Eating for Fuel and Recovery – Part #1

As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I’m training for a half marathon. One thing that often gets overlooked when it comes to training is what to eat and drink. Consuming food and beverages are the only way to fuel your body for hard work. Think about that for a minute; Food is fuel. In the same way that it is impossible to drive a car very far when the tank is approaching empty, it is impossible to run very far when you haven’t fueled up beforehand! Additionally, it’s important to think about what you consume during exercise (when working hard for more than 60 minutes) and after exercise for recovery. Since this is such a huge topic, I’ll break it up into two posts.

First for the fluids. It’s important to start out hydrated and keep it that way. Water is essential for almost every chemical reaction that occurs in the body. Ensure that you keep hydrated on a daily basis by sipping water throughout your day. To figure out just how much fluid you will need during exercise, weigh yourself before and after; every pound of bodyweight lost is equal to about 16 oz of fluid (don’t forget to take into account how much you drank during that workout!). This is something that will be variable between individuals and from season to season.

Now onto the pre-workout fuel. What you need will depend upon what time of day you are exercising and how recently you’ve eaten. If you have had a meal within the past few hours you are probably good to go (I’m assuming you had a well balanced meal with vegetables and fruit included!).  If it’s been more than 3 or 4 hours, a small snack that has a combination of carbohydrates and protein (such as fruit with cheese or peanut butter) will probably be enough to top off your tank. If you exercise first thing in the morning (like me), I encourage you to get up early enough to eat before you start your activity. If this is something that upsets your stomach there are a few things you can try: wake up a little earlier so that your breakfast can settle, or try different types of foods (depending upon your symptoms fat, fiber or something else may be to blame). For persistent issues, working with a Dietitian can be very helpful.

Every person is individual so what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. I like to have a bowl of cereal, coffee and a large glass of water.  The cereal is a big bowl of two different types mixed together which I eat dry (since I’m making lunches, getting kids fed, dressed, and off to school – it would get too soggy otherwise!). The coffee is a latte made with a cup of skim milk and no sugar (believe me it doesn’t need it!) and the water just helps me to rehydrate (sometimes I have a little more than one glass). I usually start my exercise about 2 hours later (plenty of time for that breakfast to settle) and I will often have a piece of fruit to top me off before I begin. This is a good mix of fluids, carbohydrates, protein and fiber (about 22.25g of protein and 95g of carbohydrates) and has proven to work well for me. Would the same exact thing work for someone else? Maybe not. What we eat is very individual – just make sure that you do eat!

Cereal, coffee with milk, fruit & water – breakfast of… well… me

My next blogpost will cover what to eat during activity (for those of you who are exercising for more than 60 minutes at a time) and what to eat for recovery. Stay tuned!

Healthy or Health Halo?

Have you ever heard the term “health halo”? It’s when you perceive a food as healthy because of the way it is packaged and marketed or because of another association such as being linked with healthy foods or endorsed by a trusted celebrity. For example, we’ve all heard about Jared losing weight by eating at Subway, right? So when many of us think about Subway now, we think of them as having healthy food. While they do have healthy options, they also have things like the 6″ Philly Cheesesteak which has a whopping 1310mg of Sodium! You had better not add soup to that meal or you’ll easily meet or exceed the recommended Upper Limit for Sodium which is 2400mg (read more in this previous blogpost).

What do you think of when you hear the words organic, natural, made with whole grains, fat-free, fair-trade, pure, made with real fruit…. I could go on and on! These are all words that clever marketing firms use in order to make us feel that a food is healthy so that we will want to buy it. Some of these words are regulated (like the term USDA Organic) and some (like Natural) are not. When a regulated term is used, you still need to be careful! An Organic Soda (like this one) is still full of added sugars and has absolutely no health benefits.

What is the best way to avoid falling into the “health halo” trap? Make sure that the majority of the food you eat is unprocessed. By unprocessed I’m talking about whole fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein sources. Ironically, these are also the kinds of foods that typically don’t have a nutrition label in the grocery store and don’t get a lot of marketing hype! Eat more foods like these and your body will thank you!

Fruits and Vegetables (no label reading required!)

For a little more information on labels, you can read what the Center for Science in the Public Interest has to say.

Running 13.1 miles

What’s so fun about training for a half-marathon? That’s what I used to ask myself… Then I signed up for one as a part of my New Year’s Resolution to challenge myself more.

Racing is something I have always shied away from for reasons you may or may not find familiar. I have a tendency to be very hard on myself (as many of us do!) and the thought of not only training for a race, but then having my time recorded for all to see was too much for me. If I heard that someone finished a 5K in 30 minutes I would think – “Could I do that?” “Is that a good time?” “Could I run it faster?” These were not calming positive thoughts! Then I read this New York Times article a while ago and it helped me to start thinking about races as something fun to do, and not something to win or lose. It got me really thinking about how to go out and enjoy the process without being so focused on the end result. So the first part of my personal challenge is to enjoy the process and not set a goal for a certain time or compare myself with others running the same race. I need to let go of the idea of perfection. I cannot judge myself (or anyone else) on how fast I run this race, I can only ask “Did I do my best?” as long as the answer is yes, then I should be very happy indeed.

Second comes the issue of training. If you are going to run any significant distance, you need to train for it. Training involves more than just running; It’s also about challenging yourself at times with a variety of workouts and backing off at times to rest and recover. For me, the backing off and resting have always been very hard to do. This idea of challenging ourselves to work hard, but also listening to our bodies (and minds) and resting when we need to, is a great analogy for life. My personal challenge? Make sure to not overdo it; when I’m tempted to keep going on a day that is supposed to be an ‘easy’ day, I need to follow my training program and stop!

Another other important lesson with training is the planning involved. It takes both time and a plan of action to get from point A to point B. No one goes from couch potato to runner overnight. Planning can help you to achieve almost any goal that you have set for yourself (as long as it is a SMART goal!). Most training schedules for running a half-marathon are from nine to twelve weeks long at a minimum. Since I am a huge planner, this  isn’t as much of a big deal for me, but it’s something I need to do nonetheless. I have a plan and am following along week by week (including all of the rest and easy days!).

One more big component of all of this training and planning is what to eat for energy and recovery when running! For me this is the fun part. I have counseled other runners and triathletes about this before, but now it’s my turn to try out all of the options. Since food is very individual, I am testing out some different options to find out what works for me. I think I’ll save the details of this one for another post.

A few of my training materials