My Race Nutrition: Runners Tell All Linkup

I’m joining, at least this month, a linkup called Runners Tell All. Thanks to Deb at Deb Runs for posting as part of this linkup last month – gave me the idea to hop in and join. Wish I’d found it sooner, some fun topics I would have liked to have written about!

The linkup hosts are Amanda at The Lady Okie and Becka at Sunshine to the Square Inch. There’s a running-related topic provided for the post on the 21st of each month. That it’s a Monday means you get a two-fer, this post along with my regular Monday training recap.

This month’s topic is nutrition – “go-to nutrition to optimize training or what you eat to get you through races”. 

I’m not sure I’ve got my training nutrition optimized! I’m trying (sort of) Generation UCAN now, but I’ve had mixed luck with it. I recently heard there’s an adaptation period – 2 weeks where you can expect to not feel right, then 6 months to 2 years to get the best performance benefit. I’m not sure I want to spend that kind of time in this training cycle when I have other products that seemed to be working for me. Trying to optimize and get better brings some risk with it – but the old faithfuls could also stop working. It’s an ongoing experiment….like most aspects of my training, and really my life.

So, what about races? Here’s what I did for my BQ marathon at Shamrock in March. (Note to those who have read the blog from the beginning, this a re-pub of my March Shamrock nutrition post.)


Fueling is a very personal issue. It’s taken me quite a while and a lot of trial and error to get to “what works for me” and even then there are days where my very twitchy tummy has issues on the run.

As you’d expect, I race with the products and protocol I’ve used in training. For Shamrock, I got lucky – the day wasn’t warm so I wasn’t thirsty, and my stomach cooperated completely. Some days it all comes together, and it’s pretty amazing. I still can’t quite believe it.

Below is a LOT of detail. You may wish to skip to the “during the race” section if that’s your primary interest. Reminder, I link to products only for your information. If I’ve mentioned something in a prior post, I may not re-link here.

PRE-RACE

Let’s start with food before the race. Because of GI issues and food sensitivities, I’m even more set on eating EXACTLY the same things before, during and after long runs and races than your “average” runner (who might easily get labeled superstitious or OCD by those who don’t understand how the tummy affects your run).

At home, Fridays are Chinese takeout and snacks. I always eat the same thing (moment of pity/sympathy for my dear husband – DH – please). That’s steamed chicken and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, water chestnuts, baby corn, mushrooms) from a local place, with some Coconut Aminos (fake soy sauce) and sunflower seed butter on top. Then I move into snacks like a few kale “salt and vinegar” chips and some kale “greenola”, some frozen organic strawberries, a pint or so of vanilla maple Arctic Zero with frozen organic blueberries, and my nightly snack of frozen banana chunks topped with a variety of nut butters and sea salt: pistachio, cashew, walnut, pecan, almond and Nuttzo peanut-free creamy. (my snacks deserve a whole post of their own)

I realize the above has a lot more fiber than most would recommend and doesn’t adhere to the carb-loading protocols many follow. But it’s what works for me, and what I’m used to. Since I don’t eat grain, I get my carbs primarily from sweet potatoes, which I eat daily, squash, and a variety of fruits/vegetables.

How to recreate this on the road? Enter PFChang’s, a restaurant with a reliable gluten-free menu and educated staff that serves just such a dish in the form of Buddha’s Feast with modifications. This time I brought my aminos and sunflower seed butter along with the rest of my food. (I don’t travel light when food’s involved and the stakes are high.) We ate both Friday and Saturday dinners from PFC – Friday to test their ability to provide what I needed and ensure my stomach didn’t have any problems, and Saturday (takeout) as a regular pre-race meal, a bit earlier than normal, around 5pm. I brought/created the rest of my evening snacks thanks to coolers, lots of space in the car and Whole Foods. For the entire trip, everything I ate was either brought from home, purchased at WF or from PFC. Also, while on travel, anything I haven’t brought and prepared myself gets eaten with a dose of Gluten Defense enzymes just in case.

RACE MORNING

I take a number of supplements daily (again, a post or two could be devoted to these). Do they do what they say? For some it’s hard to tell, and I may go through times of not using all of them, but once I find something that works and I’m in a training cycle, I won’t change it.

