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March 31, 2010

Answers to Frequent Nutrition Questions

Written by Dena Evans
Q:  After some of my long runs I completely crash for the rest of the day, and I can't afford to be down for the count - I have stuff to get done!  What can I do?

A:  Make sure you are leaving for your runs with a full tank - hydrated, and with 100-200 calories at least in the hour or two before you start.  Plan for and consume 4-8 oz of electrolyte replacement beverage every 2-3 miles (25-30 mins.) for long runs beyond an hour.  And, most importantly, replenish with carbohydrates as soon as possible after your run = 15-30 minutes max.  A banana, apple, orange, peanut butter sandwich, or energy bar with primarily carbs and some protein included are great choices to save in your car or keep ready at home for your return.  We know that in a depleted state your body will grab carbohydrates and convert them to working glycogen quickly.  So the post-run quick meal (100-200 kcal) within 30 minutes is key.  Miss this window and you'll be playing catch up the rest of the day!

Q:  What should I eat the night before a race?

A:  You should eat familiar foods at a normal dining hour.  The day before a race, incorporate plenty of carbs, but do not stuff yourself with two pounds of pasta.  Eat a moderate amount of a well balanced meal (pasta, chicken breast or bolognese sauce, salad, roll is one example) at dinner, and sip both water and sports drink throughout the day.  Steer clear of alcohol.

One mistake a lot of people at destination races make is to set out from the hotel for dinner at 7, head to a casual dining restaurant which is busy on weekends, wait 45 minutes or an hour for a table, and all of a sudden, start dinner at 9pm when the alarm clock is set for 5am.  Plan ahead and give your body time to assimilate the food and get ready to sleep! You and the line of people behind you at the porta-potties will be grateful.

Q:  How much should I drink during a marathon or half marathon?

A:  First of all, we recommend taking a drink to the start line and consuming 4-8 oz right before the gun goes off.  This is your first water stop.    Plan to consume 6-8 ounces of fluid every 2-3 miles or 25-30 minutes.  For bigger races with aid stations every mile or two, one good rule of thumb is to just take fluid every time (so you don't have to think about it).  A good strategy is to alternate sports drink and water.  Pinch the top between your thumb and fingers, and you can nurse it for a few more yards.  Most importantly, do not wait to consume fluids until you are "thirsty".  At that point, you are already playing catch-up.  Drink early, and when in doubt, choose the electrolyte replacement drink over water - then you'll get both the minerals and the H2O necessary for hydration.

Q: Everybody says I should try this (bar/ gel).  How do I know if it is right for me?

A:  Practice!  Your initial long runs serve as trial and error nutrition workouts.  Once you find your comfort zone with a particular drink, gel or bar include consumption in your longer and more rigorous workouts. Nutrition-wise, nothing you do on race day should be brand new territory.  We recommend consuming a gel packet (always with fluid) or similar amount of carbs through another source such as a banana every 45-60 minutes during a marathon or half marathon, which means you should also be doing this on your Big Kahuna long runs.  Keep in mind if you are following the earlier recommendation of energy drinks every 25-30 minutes you may not need the additional gel/bar/banana replacement.  Many utilize a combination of drinks, gels and food to provide quick available carbs within the race.  Everyone's body is different - make your refueling plan during workouts as deliberate as the other parts of your race preparation and you'll have one less unknown to worry about!

Last modified on October 04, 2012
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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