The Perfect Pre-Race (or Long Run) Meal

banana_fruitKnowing what to eat and when to eat it before, during, and after a race or long workout is one of the biggest question marks new runners have.

Throughout training we have access to endless information on our different workouts, training techniques, and pacing strategies, but it’s hard to find good advice when it comes to nutrition.

And with companies pulling us in a million different directions, it’s easy for people to end up eating the wrong thing at the wrong time, just because they don’t know any better.

You can credit the lack of clarity of nutritional advice to many reasons, the biggest and most obvious being that everyone is different.

People have different dietary needs, preferences, tastes, and metabolisms, and all those differences make it hard to tell someone exactly what they should be eating.

But that’s exactly what I’m going to do today.

What You’re Eating Right Now

When I started writing this post other day, I asked on Twitter what everyone’s favorite pre-race meal is. I expected answers to be all over the place, but found myself surprised when after several people had responded, I noticed a ton of similarities.

Here are just some of the responses I got:

what-to-eat

See all the similarities?

Lots of nuts or nut butters, fruit, and some sort of carbohydrate, the most popular being oats and toast.

Even though we have different preferences and dietary needs, most of us seem to be drawn to the same types of foods before a big workout or race.

And if you ask me, there’s a good reason for that.

Because no matter who you are, certain fueling advice rings true. Today I’m going to focus on that advice.

Why Proper Fueling is Important

This one’s so obvious I almost left it out, but I decided it’s too important to not give a mention.

What you eat before your workout can affect:

  • Energy levels before and throughout your run,
  • Muscle fatigue,
  • Muscle cramps,
  • Stomach issues, and
  • Mental strength (there’s nothing worse than being hungry mid race when you can’t eat).

I’ve had some people tell me that they prefer not to eat anything before a big run.

As you grow stronger and more experienced, it’s easier to know what maximum distance you can go before that pre-run meal becomes incredibly important, but no matter who you are, if it’s a big race or workout, you probably shouldn’t be running on an empty stomach.

It’s just not a good idea.

It’s All About the Timing

So when should you eat this meal?

Eating too close to the start of the run leaves many runners feeling heavy or crampy.  Eating too early may leave you hungry or depleted half way through.

Unfortunately there’s no perfect answer for this question, but a general rule is to give yourself one hour to digest the larger meal, then supplement with a smaller, easily digestible snack about 15 minutes before you run.

Timing is key, and it’s only through trial and error that you can really know what works for you.

5 Key Components to a Good Pre-Race Meal

Remember how I mentioned that certain fueling advice that rings true to everyone? These are the five pieces of advice I was referring to:

1) Follow the 3:1 Carbohydrate to Protein Radio

Loading up on super high protein foods right before a big run is a bad idea. It will leave you feeling heavy, your stomach working extra hard, and your body unable to process it quick enough to be useful.

The optimal absorption ratio is 3:1 when it comes to carbohydrates and protein.

That means your combined meal should have about three times more carbohydrates than protein.

2) Make Sure You’re Eating the Right Kind of Carbohydrates

High glycemic carbohydrates, which are found in fruits like dates or bananas, are great at releasing instant energy (sugar, the good kind) into your system for immediate energy.

But part of fueling before a race is providing your body with energy later on.

Slower release carbs, like those that come from breads and oats, will help keep you going as the miles pass by.

A good pre-race meal has both high-glycemic carbohydrates and slower release carbohydrates to be enjoyed later on.

3) Eat Fat, But Not Too Much

Some fat is a good, in part because it’s an easy way to keep up the calories. Just make sure you’re keeping it to a minimum.

Fats from different oils (think coconut, flax, or a blend like Udo’s), nuts, seeds, or fruits like avocados are the best sources of good fats.

4) Avoid Eating Too Much Fiber

All those multi-grain breads and bagels might be delicious and healthier, but they are also packed with fiber.

And eating too much fiber before your run might just mean you’re making a few extra stops along the way. You know what I’m talking about.

Avoid that issue by avoiding high-fiber foods.

5) Front-load on the Electrolytes

Running low on electrolytes like sodium, also known as Hyponatremia, is the quickest road to a major bonk.

Loading up on salty foods ahead of time can help avert off some of those issues. But remember that it’s also possible to take in too much sodium. This is where proper hydration techniques come in to play.

