These are some FAQ emails we got from one of our coach's, Christine. Thought these might be fun to share :-)
You may have realized by now that this long-distance running thing isn’t just about running! What you eat and drink before, during, and after your runs and races can have a HUGE (positive or negative) effect on your performance and recovery.
Here are some questions that address many of the nutrition/hydration issues that you'll face. Some of it you have heard before -- but it doesn't hurt to get a little refresher!
Q: What's a well-balanced diet for long-distance runners?
A: While training for your half or full marathon, you'll want to make sure carbs make up about 60 - 65% of your total calorie intake. Without a doubt, carbs are the best source of energy for athletes. Research has shown that for both quick and long-lasting energy, our bodies work more efficiently with carbs than they do with proteins or fats. Protein should make up about 15% of your daily intake and no more than 25 - 30% should come from fats.
Q: What should I eat right before a run?
A: You should feel neither starved nor stuffed when you begin a workout. Try to eat a light snack or meal about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before (2 hours if it's substantial). Choose something high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Some examples of good pre-workout fuel include: a bagel with peanut butter; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. Stay away from rich and high-fiber foods, as they may cause gastrointestinal distress. You should also avoid high-fat foods because they are slow to digest.
Q: What should I eat and drink the day before a long run?
A: The two days before your long runs (and your race) should be high-carb days. But, again, you should make sure that you increase the percentage of carbs in your diet, not the overall calories (don't eat three plates of pasta for dinner!). Aim for at least 65% of calories from carbs during those days. You can still have some protein but, for example, instead of having chicken with rice, have rice with chicken. Pasta, steamed or boiled rice, potatoes, fruits, starchy vegetables, and breads are good carb sources.
Drink plenty of water and nonalcoholic fluids. Not only does alcohol dehydrate you, but it can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Avoid gas-forming foods like beans and any type of food that may upset your stomach or can also interfere with sleep.
Q: How much should I drink before, during and after my runs?
A: In order to run efficiently, you need to stay well-hydrated. Try to drink 16 to 24 ounces of water or other non-caffeinated fluid about 1 hour before your workout. You can drink another 4 to 8 ounces about 10 minutes before you start. To replace fluids while running, you should be drinking about 6 to 8 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes. During longer runs, some of those fluids should include a sports drink, such as Gatorade Endurance, which will replace sodium lost in sweat.
It's good to practice drinking the sports drink that will be on the course of your race. The New York City Half and Full Marathons will feature Gatorade Endurance (lemon/line), Hamptons will have Gatorade (flavor not yet specified), and Marine Corps will have PowerAde (Mixed Berry Blast). As far as I can tell, the Nike Women's Marathon has not yet announced their official sports drink on the course, but last year it was Gatorade Endurance.
Of course, everyone's fluid needs vary. You know you're well-hydrated if you void large volumes of pale urine at least six times a day. To determine how much liquid to take during a run or race, you need to know your sweat rate, and that can vary between 1 and 4 quarts per hour. Weigh yourself nude before a timed training run, and then again after. One pound of weight loss equals 1 pint of water loss. Calculate your sweat rate and use this to determine your fluid needs during a run or race. For example, if you lose 2 pounds during an hour run, that's 2 pints or 32 ounces. Thus, you need 8 ounces of water or sports beverage every 15 minutes.
Don't forget to rehydrate after your run. If your urine is dark yellow after your run, you need to keep rehydrating. It should be a light lemonade color.
Q: My fingers sometimes swell when running in the heat. How can I avoid that?
A: When running in the heat, the most common cause of swollen fingers and feet is electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are the salts in your bloodstream, which must be kept in balance to prevent swelling in the tissues. Sweating without replacing the lost salt can upset this balance. By drinking sports drinks and eating gels or blocks with sodium during your run, you can replace the salt you're losing. You can also do a "salt shot" before you start your run. Here's how to do it:
Ø Just empty a salt packet (get some from your local McDonald's or other fast food joint) onto your hand.
