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Ask a nutritionist: What should I eat and when pre- and post- long runs?

Nutritionist Wilfredo Benitez
Wilfredo Benitez, MScN, M.Ed.
Nutritionist, On Pace Wellness LLC
Nutritionist, Resolute Running

BUTS asked Nutritionist Will Benitez, On Pace Wellness LLC and Resolute Running, for advice on “Going Long”.  Here’s how he answered our questions!

What should I eat immediately Pre- and Post- Long Runs? (Training or Racing)
  • Keep it simple here. If it’s close to your long, have a serving of fruit (banana is common) and about a tbsp of nut butter or perhaps 1-2 brown rice cakes or slices of toast with jam or nut butter; honey works too! If you have at least 45 minutes before your run, you can have something more substantial such as some oatmeal with some fixings. Don’t forget to get in your water too!
  • After your long run, focus on three things: rehydration, carbs, and protein. You want to get in about 4 grams of carbs for every gram of protein and you probably want to aim for at least 10g of protein if it’s just a snack or at least 20g of protein if it’s a meal. You can figure out the math for how many carbs you would aim for in either scenario. As for what kind of particular foods, wholesome carbs such as oats, sweet potatoes, and fruit are great options but there are not wrong foods as long as they are minimally or non-processed. A smoothie is a great option too: 1-1.5 servings fruit, 1-2 servings greens/vegetables, 1-2 tbsp hemp or chia seeds, 10-20g protein powder, and milk/non-dairy milk or water.
How do I calculate when and how much I should eat and drink during a long effort?  Is there a rule of thumb?
  • It certainly depends on the person and that person’s digestive system and fitness level, but for runs of more than 4 hours, 200-300 calories per hour could be something to aim for. For something less than 4 hours, you might only need 100-150 calories per hour. As for hydration, aim for 12-16oz of water every hour if running beyond 4 hours. If you’re consuming lots of sugar as your fuel and/or if it’s a particularly warm or hot day, you may need to increase your water intake to handle the sugars and the heat.
Likewise, is there a rule of thumb for electrolytes?
  • I wish there was a rule of thumb! This is where it could be really helpful to figure out your sweat rate and sodium loss is which some people may have access to someone who can work with them to figure this out. Generally, though, it’s probably safe to assume you might need at least 300mg of sodium per hour, some people may need 500mg, 1000mg or more. As for the other electrolytes, just make sure you are getting in the other electrolytes in your product.
What causes nausea during a race, and what’s the best way to turn it around? 
  • Several things can cause nausea but the two most common circumstances are sugar overload and electrolyte imbalance (harder to figure out quickly). If you have a history of using too much sugar as your fuel and a history of experiencing nausea, consider changing up your fuel strategy or increase your water intake to handle the sugar punch to the gut! And if it’s an electrolyte imbalance or water intake issue, it may just need to play out. Slow down, drink more water if you can, or if you have been only drinking water and not electrolytes in the last  hour or more, you may need to increase intake of sodium and other electrolytes to rebalance fluids.
If an endurance athlete could make ONE CHANGE to his/her diet, what should it be?
  • Eat more than 45g of fiber per day.  Look, endurance athletes eat a lot and our carbohydrate intake can really get up there!  A great way to ensure we are eating good nourishing foods is by making sure we’re eating at least 45g daily, on average.  To achieve this, you’re going to have to eat more whole foods and when you do that, there’s less room for other stuff (i.e. processed foods).  So, for optimal digestion, improved gut health, and a cleaner engine to get you through all that training, up that fiber!

Lori Lyons

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