What does a dietitian eat before running a marathon?
Updated: Jan 4, 2019
" as a dietitian I understand the meticulous role nutrition plays in energy metabolism and have figured out what works for me, so let me share, but remember, we are each unique, and have different needs for fueling"
“First they ask why you are doing it, then they will ask how?” This is some inspirational quote from my Pinterest board with an “unknown author”, but in all honesty it is true. Let me explain.
The more I expand into my career as a dietitian, the more I realize, we are all on our own journey. Learning, and exploring at our own pace, including our health/lifestyle journey. And I am no exception! Even though I have the degree, I haven't always “walked the walk, or talked the talk”, still don’t :) (always.) Today, my journey has lead me to share with you, what I plan to eat, and have been eating to fuel my long distance runs, including this upcoming half-marathon. Do you need help to determine your ideal long run fuel? Check out my upcoming workshops, would love to have you!
To answer the first question, why are you running the marathon? Well, tbh, I was just bored, and wanted a challenge. I did a half marathon bucket list thing in 2012, got a decent time at 1:44 and something? and then casually ran since. Upon my return to “more serious running”, my running peers were rather encouraging and supportive, making me think I should be taking my running a bit more seriously… and with that comes the nutrition of course. When am I not thinking about food!?
Now, here is the part where they will ask “how”. “How do you fuel, what do you eat?”. As a dietitian, naturally love talking about food, recipes, health, nutrition trends etc. but what I have come to realize is that when it comes to fuel for running, we are so individual, that I could not justify this question with an answer that is tailored to each inquisitor. So I will write this post just as though I were talking in person, and preface it with this…I am not a Sports Dietitian but as a dietitian I understand the meticulous role nutrition plays in energy metabolism and have figured out what works for me, so let me share, but remember, we are each unique, and have different needs for fueling.
First off, let’s hope we are all at least eating breakfast?? Especially on run days? If not, then we probably should talk before you continue reading any further….just a thought… Now, our pre-race breakfast will help restock the liver glycogen (or stored energy) that got depleted overnight--even after you OD’d at the OG. (Overdosed at Olive Garden--for those of you that don’t get my humor, it is an acquired taste, and I hope that you acquire a taste). Research supports starting exercise with fully loaded glycogen stores can improve energy levels and optimize performance, who doesn't want that! Your pre-race breakfast should be 2-3 hours before the gun goes bang bang.This gives you time to digest and ensure the nutrients are ready to go, and remember, running will divert blood from your stomach to your muscles, so the food you eat won't be properly digested if you eat too close to race time. Now let’s break down the perfect breakfast and why.
INGREDIENTS TO THE PERFECT BREAKFAST (for me)
1/3 cup quick cooking oats cooked in 1 cup of water
½ tbsp of peanut butter melted in the hot oats
1 tbsp all bran buds high fibre cereal
1 whole small or half medium sized banana
A drizzle of honey
Now let’s break it down, each ingredient is added with intent, based on well-known science of nutrient metabolism and energy expenditure, and what I have personally tested.
THE QUICK OATS
The best pre-race breakfast consists mainly of carbohydrates, since they're digested most rapidly and are your body's preferred fuel source
Whole grains like oats, digest slowly, rather than breaking down too quickly into sugar and entering your bloodstream rapidly, which can cause rebound low blood sugar when the sugars are quickly used up, bad news for running.
THE PEANUT BUTTER
High amounts of protein (or fat) are not necessary pre-run as they will slow digestion TOO MUCH and not let those carbs work their magic. That is why I only put ½ tbsp, just enough for flavour, and there is actually negligible amounts of protein in this small portion of peanut butter.
The ALL BRAN
This is a very high fibre cereal, but in the portion of 1 tbsp, I am only getting 4g of fibre (about as much as a slice of whole grain bread). This provides me with some longevity in digestion. I know I said we like quick carb sources, which is true, but adding small amounts of fibre, will ensure, that our primary carb source (oatmeal) will extend into our run and keep away hunger pangs.
You guessed it! The potassium, K + for days, this will keep them legs primed and cramp free. Not to mention a perfectly ripe banana has a good balance of readily digestible carb and 3 grams of fibre. Just avoid eating green bananas before a race as they contain a type of fibre called resistant starch--which won’t have much benefit at this point, but is overall a great idea for general health reasons.
just a drizzle, because I want some sweetness and quick sugar to balance out the variable digestions of the oats, bran and banana.
There you have it folks--that is my pre-run power meal, and I am hoping for great things on race day as a result of this Peanut Butter Oat Bowl, among many other things. But guess what? HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY, and if you need help figuring out your morning routine, I have a 5 day plan that will get you there- check it out! See below for video posted on my YouTube Channel, or check me out on insta @saladsaresweet.
If you would like to attend my Build a Better Breakfast Workshop series in 2019, check it out here! I will review everything you need to know about building a better foundation breakfast, and how exactly to plan your long run fuel!