Ø Lick the salt off your hand.
Ø Drink some water (not tequila) immediately after.
Ø If you're doing a run longer than 2 hours, you may want to take another one halfway through your run.
Q: Can I drink coffee before my runs?
A; This is really a matter of personal preference. Some people drink coffee before every long run and never have any issues with it. Others would be stopping at the bathroom numerous times if they drank a pre-run cup of coffee! If you have experienced any GI issues after drinking coffee before a run, I recommend you stay away from it! If you can tolerate it and actually need coffee to get you going in the morning, keep in mind that coffee is a diuretic (makes you have to pee), so it doesn't count as pre-run hydration.
Q: Is it possible to not have to stop to use the bathroom during a long run or marathon?
A: Yes, it is possible. If you find yourself stopping to pee during your long runs, you're most likely drinking too much prior to your run. You should drink 16 to 24oz of (non-caffeinated) fluid 1 hour before your workout or race. Stop drinking after that, and keep emptying your bladder. Drink another 4 to 8oz of fluid about 10 minutes before you start running, so that you're hydrated when you begin. If you hydrate properly like this, you shouldn't have to stop to pee.
If you find that you have to stop to use the bathroom during your runs because of GI distress, don't worry -- this is a very common problem, and there are things you can do to avoid it. It helps to avoid high-fiber foods (fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains) and coffee/tea before working out, stay hydrated, and consume a sports drink (like Gatorade Endurance) during long runs to maintain electrolyte levels. You may have to experiment eliminating certain pre-run foods to see what your possible “triggers” may be. For more info and tips on preventing GI distress, check out these links:
How to Avoid Runner's Trots
Best and Worst Pre-Run Foods
Q: What and how much should I eat during my long runs?
A; If you're running longer than 90 minutes, you need to replace the stored energy that you're burning through when you're running. You can get carbs on the run through sports drinks and solid foods that are small and easily digested.
One of your goals for your "nutrition training" should be to figure out what foods work for you, so you won't have to try anything new on race day. During your Saturday long runs, you'll want to start experimenting with different foods, gels, and bars. You'll decide if you prefer PowerBars to Clif Bars, or vanilla Gu over chocolate PowerGel. Some people can't stand the taste or consistency of the bars or gels, so they opt for sugary candies or other snacks – Clif Shot Bloks (http://www.clifbar.com/food/products_shot_bloks/), Luna Moons (http://www.clifbar.com/food/products_luna_sport/1326), Jelly Belly Sports Beans (http://www.sportbeans.com ), gummy bears, candy corn, pretzels, etc. When you take a gel, make sure you wash it down with a fluid.
A basic rule of thumb is that you should be taking in about 100 calories after about an hour of running and then another 100 calories every 40-45 minutes after that. You may need more depending on your size and speed, so make sure you carry an extra one or two gels (or other food). If you feel hungry or low on energy, you can definitely consume calories “off-schedule”.
Q: OK, so how am I supposed to carry all of this stuff?!
A: Figuring out how you will transport your nutrition/hydration is also part of your training. Some people prefer to use fuel belts (available at any running shop or web sites, like http://www.fuelbelt.com) to carry their fluids. Fuel belts also have pouches that you can put your gels, bars, etc. in.
If you don't want to wear a fuel belt, there are other options. Some running shorts (like Race Ready: http://www.raceready.com/) have numerous pockets for gels and bars. Some belts, such as SpiBelts (http://www.spibelt.com/), don't have bottles for fluids, but are perfect for carrying nutrition. You can also pin gels to the outside of your shorts.
Keep in mind that during the race you'll have water and sports drink stations every other mile, so you won't have to carry your own fluids (although some people prefer to do so). However, you'll have to be prepared with all the nutrition you need for your race. Start practicing now so you’re not trying to figure out what to do on race morning! Remember: Nothing new on race day!
Q: What should I eat after my runs?
