As I counsel a greater number of runners, it’s clear that there are some beliefs about nutrition and long distance running that may not be optimal for performance. For some, eating a bowl of cereal before a 25k run may seem sufficient energy.
These beliefs may be reinforced when an athlete goes for a run with little or no fuel, but still felt “ok” during the run. However, I generally find that over time and some wear and tear, the cereal approach to eating (before a run), eventually results in cramping and premature fatigue.

Before race basics
I suggest that runners consume a meal dense in calories approximately 3 hours before a run/race or, for an even better outcome, consume 2-3 small meals 2-4 hours prior to a race. Consuming whole foods, along with meeting adequate calories before a race will ensure that Calcium , Magnesium, Vitamin B and a host of other nutrients will be available to meet cellular demands.
The key is to maximize glycogen storage before the race, and rely less on using sports gels during the event. Consuming anything within 1 hr before the race may leave you with a distended abdomen and what is often called “gastric distress”.
Eating a relatively caloric dense meal 3 hours before a race or several smaller meals between 2- 4 hours before a race is absolutely essential for topping up muscle glycogen levels as well providing blood glucose for the intense activity ahead.
By eating this meal, the activity will be fueled by the nutrients provided during the meal and you will therefore be able to exercise for quite sometime before the body is forced to use stored energy. This can end up delaying fatigue and improving performance.
On the other hand, if you fail to eat, or eat far too long before a race, your body will have used up all the nutrients from the last meal and may have dipped into stored energy well before you’ve even started the event. Ultimately this leads to premature fatigue and poor race performance.

Try to consume:

  • 3-4 grams of carbs per kilogram.
  • (Oats, fruit and easily digested protein such as egg or whey will do the trick). Keep fats to 7-10grams and consume 1L of water with some 250mg of calcium (biglycinate, citrate, and carbonate).
  • You should be well hydrated from the days prior to the event, not relying on extreme hydration just before the event.

Race time
The demands for water and carbohydrates vary from athlete to athlete. I suggest anywhere from 40 to 70 grams of glucose be consumed per hour during a race. Individual ability to oxidize glucose fuel varies drastically between individuals. Try to experiment on days leading up to the event, during “peak” training.
In addition, adding some branched chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine and valine) to the drink can also provide some benefit. The research on branched chain amino acids varies, however some benefit has been noted depending on the baseline diet of the athletes in the trials.
Consumption of water is dependent on many variables (temperature, altitude, etc.) but generally, 2 Liters of water per hour is suggested. If the temperature is very high, then 3L may be required.

Next time – Look for Carb loading strategies.

George Tardik B.Sc.(hon), RHN, RNCP, (ND cand.) has been practicing nutrition for 10 years. He is a fourth year intern at the Canadian College of Naturopathic medicine’s RSNC clinic. He’s been featured on CBC’s Newsworld, Marketplace and Sports Journal. George specializes in metabolism, weight-loss, diabetes and sports nutrition. He practices out of Nature’s Source. For booking appointments, please call 416.242.8500.