For the running newbie, it can be quite overwhelming seeing fellow training buddies carrying what appears to be a utility belt equipped with a diverse line-up of nutritional tools. Well, fret no more. This article provides a platform for the ingredients recommended for optimal energy levels and peak performance during long runs.
101: Put simply, carbohydrates are sugars and starches that fuel our bodies much like gasoline fuels a racecar. Each gram of carbohydrate contains ~4 calories worth of fuel. Just like a racecar stores its fuel in a tank, the human body stores carbohydrates as glycogen in both our muscles and liver. These glycogen reserves are relied upon to stabilize blood sugars and allow for optimal muscle function. Runners who balance out their meal plates with 45-65% carbohydrate while meeting daily energy demands can expect to store about 2 grams (8 calories) of glycogen per pound of muscle tissue and an additional ~100-125 grams (400-500 calories) within the liver. This amount of glycogen supplies the energy needed to run for ~2 hours at a moderate intensity, making addition of carbohydrates necessary during long run efforts to avoid depletion and consequent dizziness (aka “bonking”) and profound muscle fatigue (aka “the wall”).
How much? Aim for approximately 1/4 your body weight (lbs) in grams each hour of running. For example, an 180-lb runner should aim for ~45 grams of carbohydrate each hour of running.
Providing ~15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces, sports drinks like Gatorade are the most common source of carbohydrate energy provided on race courses so if you are planning to use the aid stations on race day, be sure to practice with the race sports drink during training. Also popular amongst runners are energy gels (Power Gel, Clif Shot, Gu), providing ~25 grams carbohydrate per packet. Newer to the running circuit are energy chews (Gu Chomps , Luna Moons and Clif Shot Blocks , Powerbar Energy gel blasts, providing 15-25 grams per 3 chews. If you prefer solid nutrition, energy bars like the original Powerbar provide 40 grams of carbohydrate. If you prefer an alternate to sports food, try bananas (25 grams per item), oranges (15 grams per item), packets of honey (~10 grams per packet), and pretzels (~25 grams per ounce).
101: Scientifically speaking, proteins are large, complex molecules that make up 20% of our body weight in the form of muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, as well as other tissues and body fluids. During digestion, protein is broken down into at least 100 individual chemical building blocks known as amino acids that form a little pool within our liver and are used to build muscle, skin, hair, nails, eyes, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and nerve chemicals. Some research has found that inclusion of small amounts of protein during prolonged activity can help enhance performance by sparing muscle glycogen as well as aiding fluid uptake. Protein also can help mute hunger that arises during long run efforts. Be careful about overdoing protein, however, as large amounts slow gastric emptying and can precipitate a ‘backlog’ of nutrients of gut and consequent stomach distress and muscle fatigue/cramping.
How much? If running longer than 4 hours, aim for up to 6 grams of protein hourly.
Runners consuming protein often do so in the form of sports drinks (Accelerade, Infinit Ironman Formula , Hammer Sustained Energy ) and energy bars (Pure Fit ). Beef and turkey jerky are also commonly used by ultra-runners as an alternate and easy-to-carry source of protein during long efforts.
101: Replacement of electrolytes becomes instrumental in endurance bouts lasting longer than 1 hour, especially when running in hot and humid conditions. The principle electrolytes include sodium (generally bound to chloride), potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These electrolytes are involved in metabolic activities and are essential to the normal function of all cells, including muscle function. An electrolyte imbalance has reported symptoms similar to dehydration: nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, muscle cramping, muscle twitching, overall fatigue, labored breathing, “pins and needles”, and confusion.
How much? Aim for 200-500 mg of sodium hourly as well as smaller amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Sports drinks generally provide 100-200 mg of sodium per 8 ounces, energy gels 25-200 mg sodium per packet, and energy chews 20-210 mg sodium per 3 pieces. Salt packets are often distributed on course and contain ~200 mg per packet. Electrolyte capsules, generally providing 100-200 mg of sodium per capsule, are also available; samples include Salt Stick, Thermolytes and Endurolytes.
101: Because water serves as the medium for all metabolic activity, helps to lubricate our muscles and joints, and also keeps our core body temperature in check, failure to take in enough fluids during a long run can have a dramatic negative impact on both health and performance. Therefore, determination of sweat rate and consequent fluid demands is extremely important for runners. Practice weighing in pre- and post-workout and drink fluids so that no more than 2% of your body weight is lost during runs.
How much? Aim for ½-1 liter per hour or so that urine runs pale yellow.
A standard bottle holds 20 ounces of fluid. A standard flask generally holds 6-10 ounces. Camelbak offers solutions for carrying fluids during long runs when fountains and aid stations are not available to refill bottles or flasks.
Extra Credit Ingredient: Caffeine
A central nervous system stimulant, caffeine may help maintain blood glucose concentration and reduce power loss through its effects on the active musculature and nervous system that reduce fatigue and perceptions of effort, discomfort, and pain. Specific flavors of energy gels and chews are caffeinated at a dose of 25-50 mg pack. It is important to experiment with personal tolerance to caffeine as some athletes do not respond favorably to caffeine with symptoms such as a racing heart beat, muscle twitching, stomach distress and anxiety serving as reason for avoidance.