A: You need to replenish energy as quickly as possible after a workout. Studies have shown that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen (stored glucose) stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. If you eat soon after your workout, you can minimize muscle stiffness and soreness. Again, you'll want to consume primarily carbs, but don't ignore protein. A good rule of thumb for post-workout food is a ratio of 1 gram of protein to 3 grams of carbs.
So, that means that you need to have some food readily available to you immediately after you finish your long run. If you wait until you walk to your favorite brunch spot, order food, and wait for your food, you've already missed your window. Always keep some nutrition -- a piece of fruit, a bar, or a recovery drink, for example -- in your bag, so you can start the recovery process immediately. Chocolate milk is a great recovery drink because it is the right ratio of carbs and protein. If you're able to get home within 30 minutes after a long run, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt are other examples of good post-run snacks.
Q: I'm trying to lose weight. What should I be eating?
A: To shed pounds safely, you should try to cut your overall calories by choosing smaller portions of high-fat and high-calorie foods and eating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Try to keep in mind the basic formula for losing weight. You must burn -- through basic life functions and exercise -- more calories than you take in. Simple as that.
However, DO NOT skimp on calories before, during (when necessary), and immediately after your workouts/races. These are crucial times when nutrition is important to performance and recovery.
Also, don't expect to lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. As you are training, you are building more muscle mass, which weighs more than fat. Also, keep in mind that running a lot does not give you carte blanche to eat whatever you want. Some people are surprised when they don't lose weight during marathon training. They forget that they are scarfing down a quart of ice cream and a dozen Oreos for a snack after their run. Make sure you stock your kitchen with healthy foods, so when the "post-run hungries" hit, you'll be prepared with nutritious foods, not empty calories. It’s also helpful to track your food intake in a training journal. It will make you think twice about the foods you’re putting in your mouth and also help you figure out what foods work best for you.
Another area where long distance runners get into trouble is drinking too many calories. And I don’t just mean alcohol. Just because you're training for a half marathon or marathon does not mean that you should be drinking Gatorade ALL the time. While it’s important that you replace electrolytes during your long runs, you don’t need to constantly have a sports drink at your fingertips the rest of the time. Plain water is fine for staying hydrated during the week.
One more important thing: Atkins, South Beach, or any low-carb diets + marathon training = BAD IDEA. You cannot be on a low-carb diet if you are training for an endurance event. You CAN make better carb choices: Reach for fruits and vegetables, and whole grains -- not cookies, cake, or greasy French fries. But a drastic reduction or elimination of carbs is out of the question.
Q: All this training makes me hungry all the time. How can I satisfy my hunger and not gain weight?
A: It's normal to feel hungry as you increase your mileage. You're burning more calories, so your body needs to take more in. Here are some ways you can avoid feeling hungry, with overindulging:
> Eat lots of healthy, high-fiber foods. Most high-fiber foods require more chewing, which helps to satisfy hunger. High-fiber foods fill up your stomach faster and can also delay the time it takes to empty. Also, many high-fiber foods are low in calories, so you can satisfy your hunger with fewer calories. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are great sources of fiber. Just be careful not to overdo it before your runs, especially your long ones (see GI issues question above!).
> Try eating five to six small meals as opposed to three large ones. If you wait too long for a meal, you'll be starving and tempted to overindulge by the time you eat. Eating more frequent, smaller meals helps keep you full, and lets you stay in control. Another benefit: You'll feel like you have more energy during the day.
> Slow down when you're eating. It takes our body about 20 minutes to realize that it's full. If you eat quickly, you'll eat extra calories while your body is figuring out whether it's hungry. If you eat slowly, your brain will start sending signals to stop eating at the right time.
Sorry this is so long, but it's important information, so save this email to refer back to later on. Please let your coaches know if you have any questions. You're all doing an amazing job and we are very impressed with your progress!
