Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a group that is training to run their first marathon; they will be running the Boston Marathon one of the most famous and exciting marathons in the world! While we were talking about the importance of fueling and hydrating adequately during endurance sports, one of the participants made a statement which I think pertains to athletes and non-athletes alike. He said, “Sometimes during a long run, I feel like I’m digging myself into a hole that I will then need to go back and fill in later.” A great analogy. The best thing to do is to prevent digging ourselves into this hole in the first place!
Many people think of food and calories as something we need to fight against. A lot of people try to restrict their calories early in the day in order to lose weight. They might tell themselves that if they limit how much food they eat in the morning, they can then eat what they like in the evening at a party. Some might also say that they ‘deserve’ a donut after going to the gym, or that they will work out the morning of [insert holiday here] in order to eat goodies later.
Repeat after me: Food is not the enemy! Food is fuel!
Why doesn’t restricting calories early in the day work? Simply put, your body will function best if you fuel it properly. For those engaging in general activities of daily living, make sure you spread your intake throughout the day. Eat breakfast when you wake up, don’t wait until you are ravenous to eat lunch at 3:00 in the afternoon; plan ahead and feed yourself before you feel out of control. The longer you delay your meals the hungrier you get, the hungrier you get the less control you have over what and how much you eat which will lead to overeating the types of foods that won’t help us nutritionally.
What does this mean for endurance athletes? Make sure you fuel yourself early and often so that you will be able to perform at an optimum level. If you are planning an intensive training day, prepare by eating plenty of nutritious foods well beforehand. During your workout (if it is going to last more than an hour) make sure to have a fuel and hydration plan so that you will have all of the energy you need to make it to the end in good shape. Lastly, make sure you continue to fuel and replace what you have burned after your workout so that your body has the fuel it needs for proper recovery.