So what is the perfect pre-race meal?

At the beginning of the post I promised to tell you what the perfect meal would be. Well, I’m kind of bailing on that promise.

The perfect meal depends on who’s eating it, so the promise was a bust before I even wrote it. Sorry.

But what I will do is tell you the perfect meal for me. One so simple that most of us could make a version right now, without even going to the store. And judging by the response I got on Twitter, it looks like many of you are already eating it.

Here’s what I eat before any long run or race:

Two pieces of non-whole grain toast topped with Earth Balance coconut and peanut spread and 4 dates or 1 banana.

My Perfect Pre-Race Meal, Broken Down

Curious what the breakdown of that meal is? Here you go:

Bread (2 slices):

  • Calories: 370
  • Carbohydrate: 72g
  • Sugars: 3g
  • Protein: 16g
  • Sodium: 656mg

Earth Balance Coconut Spread (2 tbs):

  • Calories: 190
  • Carbohydrates: 7g
  • Sugars: 2g
  • Protein: 6g
  • Sodium: 95mg

Dates (2):

  • Calories: 50
  • Carbohydrates: 10g
  • Sugar: 9g
  • Protein: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 0

Totals:

  • Calories: 610
  • Carbohydrates: 89g
  • Sugars: 14g
  • Protein: 22.2g
  • Sodium: 751mg

Now It’s Time to Experiment

This weekend I’m running the Bel Monte 50-miler in Virginia. It’s a part of my training for the Massanutten Mountain 100 just over a month away.

A major part of that training has been experimentation. Experimenting with the mileage. Experimenting with training techniques. And experimenting with what I’m eating both before and during the run.

The only way to find the perfect meal for your pre-race mornings is to experiment. Try new things and see how it makes you feel.

You might have a go-to now and not even realize that a small adjustment could make you feel that much better.

Try out my perfect meal, or maybe some of the recommendations from Twitter. But no matter what you do, keep the five key components in mind when developing your menu.

Photo Credit

 

An Ode to Rock Creek Park

Rock_Creek_Park_Creek_Fall

A few weeks ago Andy Jones-Wilkins wrote a piece on iRunFar titled That One Hill.

In it he talks about how we as runners are often inspired by the epic mountain adventures of elites and top athletes, but it’s our daily routes and runs that really give us the most strength:

The vast majority of us do not live in close proximity to stunning mountain vistas and empty trailheads. Rather, most of us toil quietly in or near cities and find our mountain bliss wherever it is most convenient. While we find profound inspiration in these mountain gods and goddesses, we take our daily dose of running reality in much more mundane circumstances.

Those seemingly mundane outings are rarely stunning, but that doesn’t make them any less inspiring.

With my move to Asheville, NC now just a few days away, I’m thinking a lot about what Rock Creek Park has meant to me over the past several years.

Rock_Creek_Park_SnowYour Home Turf

On a trail run last weekend with Nicklaus Combs, we joked about how familiar we are with the “Rock Creek Park Loop,” a roughly 9.5 mile trail loop that connects the Western Ridge Trail and the Valley Trail.

I have quite literally run that loop hundreds of times.

I know it forward and backward. I know off the top of my head how to turn it in to a perfect 13 mile loop from my house, or a 16, 21, 26, or 30 mile long run. I know its corks, twists, turns, where it floods, where the snow sticks around longest, and where I’m most likely to spot a family of deer.

The loop through Rock Creek Park is rarely an adventure, but it feels like home.

Rock_Creek_Park_Log

I love the calm that flows through my body when my foot first strikes the dirt after leaving a busy D.C. sidewalk. And I love the stillness that overwhelms my senses, the abundance of Beach and Oak Trees, and the gentle flow of Rock Creek itself.

Running the trails of Rock Creek Park you’ll encounter countless woodpeckers, deer, squirrels, and even snakes. I once saw an otter (or at least I think that’s what it was). Things I never imagined I’d encounter in a big city park.

No one drives across the country to experience Rock Creek Park like they would many of the national parks out west, but that doesn’t matter to me. Because when I’m running through my park, I feel safe and comfortable.

Most runners have a home route that gives them that same satisfaction.

The route that has seen us through some of our strongest runs, but it’s also our chosen route when we don’t feel like running at all. It’s seen us struggle to finish another mile or keep up a certain pace.

We know it, and it knows us.