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When it comes to long-distance running, there are no stupid or embarrassing questions. And, of course, you should know by now that your coaches are here to help you with ALL of your concerns and questions. However, we realize there are some topics that some of you may be a little shy about. So here are answers to some common questions that you may have been too embarrassed to ask:
Q: I've heard that some runners' toenails fall off after they run a marathon. Gross! Is that true?
A: Yes, it can happen. It's caused by constant rubbing of your toe against the front of your shoe. First, the toenail appears blackened (caused by bruising under the nail), and then it eventually falls off. But it's not as bad as it sounds! Your toenail will not fall off until another has started growing underneath it. (Ladies, you will still be able to put nail polish on the new nail. Just be prepared for the looks of horror from the ladies at the nail salon.)
To prevent this problem altogether, make sure that you are wearing the correct sneaker size (at least 1/2 size bigger than your street size; you should have plenty of room in the toebox), trim your toenails regularly, and keep your foot dry for as long as possible during your long runs (i.e., wear good wicking socks - not cotton).
More: Can I Still Get Pedicures? http://running.about.com/od/womensrunning/f/pedicures.htm
Q: Is it true that I might lose control of my bowels during my race?
A: This is one of those running myths that is spread by people who never have run a marathon. Although it has happened in a few rare cases, you shouldn't be worried about it. In most cases, you'll be very aware when you have to make a pit stop. And that brings us to our next question...
Q: I've been bothered with diarrhea during some of the longer runs. Is there anything I can do about it? What if this happens during the race?
Don’t be embarrassed about this one – trust me, it’s very common. In fact, research has shown that running keeps you so “regular” that we actually have a lower incidence of colon cancer than non-runners! Some runners do experience gastrointestinal disorders or diarrhea during long runs. The cause may be dietary in nature or due to lack of blood flow during digestion (since the blood is being pulled to your muscles).
This issue is more common in novice runners, so it may disappear as you become more fit. It helps to avoid high-fiber foods (fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains) and coffee/tea before working out, stay hydrated, and consume a sports drink (like Gatorade) during long runs to maintain electrolyte levels. Make sure you don't eat at least two hours before running, so you have time to digest. Before running, choose foods that are naturally binding, such as bananas, plain bagels, rice, oatmeal and pasta.
It's comforting to know where you can make a pit stop during a long run. Plan your long runs along routes where you know bathrooms are accessible. In Central Park, there are bathrooms at Bethesda, The Boathouse, Tavern on the Green, the tennis courts, Lasker Pool and the theater. Ask your teammates, mentors, or coaches if you're not sure where the bathrooms are or which ones are open.
It also doesn’t hurt to carry some spare toilet paper in your pocket or fuel belt in case of emergency. (Once you’ve been a runner for long enough, you’ll definitely have at least one story about making a pit stop in the woods!)
If you face this problem on race day, don't worry. There are plenty of port-a-johns at the start and along the race course. You'll be able to easily see (and maybe smell!) them along the course. In most cases, you can find them near the water stops.
Here's an article that has some more tips on this issue:
Q: I've had problems with a leaky bladder during some of my runs. How can I prevent that?
Female runners sometimes have problems with urinary incontinence, especially if they've given birth. Men can leak urine too, but the problem is more common in women. The leakage can be minor -- just a trickle -- or a full stream.
When your pelvic and sphincter muscles are strong, they can handle the extra pressure from running. But when those muscles become stretched and weak – which often happens as a result of pregnancy and childbirth -- the pressure of exercise can push urine out of the bladder.
An effective treatment for incontinence, Kegel exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and don’t require any equipment. To locate the right muscles, try stopping or slowing your urine flow without using your stomach, leg or butt muscles. When you're able to slow or stop the stream of urine, you've located the right muscles. Contract the muscles for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 10 times. Try to do the pattern three to four times a day. After about six to eight weeks, you should notice that you have fewer leaks and more bladder control.
