The options for what to eat before, during and after a big run are seemingly endless, but runners have two choices for getting that food: buying it or cooking it themselves. Two runners share their views on which is better and why.
Cook Your Running Foods
Jess Lyons, Runner and Blogger at Eat Happy Run Healthy
Our best races are run when our bodies feel like well-oiled machines — all pistons firing, exhaust burning and moving at top speed. If a Formula 1 driver wouldn’t put low-octane gasoline into a high-performance car, why would a runner put junky fuel into their body?
Okay, so we’re not all Lamborghinis of running, but we do all have PR’s worth breaking, and making the right fuel choice is pivotal. There’s the “fast food” approach (aka — pre-packaged gels and bars), or you can opt for eating real food that provides natural energy, vitamins and minerals.
I vote for real food! If your stomach is anything like mine, it knows its limits. Being curled over in cramps with a belly that feels like a bloated beach ball isn’t my idea of a fun run. Some ingredients of pre-packaged foods can be irritating for stomachs and difficult to digest, especially while huffing through an 8-minute mile. Try eating natural, whole nutrition on the run, and you might find that it not only digests easier, but it could also be your key to going further and faster.
Here are some of my favorite foods for running:
- –Gluten-free fig bars
- -Honey: grab some single-serve packets so they’re easy to carry on the run
- -Dates stuffed w/ peanut butter
- -Quartered bananas or sliced apple
- -Raisins or other dried fruits
Every runner I know has a different gastrointestinal story to tell, and only you know what will keep you running at your best. My only advice is no matter what fuel you choose, practice consuming it during your training runs. Race day should only have one kind of run, and it’s not to the next porta-potty.
Eat What’s Available
Jesse Williams, Brooks Sports Marketing Manager
I wholeheartedly agree with Jess’s points, but if race performance is No. 1, then there are other factors to consider beyond where your food comes from. Ideally, natural food means that your body is offered the path of least resistance turning calories to fuel. But, ultimately, my decisions for race day nutrition are made answering “what is the easiest way to get calories and stay hydrated?” I typically look no further than what’s provided on course. For example, if a marathon is sponsored by Gatorade and Gu, then that is what I end up taking on course. This typically works for me, even if I rarely use the product when I train. It’s always important to try them out, though, because easy planning doesn’t always mean the fuel will be easy on your stomach.
For me, this came to a boiling point one year when I attended the London Marathon and saw that the hydration sponsor was a brand I had never used. I tested the drink on an easy run, and it crushed my normally strong-willed stomach. I was worried, in good shape and had traveled too far to have stomach issues mess with my race. I thought jokingly about how my stomach was probably more used to a Coke than a sugary sport drink. When talking this over with another friend, they suggested de-fizzed coke instead of a sports drink. Why not!? It’s not much different, and with the added bonus of caffeine, I decided to give it a shot. I took two bottles during the race and carried them over a mile or so each time (I had a good friend on course to provide these sugary aids). I never noticed any issues and went on to have a good day. Anytime you run a marathon and nutrition doesn’t play a negative role, it’s a good day. I realized that even though Coke shouldn’t be my training drink of choice, it was better on race day than the on-course option that upset my stomach.
When it comes to nutrition, practice consuming what you’ll use on race day and make the process simple for yourself.
Tell us in the comments: What method for fueling do you use?
Jess is a running coach and the author of Eat Happy Run Healthy, a blog the serves up healthy recipes spiced with running inspiration. She’s been running for over 15 years and has covered race distances from the 5K to the 50-miler. Previously a member of the Brooks marketing team, Jess keeps the Run Happy mantra alive on the roads and trails of Seattle.