Respecting Your Home Turf

Rock_Creek_Park_FieldIf it wasn’t for Rock Creek Park, I wouldn’t be the runner I am today. I can say with absolute certainty that had I not discovered trail running, on that loop, no doubt, I wouldn’t be blogging for you now.

But while Rock Creek Park is a haven for D.C. city runners, it isn’t the only park providing motivation.

Home parks, trails, and routes are changing the lives of runners every day.

Today I’m celebrating Rock Creek Park, a place that will always feel like home and I’ll always owe an enormous amount of gratitude to, but I know that over time I’ll develop that safety and comfort on new trails in Asheville.

So I’m also celebrating those.

Because it’s in our everyday outings, on the routes and trails that we know best, that our non-adventurous runs combine to be something truly epic.

Where’s your home route? What is it you love about it?

Rock_Creek_Park_Run

The Benefits of Facing Your Vulnerabilities (And How I’m Doing Just That)

IMG_0232Vulnerability. It’s a scary thing.

It’s mile 42 of my first 50 mile race. I’m hot, tired, delirious, and scared. My friend Alex Bea is pacing me, doing the best he can to keep me focused and moving forward.

I barely talk to him, or anyone else, for nearly ten miles. Sliding through the mud with my head down, I’m moving forward as quickly as my slow legs can possibly can muster.

As I cross the finish line, a volunteer places a medal around my neck, and I stumble towards the open field looking for my family who has been cheering me on all day. Over walks my wife, who shrieks in excitement and wraps her arms around my salty body. I immediately weep.

I hadn’t cried that hard in years, but for the several hours leading up to that moment, I was fighting for every step. Fighting the fear of failure, embarrassment, and pain, and I was fighting to hold my fragile state together.

I was completely vulnerable, and all that vulnerability exposed itself at the finish line in my wife’s arms.

Or there was the time when I was the age of 13, and moved to a new town and started a new high school.

To say I was terrified to start my freshman year without knowing anyone besides my older sister, would have been an understatement. I felt alone and angry.

And of course, completely vulnerable. At the mercy of whatever high school (and its kids) threw my way.

How Vulnerability Helps Us Grow

No one wants to be vulnerable. The feeling is god awful, and it often leads to hurt, heartbreak, or failure.

But maybe instead of avoiding vulnerable situations, we should be running towards them. Maybe it’s when we’re vulnerable that we actually grow the most.

Staying put, even if it’s comfortable, often means we’re missing out on the excellent.

Here’s what I mean, using my examples above:

1) I could have quit half way through that first 50 mile race. People would have understood if I blamed injury, heat, mud, or any number of factors.

Or better, I could have not even started to begin with.

That would have allowed me to avoid the whole painful situation. I could have spent the day watching baseball and drinking beer with friends.

But then I wouldn’t have run my first 50, and I probably wouldn’t be writing for this blog today. It’s because of how deep that vulnerability was that overcoming it felt so good. I grew stronger because of it, and learned about myself in the process.

2)  I hated the idea of moving when I was 13, but staying by myself in a small southwest Virginia town without my family wasn’t an option.

As expected, that first year of high school was hard. Eventually, though, I made friends, and found my place in the community. I even started to like it.

And I grew.

It’s because of the move that I developed into the person I am today. No doubt about it.

The vulnerability I faced helped me grow more confident, exposed me to new people, and shape my young adult life.

These are just two examples, one I had control over and the other I most certainly did not. But they both had the same result: some pain, lots of doubt, and ultimately growth.

My experiences aren’t unique. People do it all the time. But people also avoid situations like that all the time because they are scared.

It’s time to quit being so scared and put yourself out there to meet new people, get a new job, train for a new distance, or set a goal so big you completely fall flat on your face.

Why I’m Putting Myself in the Most Vulnerable State I’ve Ever Been

AshevilleMy wife, Katie, and I are moving to Asheville, NC.

That’s right, we’re leaving our friends, jobs, and comforts in Washington, D.C. to follow our dreams. And it’s terrifying.

We both feel completely vulnerable.

So why would we do that? Because it’s going to be incredible, of course.

Katie will be training to receive a higher level of yoga teacher certification and specialization in Yoga Therapeutics, and will be working as a full-time yoga instructor.

I’m transitioning to become a full-time blogger and writer, continuing my work here on Rock Creek Runner, and working for Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete.