Extra body weight also puts extra pressure on your bladder. By losing weight, you may be able to relieve some of that pressure and regain your bladder control. If these measures don’t work, talk to your doctor about other treatments for incontinence.
Q: My running clothes seem to still smell even after I wash them. Is there a way to remove that stench?
Technical fabrics are great for running because they wick away your sweat but, unfortunately, bacteria (which causes the smell) gets trapped in the fibers and can be hard to get out. Here are a couple of tricks that work:
- Using baking soda helps. Pre-soak your clothes in a solution of water and Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (or just use water and a cup of baking soda). You can use the pre-soak setting on the washing machine or do it in a separate container. Then wash and use Arm and Hammer laundry detergent. - Try using a special detergent formulated for technical wear, such as Penguin Wash: http://www.penguinsportwash.com/sport.html
Q: I've noticed that my back has been breaking out since I started training. What can I do about that?
Acne on the upper back, chest, upper arms is a common issue for runners, especially women. The cause is pore-clogging sweat combined with friction from rubbing clothes. If you're wearing make-up or sunscreen, that can exacerbate the problem.
To prevent exercise-induced acne, you should change out of sweaty exercise clothes after running, and shower as soon as possible. Make sure you cleanse acne-prone areas thoroughly. Try to avoid wearing make-up during exercise. If you need to wear sunscreen (during your race you will probably need it!), opt for an oil-free one that's formulated for the face and neck. Choose a sunscreen gel (instead of a cream-based lotion) for the rest of your body.
Q: Watching a marathon, I saw a man cross the finish line with bloody nipples. Ouch! How do I avoid that?
When men run, their nipples are constantly rubbing against their shirt. Over the course of a couple of hours, this sensitive area can be rubbed to the point of bleeding. Some men learn the hard way how painful it can be, but it's actually very easy to avoid that problem. Generously apply a lubricant like Vaseline or Body Glide to the nipple area before a long run and you should be fine. Some men like to use Nip Guards, which are like band-aids for your nipples. Also, for longer runs, make sure that you wear a synthetic-material (Dri-Fit, not cotton) shirt closest to your body. Cotton shirts will cause chafing.
Because women wear tight-fitting sports bras, this shouldn't be an issue for them (just make sure it's a non-cotton sports bra).
For longer runs, both men and women should also apply Body Glide or Vaseline to any areas where there may be rubbing (inner thighs, under arms) to avoid chafing.
More on chafing prevention products: http://running.about.com/od/injuryprevention/tp/chafingproducts.htm
Q: What kind of underwear should I wear when running?
The "synthetic material/no cotton" rule also applies to underwear. Make sure you wear tight-fitting, non-cotton underwear so any moisture is wicked away and you avoid chafing.
Some running shorts do have "built-in" underwear. Yes, it is perfectly fine to wear just these shorts -- you don't have to wear another pair of underwear underneath them. Some runners, especially men, prefer to wear spandex under their shorts instead of underwear -- this is also perfectly fine. It's really a matter of personal preference, so you just have to figure out what works for you.
Just remember: When we say "nothing new on race day", this includes underwear, so make sure you are trying out your underwear (and sports bra, ladies) during your Saturday long runs and keeping track of which ones are comfortable.
Check out these recommendations for underwear:
Ladies, if you're having trouble finding the right sports bra, check out these recommendations and shopping tips from Runner's World:
Q: For the ladies: What if I have my period on race day?
The good news is that it will have limited impact on your performance. In fact, women have run well and even set records during all phases of the menstrual cycle. You may find that running can actually improve your mood and alleviate physical symptoms before and during your period. Just make sure you carry an extra tampon on your long runs during that time of the month. Yes, tampons are highly recommended over pads for comfort and to avoid chafing. Don't avoid running when you have your period. Doing it now will help you feel less anxiety if you do end up having it on race day.
Hope that helps. Please feel free to contact your coaches with any other "embarrassing" questions. Chances are we've heard it before! If nothing else, this should all make for good conversation during your long runs!!