pre-run?
Exactly what each of us should eat is highly dependent on so may different factors and no one thing is going to be the answer for all of us. However, he did give one tip that I really liked:
The closer you get to your run, the more simple your foods should be.
A few hours beforehand you have more time for you body to digest so ‘heavier’ more solid carbs like grains are a good idea. As you get closer to your workout you want to simplify and choose things like fruit – a banana, an apple, a orange. And as you’re running and need more immediate energy, simplify even further to more liquid sources like fruit juice, sports drinks and gels.
This is not rocket science.
Okay, okay so maybe you’re reading this post and thinking, “Duh, this is nothing new.” And it probably isn’t but I feel like sometimes I can overcomplicate things and I really liked his take on how to explain fuelling. If I simply think about how
my body actually processes things, it becomes pretty obvious what your best choices are. It’s not rocket science but I hadn’t really broken it down that way and I like it. Maybe you will too.
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