Food

Runners’ Fuel: What to Eat When Training for a Race

BY Tribune News Service TIMEFebruary 3, 2023 PRINT

By Gretchen McKay
From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

To do your best in an endurance event, such as the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 7, you have to put in the work with ever-longer training runs to build a mileage base.

Proper warmups and cooldowns also are important to prevent injuries, and a few rigorous hill workouts are probably a good idea to prepare for the dreaded, slow climb up Forbes Avenue into Oakland.

Athletes also need an appropriate nutrition plan—not just the week or so before your race but throughout your training.

In the early days of a Pittsburgh training cycle, when it’s cold outside, runners might not feel particularly thirsty during a workout. Yet now is when athletes should be training their guts to accommodate water and sports drinks and get on a schedule, says sports dietitian Leslie Bonci, owner of Active Eating Advice, a nutrition consulting company.

“You want to get your body used to having fluids while you run,” she says, “and that’s a technique to practice, just like mileage.”

You also need to get comfortable with taking gulps, not sips, says Bonci, especially if you’re refueling with sports drinks, because it allows carbohydrates to enter your system faster; if you sip, it stays in the gut for a longer period of time.

In addition, think about developing a good plan for access—do you bring it with you in your hand or on a belt, plant bottles along the way, or tuck money into your pocket so you stop somewhere on route to buy it?

Baseline water needs per day are 72 ounces for women and 125 ounces for men, every day regardless of whether or not you’re running. And no, rehydrating or pre-hydrating with something warm such as tea or soup doesn’t take away from the body’s ability to hydrate, says Bonci. Water-rich fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, watermelon and cucumbers also work.

“I believe in parenthesizing workouts with fluid before and after, to prepare for and repair after,” she says, adding, “There are lots of options.”

When it comes to food, the best source of energy for long-distance runners are carbohydrates, which should make up about 65% of your diet during training. Because not everyone is comfortable with copious amounts of food before a run, Bonci suggests spreading your calories out over the course of the day, and making sure to have a carb, fruit and vegetable, and fat as part of every meal.

“We’re looking at an appetizer-size food before your workout so you’re comfortable in the gut,” she says—in other words, toast with peanut butter or yogurt with a little honey instead of a huge stack of pancakes.

During a long run, when you really need a carb, things that digest rapidly such as an energy chew, gel or goo are great. You also can try a handful of mini pretzels or oyster crackers, which have the dual benefit of making you thirsty so you will drink.

“Just as we fine-tune and are selective with shoes and what we wear, it’s the same with food,” says Bonci. “Not one size fits all.”

Below we offer some healthful options for throughout your training.

Oat Berry Breakfast Bars

energy-boosting breakfast bars
These energy-boosting breakfast bars are made with oats, which are packed with complex carbs. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

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These energy-boosting breakfast bars are made with oats, which are packed with complex carbs. They’re perfect pre-run or after a shorter run.

Ingredients

  • 2 2/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, divided
  • 1 large banana, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 medium egg, whisked
  • 1 scant cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 1/4 cup blueberries

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

Put oats in the bowl of a food processor and process to a flour.

In large bowl, mix together banana, vanilla, egg, milk and oil until well combined. Stir in oat flour and remaining 1 2/3 cups oats, cinnamon and baking powder, before folding in the berries.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the mixture is set. Remove from oven and let cool in the tin before slicing into 12 bars.

Wrap the bars in plastic wrap, store in the refrigerator and consume within 1 week. Or, wrap each bar individually and freeze, then defrost overnight as needed.

Makes 12 bars.

— “Cook, Eat, Run” by Charlie Watson

Fish Taco Bowl

taco bowl
Fish Taco Bowl. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

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Tacos are so beloved they get their own day of the week. They’re especially good for runners because they deliver so many of the nutrients your body needs to recover after busting your butt.

This recipe from professional mountain bike racer Kate Courtney gets extra oomph with the addition of brown rice, which allows for those extra carbs that fuel the body with glycogen. Black beans add protein.

To make chili-lime seasoning from scratch, combine 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, coriander and salt, and a pinch of sugar and cayenne in a small bowl.

Ingredients

For Fish

  • 1/4 cup oat flour
  • 2 tablespoons chili-lime or Tajin seasoning
  • 3 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound skinless rock cod, or any firm, white fish, cut into 2-by-1-inch pieces
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

For Salsa

  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1 cup chopped pineapple
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 to 2 limes, juiced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For Bowl

  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice, warmed
  • 2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 12-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup baked tortilla chips, crushed
  • 1/4 cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
  • Hot sauce, to serve
  • Lime wedges, to serve

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Prepare a dredging station with 3 bowls. In first bowl, mix the oat flour and seasoning, In second, whisk the eggs. Place cornmeal in final bowl. Season each with salt and pepper.

Dredge first piece of fish in oat flour mixture, shaking off excess. Dip into eggs then cornmeal, pressing gently to ensure the cornmeal sticks. Place on prepared sheet, and repeat with remaining fish. Spray top of fish with cooking spray and bake 25-28 minutes, until golden brown and fish is cooked through. Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper.

Make salsa: In medium bowl, combine the avocado, pineapple, tomato, shallot, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Set aside to marinate.

Assemble bowl: In small bowl, whisk together lime juice and olive oil and season with salt and pepper, In large bowl, toss brown rice and cabbage with lime juice vinaigrette, then divide into 4 bowls. Top with black beans, tortilla chips, pumpkin seeds, salsa and fish. Serve with hot sauce and lime wedges.

Serves 4.

— “Running on Veggies” by Lottie Bildirici

Dark Chocolate Banana Superhero Muffins

chocolate-banana "superhero" muffins
Packed with essential minerals such as iron and magnesium, these dark chocolate-banana “superhero” muffins look like dessert but are actually wholesome enough to count as breakfast. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

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They might taste like dessert but these wholesome “superhero” muffins are actually pretty nutritious. They provide the ideal balance of energizing fats, complex carbs and protein for a breakfast on the go, or quick snack after a workout.

To make oat flour, grind old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats in food processor or blender until it turns into a fine flour.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups oat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnut or almond flour, or almond meal
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 large or 3 small)
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin or a 24-cup mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

In large bowl, combine oat flour, hazelnut flour, chocolate, walnuts (if using), cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, bananas, yogurt, honey, butter and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Spoon batter into prepared tins, filling each to brim. Bake until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, 30-35 minutes for large muffins and 20-25 minutes for mini muffins.

Store leftover muffins in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat in oven at 300 degrees for 10 minutes or microwave on low power for 30 seconds.

Makes 12 muffins or 24 mini muffins.

— “Rise & Run: Recipes, Rituals, and Runs to Fuel Your Day” by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Copyright 2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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