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Nutritional Guidance for 5k & 10k

Pre Race nutritional preparation

You need to ensure your body is getting sufficient fuel to work at the level you are now pushing it.

If you are feeling lethargic or not running as well as you have been, then it might be that you are not getting enough energy and you should have a look at your nutrition program.

So while calorie counting and eating a healthy diet will help you to continue to lose weight and tone your body, to ensure your nutrition needs are met you will need to adjust what you eat and how much you eat.

Chances are that you are already eating a healthy diet. This should consist of a good balance of energy-rich carbohydrates; protein for repair and re-growth of muscles and tissues; fats for energy and protection; and the fibre, vitamins and minerals that are so important for your immune system and good health.

As you increase the time you spend running and the distance that you cover, you will find that your energy needs rise. It is important that you develop your fuel intake so that you satisfy your hunger without resorting to eating foods that are ‘empty’ calories, such as crisps, sweets and cakes.

There are a few simple nutrition rules that you can follow to ensure that your activity levels remain high and you are not tempted into eating snacks that are high in sugar and lead to an artificial high with a subsequent slump in energy.

Eat three well-balanced meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner

These are the foundations of your day and should contain a balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein. You should ensure you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as a selection of beans, lentils, rice, pasta, potatoes, fish, eggs and lean meat. Your diet should also contain dairy products or their substitutes to ensure you get enough calcium.

Keep hydrated

Even on days you are not running you still need to drink plenty of fluids because your muscles keep working after you have finished exercising and you should never allow your body to get into a state of dehydration. A slightly yucky but effective means of checking your levels of hydration are to check your urine – it should be a light straw colour. The darker the colour, the more you need to drink some water.

Keep a ready supply of healthy snacks to hand

When you run, your body keeps working long after you stop so you are burning calories. This means that you may well be hungrier than normal and crave some sugar. Rather than succumb to the chocolates and cakes that are left lying around the office, or popping your hand in the cookie jar, keep a supply of fresh and dried fruit, nuts, seeds, cereal bars or pots of yogurt within easy reach. These snacks will stabilise the sugar levels in your blood and keep your hunger pangs at bay.

Your nutrition plan should still focus on eating the healthiest options – wholemeal bread and pasta, steamed vegetables instead of stir-fries, low fat options for spreads and yogurts, chicken and fish in preference to red meat.

Plan your meals and snacks around your activity so that you are eating a light meal or a snack about two hours before you run and re-fuelling within half-an-hour of finishing your run. You might not feel like eating after a run, particularly if you have completed a tough session, but it is important that you get some energy into your system. If eating solid food is really a step too far, then a fruit-based smoothie is a good substitute.

Snacks that are a runner’s best friend:

  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Raisins
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cereal bars
  • Yogurt
  • Toast and peanut butter
  • Honey on bread
  • Crisp breads
  • Dark chocolate

The night before pre-race dinner

Don't overload on carbohydrates, or you’ll risk feeling stuffed and sluggish in the morning  Eat as much as you normally would, substituting a few extra carbs for your usual meat / fish or salad if you want. Try loading 50 to 75 percent of your plate with complex carbs like pasta, potatoes, quinoa.  Then fill in 25 percent with lean protein like chicken, turkey, fish, or eggs. A small amount of fat—olive oil on your pasta or the yolks from the eggs—should finish off your meal. If you must have your salad or veggies, keep the portion small, as this meal should be low in fibre. So consider using white bread and pasta as these contain less fibre.

If you want to "carb load", I suggest you consume your largest meal 2 nights before the race rather than the night before. Here's why: The night before a race we usually don't sleep very well because we are anxious; anxiety compromises the digestion process. Eating a large meal under these conditions can have disastrous results. If digestion does not go well that night, you wake up feeling very full and uncomfortable. Not a good way to start a race. You want to go to the start line feeling nourished – not hungry, but not full either. 

Race Day

First, your pre-race breakfast should be exactly the same as you have eaten before your longer weekend training runs. The typical choices are porridge, toast or half a bagel with some peanut butter, washed down with some water, coffee, and sports drink. Other good choices are energy bars made specifically for a pre-run meal so they contain easily digested carbohydrates and some protein.  Again, what is most important is that you eat foods and drink beverages that you are accustomed to consuming before training runs.  Then stick to this breakfast for the week prior to the race, on race morning is not the time to try anything new. Plus consume 500ml of fluids from waking to race start.

Eat your pre-race breakfast 2 to 3 hours before the race start. This may mean an early morning, but, all the better to get up and moving as far as the bathroom issues are concerned. Keep sipping water up to 30 minutes before the race starts. This should allow you to process everything you have taken in and time to use the bathroom before the race begins.

The race should supply water and a sports drink of some type along the route. Carry your run nutrition with you –gels, shots, blocks, or whatever you have used during your training runs. Again, now is not the time to experiment. Use only products you have used before. If the race is not providing a sports drink then consider carrying it with you. And, if the race is using a sports drink you have not used before, you may want to carry your own product with you anyway to avoid upset.

Post Race

This is as important as the running. It’s when the body is resting that the muscles heal and regain strength. Drink a large glass of water and refuel with a light snack, perhaps an apple or banana bread after your run. If you’ve run for over an hour, you may benefit from a recovery drink to replenish your muscle glycogen levels and body salts you will have lost through sweat. You’ll find this gives you more get-up-and-go for your next run, you’ll be less prone to injury, and every run will be a good run.  Take the time to have a good stretch of all your major muscle groups, keep hydration up for the next few days, if you start to get muscle cramps consider an isotonic drink to continue to replenish your electrolytes.

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