While good nutrition is a must for everyone, athletes know all too well how eating the wrong types of foods can have an impact on their performance, and even their long-term health. This is particularly true for runners who need to be careful about what they consume before a training run or marathon.
The Golden Rule of running is that you never try anything new on race day. Experts and trainers will tell you that the same applies to clothing, pacing and training – and it could not be more applicable to eating. The day of a marathon is not the time to start experimenting or trying a new food that one of your friends has recommended. Always stick with what has worked for you in the past. There’s plenty of time to experiment at a later stage.
The wrong food choices can lead to stomach pains and ultimately damage your performance, so it’s critical to avoid these seven types of foods.
- High-Fibre Foods: This might seem contradictory, as we’re always told that fruits and vegetables that are high in fibre, are a good thing. The biggest problem though is these foods can also cause excessive gas and bloating, and there are few things more uncomfortable during a run. So rather pass on the cereals, beans, Brussel sprouts, apples and peaches.
- Fatty Foods: While a big fry-up is always tempting, these foods take a long time to digest, and you’ll feel full and bloated throughout your run. As a rule, anything fried or greasy is a complete no-no, so stay away from fried chips, cheese, bacon, burgers and other fast foods.
- Lactose: It’s been said that almost two in three people have some level of lactose intolerance, but even if you don’t suffer from this allergy, lactose takes ages to digest in your system, leading to potentially debilitating cramps during your run. The safest is to cut out all dairy products at least 24 hours before a race. So, save the yoghurt and ice-cream for a post-run reward.
- Spicy Foods: For some of you avoiding spice may seem like a no-brainer, and then there are some of us with a high tolerance for spices, who can’t resist. But beware, the last thing you need midway through a run is a sudden attack of heartburn, indigestion – or even worse – diarrhoea. Rather leave the chillies and curries for the celebratory dinner after the race.
- Refined Sugars: Beware the rise and fall of the blood sugar spike associated with refined sugar. While your energy levels will shoot up immediately, they will plummet just as quickly. This condition is known as hypoglycaemia and can lead to fatigue, headaches and poor performance. Athletes perform significantly better after eating a low GI meal. Foods to avoid before a run include: sweets, chocolates, white breads and energy bars.
- Protein Bars: While largely marketed as a healthy snack option, most protein and energy bars are packed full of refined sugars that will leave you feeling fatigued after the initial blood sugar spike. Making your own pre-workout snacks is the safest bet. As a runner you want to build up your glycogen stores as much as possible.
- Energy Drinks: Another well-marketed option that’s jam-packed with sugar, includes all energy and sports drinks. A healthy athlete with a balanced diet, doesn’t really need energy drinks. In fact, these drinks are probably best for people who have been sick and severely dehydrated by nausea and diarrhoea because they replace electrolytes so effectively.
Getting Race Day Ready:
So, what is the best meal plan for a runner getting race ready? Here’s a quick guideline that will serve you well in the run-up to any big sporting event. One Week to Go: This is when most runners gradually increase their carbohydrate intake by adding pastas and other starches to meals.
The old carbo-loading idea is a little outdated but a few pastas here and there won’t impact your weight too severely. Good carbohydrate choices include: sweet potatoes, pastas, baked potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, wholegrains, and oatmeal.
Two Days to Go: Most experts believe that your last big meal should be eaten two nights before the race. Gorging on a huge bowl of pasta the day before a marathon will leave you feeling lethargic and bloated at the starting line. Good food choices at this time include: rice and potatoes.
24 Hours to Go: Eat healthy balanced meals the day before your big run and keep up your liquid intake, particularly water. Stick to low GI foods including: sweet potatoes, pastas, baked potatoes, white rice and banana.
Race Day: Get up early enough to eat a nutritious breakfast, giving you plenty of time to digest the meal. Stick to plain water and electrolyte boosting drinks, and take small sips regularly. Your best bet for a pre-marathon breakfast is a bowl of oats with honey, banana and a cup of coffee.
Which Foods Are Best For Runners?
Bananas: Loaded with potassium to boost your mineral intake, you cannot go wrong with bananas as a high-carb energy booster.
Oats: Oats or oatmeal porridge provide the perfect breakfast for runners, with sufficient carbohydrate and fibre levels, this low GI meal with keep you fuelled and fired up for the race.
Peanut butter: Peanut butter provides an effective antioxidant through vitamin E, it also builds muscle and boots the immune system. Try it on wholegrain toast with a few slices of banana.
Broccoli: This veggie is not only an excellent source of vitamin C, K and folic acid but has been shown to reduce the risk of muscle fatigue. Try it prepared with some delicious proteins like beef or salmon.
Coffee: Coffee provides a boost for high-intensity training, helping you run faster, further and longer. Just remember to skip the milk and sugar. A natural diuretic, coffee will also make your bladder work faster than usual, so you may want to avoid more than one cup on race day.
Potatoes: Also high in potassium, and great for boosting your immune system, potatoes have far less calories than rice. They come highly recommended as a tasty post-race recovery meal with chicken, salmon or eggs.