Food is Fuel
3.02.10: Chowing down post-run
I have always said that I can only really focus on three big things in my life at a time and between running 40 miles a week, maintaining my status as good wife/mother and writing, other things—laundry, cleaning, cooking, financial planning—have always taken a back seat position in my life.
Because of this, we have always applied band-aids. We have a cleaning crew that comes in every other week to keep us from falling into squalor. We have a drawer full of take out menus that we keep in constant rotation. And we live out of four laundry baskets in the basement that contain the clean clothes that somehow never make it into our closets and drawers.
This year we have decided to change all that. Of course between my husband’s work commitments and his whole “breadwinner” status, the onus of these changes falls on me. And then I discovered the be-all end-all in meal preparation help.
The Scramble does not do the shopping and make the meals for you, but it does prepare your shopping list and send you a list of five nutritionally balanced meals that are easy to make and always delicious. I do not believe it is dramatic at all to say it has revolutionalized our kitchen.
I am now regularly baking bread and pizza dough. I enjoy finding new recipes (salmon cakes with mango salsa; spicy spinach calzones). I am eating better, my kids are eating better and we are saving money.
What does all this have to do with running? In a word: everything. After all, what is food if not fuel for long runs? The right mix of carbs and protein can mean the difference between nine and eight-minute miles. If I don’t get the right vitamins and minerals, I am sure to get sick and have to miss training (or worse, a race). And most importantly, feeding my family well makes me feel less guilty about spending upwards of 10 hours each week engaged in some kind of physical training.
Although I have yet to see any major weight loss benefits, I am hopeful that I am at the very least fueling my body better than I was last fall when I subsisted on pizza, Chinese and burritos will help me improve my recovery, if not my time. The weird thing about running is that I have always found I can basically eat whatever I want—cartons of ice cream, entire boxes of cookies, bags upon bags of Cadbury mini eggs—and not gain (or lose) a pound so long as I am running. Yet, I have also seen runners who eat right and run—even marathons, in some cases—and do not lose much weight. Recent research seems to suggest, though, that it is better to be fit and overweight than the reverse. But it is a strange phenomenon.
At any rate, the trick to being adequately fueled is about filling up the night before, keeping gas in the tank during the run and refueling after the end. Some people say “carbo-loading” (eating mass quantities of pasta or bread or other carbohydrates) pre-race is important, but other research suggests that is hogwash. In the weeks leading up to my marathon, I was mindful of eating more (whole grain) carbohydrates and also ate a banana every day for two weeks. Both seemed to work in my favor so I will be doing the same thing this time around. As for the rest, my favorites include:
Prior to a long run, I am mindful of adequate water intake, making sure I drink some Gatorade or similar sports drink on Friday and Saturday and also that I eat a banana (or two or three). I have two favorite breakfasts before a run. One is scrambled egg whites with melted cheese over fresh, sliced tomatoes. The other is slow cooked oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, walnuts and 1% milk. I also always have coffee and a multivitamin. After a half hour of letting the food settle, I am usually well fueled for my first 90 minutes.
Most runners have their favorites and I am no different. I love caffeinated Gu. Just one little packet is usually enough to fuel a 16-mile run (although I had three during the marathon). I also enjoy Cliff blocks when I run out of Gatorade for my fuel belt and take one or two of those, plus a shot of water every 45 minutes during a run. During yesterday’s 16-miler, I had a bottle of water and one block at Mile 4, a full Gu at Mile 8 and another block and bottle of water at Mile 12. That seemed adequate for a training run, but during the half marathon last week, I had a Gu Roctane (a new blend with extra sodium and caffeine to fuel serious, hardworking athletes) at Mile 5 and a Chocolate Outrage Gu with Caffeine (yum, by the way) at Mile 10. In retrospect, I may have performed better if I had three regular blend Gus at Mile 4, 8 and then 12, but the right balance is not always easy to strike.
This is always my arch nemesis in races. I always grab a banana and forgo all the other post-race goodies (pizza, dried fruit, soup, granola, beer, etc) and I always regret it. For some reason I never learn this lesson, although I do hope to figure it out before my next big race. According to some, the most perfect post race recovery food is chocolate milk (sugar, protein, fat). I have never tried it, though. For me, a banana smothered in natural peanut butter, topped with a dab of honey and rolled in a flaxseed tortilla is probably the single most important part of long run recovery. One sandwich and my shaking, aching, quaking legs are back to (almost) normal.
All this talk about food has made me hungry. Mangia, mangia.
Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.