Among the dailies are Wobenzym, EndurolytesAcid-Ease and Master Amino Acid Pattern (MAP) as well as Prevacid for acid and Allegra for my allergies. I down two FRS Chews (a little caffeine and some taste).

On long run and race days, I add Endurance Amino and Anti-Fatigue Caps. I also take BeetElite beet root concentrate – I mix it with about 4 ounces of water and use it to get my supplements down.

Before runs, I take an Energy Surge. On race day, I took a second one right before the start while waiting in the corral (good suggestion by DH).

I can’t eat before running. Once my stomach starts processing solid food, it’s going to be very displeased with that level of activity, and bad things happen. However, I can usually manage just a smidgen of gel before I start a run, especially if mixed with water, and I did that for Shamrock (see below).

DURING THE RACE

I use EFS Liquid Shot in vanilla (we’ll call it gel). The taste, texture (runny) and electrolytes suit my palate, my tummy and my body. I thank Ray Maker at dcrainmaker.com for mentioning the product a while back when I was looking to get off other gel products due to some blood sugar spikiness.

I put my gel in Hammer flasks (because they fit in my fuel belt better) in this ratio: to the line marked 4 (4 ounces), then added SmartWater (which I drink) to the 5 line. So a flask had about 320 calories in about 80g of carbs with 1 ounce of water. I added the water to ensure I’d get some water along the way even if the aid stations didn’t work out and I’m glad I did! I made 4 flasks, carried 3 flasks in my belt, plus gave an extra to DH to carry and meet me along the way.

I made an extra flask of 1 serving of my gel with 1 ounce of water, brought it to the corral and downed it a couple of minutes before the start.

I had a plan going in to take some gel roughly every 3-4 miles, with more if I felt like I was starting to need it. I don’t really remember taking it except in the Fort Story section where I was trying anything to make the badness stop, but from what I had left and the fact I didn’t bonk, I must have been taking it about that right for the day.

When I finished the race – didn’t take the flask from DH – I had one full flask, had pitched one empty flask, and had a flask with contents to about the 1 mark left in it. I estimate I took in only ~700 calories pre and during race, and maybe 6 oz. of water in total.  I took somewhere between 160-180g of carbs from the gel, which works out to at least 40g per hour if you assume a constant rate of consumption…unlikely because I know I didn’t take gel early and sipped more late. (one benefit of the flasks is you can take as much or as little as you want) Supposedly at least 30g of carbs per hour is desirable, more up to 60 or so if you can tolerate it. (read The New Rules of Marathon/Half Marathon Nutrition for an interesting discussion and ideas)

I didn’t have any problems with dehydration during the race but I was probably dehydrated at the end. However, the more I read and hear about hydration, the less I worry about it during the race itself. If I go in hydrated, drink to thirst whether from aid stations or what I carry, and rehydrate well after, that seems to be a reasonable balance between health/safety and performance concerns, as long as I’m mindful of conditions.

POST-RACE

As I mentioned in a prior post, DH brought an empty bottle and a packet of Ultragen and mixed my recovery drink immediately after finding me at the finish. The packet is – to me – 2 servings. At home I’ll use the canister, which allows me to use 1 or 1.5 scoops instead (2 scoops = 1 packet), but the packets are great for travel and I figured I’d need all the help I could get. Ultragen is amazingly easy on my stomach, and seems to help recovery. I try to get it in down the first 10-15 minutes after long runs, usually when I’m cooling down on the bike (at home). I’ve also started taking SportLegs again. I’d take the product years ago and stopped when I started reading about how lactate is good for you instead of bad. But in this past training cycle, after particularly tough long runs, about 4-6 hours later I’d get what I called “screaming legs” when suddenly my legs would just ache horrible and that would last 4-5 hours. One day I decided to pull out the SportLegs (DH had a bottle) and took a dose with my Ultragen. No screaming legs! I’ve been using it since then and plan to continue.

It’s taken me years to get to the above, which is what works for me. Trial and error can be such an unpleasant process, but maybe something I’ve shared can help you. I hope so!