Fueling for Your Best Run
So many people think a good run has to do with getting enough distance, speed, increasing endurance, etc. They want to improve their running experience with well… more running! Which on one hand is understandable, since training absolutely requires consistent weekly running routines. However… have you ever considered how much nutrition is taking it’s toll on your overall results? The distance you can go, the speed you are hitting, and most important how you feel while you run? How much it's affecting not only your overall running times and how you feel, but also your physical results and body composition?
So many people start running to get in shape.. to lose weight, to improve their overall health. However, not everyone that crosses a finish line is hitting their tip top overall physical goals. But most people don’t stop to consider why? After all, they are hitting the pavement day after day, going through the motions, doing the work, getting the right running shoes, running gear, smart watches, etc… so what else could there be to it?
Well… there are a couple of key pieces that often get overlooked. So first, let's talk about adaption and metabolism.
I used to think if I ate better, consumed smaller portions and ran more it would be the perfect combination for weight loss, building lean muscle and achieving my desired physical results while running. I also thought leaning up would help me become a faster and stronger runner. But no matter what I tried, my results stayed the same.
I figured if I could get out for a run on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, it would help me tap into fat and help me lean out. However... over time and lots of trainings and races…. The results I was getting with my physic proved more of the opposite. Almost like my body was putting on and holding onto more fat.
I would get out for a run, not eat anything before-hand, then come back from my run and still not feel hungry. I would wait an hour or so until I felt hungry again before eating. I thought that I was just listening to my body and doing what it needed and that I must really not need to eat much around the time that I ran.
However, what I realized later was that my body’s metabolism was adapting to what I was doing... and was actually holding onto more fat to help me get though my running and through the rest of my day. And not only was my metabolism slowing, but I would end up with SUPER HUNGRY bursts later on that day or through the week, where I felt like a hungry bear and couldn’t get enough, which was of course throwing off my weight loss and goals to lean out.
You see your body adapts over time to how much food you give it. Adaptation occurs when we start creating deficits in our caloric intake and out physical output. Our bodies slowly adjust to what we are giving it... and slowly begin to adjust to burning a lower amount if that’s all we are consuming.
One way you can tell if you’re in a low metabolic burn rate and experiencing adaption is if you feel less hungry before and after you run or exercise. You will also feel less hungry throughout the day. You can also start to feel sick when you eat since your body has adjusted to not taking in any food and it starts to resist or reject it. It also shows up as increased fat gain, around our belly, hips, thighs, arms, etc.
Adaptation is not ideal, and definitely not what we want when we’re trying to make physical progress and lean up, lose weight and build muscle.
Ultimately we want our bodies to be burning everything we are giving it and more. We want our bodies to tap into body fat and burn that along with the food we give it as fuel, and not have to tap into muscle for energy.
So how do we change this?
One of the ways I discovered I could change this was first, Eating a small balanced meal such as a carb and protein like oatmeal or whole grain toast, an egg or 2 and 1/2 banana before I got out and hit the pavement.
Then, if I was on a longer run such as 5 or more miles. I’d bring GU packs, CLIF blocks and other athletic nutrition packs with me. I’d consume one every 30-45 minutes while running along with some electrolyte drunk such as NUUN hydration.
Then after I’d finish my exercise and get done with my run. I started to ALWAYS eat 30-45 minutes following. Even if I didn’t feel hungry, even if I’d feel a little sick. I’d consume something small such as a light protein drink with at least 20g of protein. Then when I had a bit more time I’d make sure to make a balanced meal that included carbs, protein and a small amount of healthy fat. This could be chicken, veggies and avocado, a good salad or even a sandwich on whole grain bread, with plenty of protein on it. It doesn’t have to be complicated, you just need to eat within this window!
You see... when you constantly send signals to your body that you’re not going to feed it around a certain time of day, it adjust to that. So when you start to make changes and adjustments, be sure to slowly incorporate the change. Start with something small and then build from there.
Think of your metabolism like a fire... throw all of the fuel on at once and you have a roaring bonfire and then it completely runs out of fuel and burns out. (Like having a giant meal and then nothing for several hours) OR you can continually throw kindling on it throughout the day and it will continue to burn all day long, keeping you warm and toasty (if you want more fire analogies ;).
It’s not complicated. But we often overcomplicate it. We tend to get confused by the signals our bodies give us, especially when we are trying to change something we are doing or incorporate something new like exercise or eating better. Because our bodies are often so off course because of poor eating habits, that they will store fat and then send our brain hungry signals. So confusing!
We can also get confused by what seems to be working for someone else like a friend of family member or by the newest shiny diet fad we just heard about. But simple facts are... the body will adapt and adjust if we just treat it right. And it will also adapt and adjust if we abuse it by not eating enough.
So... why do I talk about this? Because for a few years when I first started running, I found myself stuck in this rut. I wondered why I wasn’t seeing different results with my physic, even though I trained and ran races, even though I felt like I ate pretty good. I wasn’t fueling the fire enough or at the right times and my body was not responding the way I wanted it to.
I learned that my body was actually tapping into muscle and burning that as energy throughout my running sessions, rather than having fuel at the right times to tap into and burn for energy. And then because it was feeling depleted, my metabolism was slowing down and holding onto fat in order to survive and get through a day.
So when you eat before, during and after your working block. You are training your body to utilize the nutrients you are giving it at the time and also speeding up your metabolism so you can continue to burn fat, rather than muscle.
Some tips and tricks I would suggest are:
#1. Eating healthy, small balanced meals. Not just on the day of your training run. But also the day or two before. Especially for your longer runs of 8 plus miles. Your body will tap into your carbohydrate and fat stores and you will feel so much more energy and power on your run.
#2. Keep GU’s and blocks and hydration drinks stocked and handy to grab anytime. You’ll be able to plan better and keep up on your nutrition no matter what time of day you head out to hit the pavement (or trail) ;)
#3. FOLLOWING The 30-45 minute post run/workout window rule is Essential!! So many times we are busy and need to jump into the rest of our day or have to get to work or get busy doing something right after our run. But if I could emphasize one piece of advice it would be FOLLOW THIS! If you don’t feel hungry, that’s because you haven’t trained your body yet. And your metabolism will adjust and speed up as you feed it more frequently! Eat within this window and you will notice more energy and hunger (which is a good sign that your metabolism is burning) throughout the day.
And lastly, don’t forget to stock up with healthy fruits, veggies, proteins and as many low glycemic complex carbs, such as rice, beans, sweet potato, et. That you can. The energy from them will be steadier and more consistent, rather than a “quick spike.” Plus, the cleaner you eat, the more energy you’ll have to get out there and slay your run!
Fueling smarter by focusing on small frequent meals and what I ate around my running block was a complete game changer for me. I started to get better running times, my body let go of access fat it was holding onto, I started to place better and better in my race times. And most importantly I felt better than I ever had before.
So next time you’re getting ready to hit the ground running and you want to really make it count... Think about the fuel you are putting in the tank! Better nutrition in... better results out!