Life is comfortable in D.C. We have respectable jobs, a nice apartment, and friends. But that’s all it is, comfortable.

We’re not following our passions, taking risks, or living in the type of city we want to call home. And that’s no way to live, is it?

In one and half weeks we’ll be loading up the truck and making our way down south, knowing full well that we could completely fail to make money, meet friends, or find the happiness we’re after.

But there’s a greater chance it’ll pay off. And even if it doesn’t, we’ll know we gave it a shot and learned from the experience.

Now It’s Your Turn to Make Yourself Vulnerable

So what’s this all about, and why are you writing about vulnerability on a running blog?

Because it’s time we were all inspired. Inspired to train for a new distance, like I’m doing right now, or set a new PR goal, that you’ve been too scared of failure to go after.

And because there’s something engraved in us runners that calls us to push ourselves farther and do things others are too scared to attempt.

Here’s how to face your vulnerabilities, and do something amazing:

  1. Figure out what it is your fears have kept you from doing, and write it down.
  2. Write out all the many reason you want to do, then all the worst case scenarios.
  3. Read through the worst cases, and realize that maybe they wouldn’t be so bad (e.g., we quit our jobs and follow our dreams, worst case is this time next year we’re starting back at similar jobs to the ones we’re leaving).
  4. Remind yourself why you want to go after this goal or dream (e.g., because months of hard training and pushing your physical limits may pay off with an unforgettable new 13.1 PR).
  5. Make a plan and build a support group.
  6. Go for it. Face the fears. Be vulnerable.

As Seth Godin puts it in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone.”

My wife and I have decided to quit hiding. I hope you’ll do the same.

For those that are curious, a bit more about the move.

So what does this mean for the site? Good things. Very good things.

Without another full time job, I’ll be producing higher level and more frequent content on Rock Creek Runner. You can expect a few awesome features and products to trickle out over the next several months. I have a lot in store for you guys, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

What about the running group? I hope that it’ll be up and running again this summer. A few people have expressed interest in keeping the group alive, which I’d fully support. More details on that to come over the next few months.

Am I keeping the name Rock Creek Runner? Yes, I’ve decided to keep it. Rock Creek Park has been my home since I started running seriously in 2008, and I can’t just let that go. The people I’ve shared miles with, trails that have given me strength and escapes from the realities of D.C., have brought me more joy than any city park every should. It will forever be a part of my running, and so it will forever be a part of this site.

Besides, Asheville has loads of rocks and creeks…

Photo Credit: Asheville

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May has been a great month.  The weather in DC was fabulous, the trails are surrounded by budding trees, and the big cicada scare of 2013, causing terror up and down the East Coast, doesn’t seem to be as big a deal as people thought. It was also a great month on the interwebs, andContinue Reading

Learn to Love Running…Again

It is difficult to equate fun with pain. Tempo runs.  Hills.  Long hours up and down the trails. Running can be painful.  And pain usually isn’t fun. But as any runner knows, running can be one of the most enjoyable activities out there!  After all, why would we spend so much time doing it ifContinue Reading

4 Ways to Rethink Your Everyday Run

Unless you are deep into a training schedule or getting yelled at by a coach, chances are you have an “Everyday Run.” Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: You’re short on time and only have about 30 minutes to squeeze in a run, so you quickly slap on your shoes and head out theContinue Reading

Introducing The Rock Creek Runners: DC’s Newest Trail Running Club

“Do you lead group runs in Rock Creek Park?” That question, or some variation of it, is probably the most common question I get on Rock Creek Runner. The main goal of Rock Creek Runner has always been to provide a space for runners to come together and learn from each other, both through myContinue Reading

Rock Creek Round-Up: April 2013

Last month I decided to start a new RCR feature highlighting some of the best articles and videos I’ve enjoyed over the past month. With so much exciting and fun information out there, limiting this list to just a few is harder than you might expect!  But here they are, some of my favorite thingsContinue Reading

Finding A Diet That Works For Your Running

It’s not difficult to spend too much time thinking about running when we have access to countless blogs, articles, and coaches, all cranking out free info.  We spend all this time pouring over running advice because we want to run faster or further, and improve. But it is easy to forget that one of theContinue Reading

Just Go With It: How A Phrase Helped Me Finish the Bull Run 50 Miler

At some point, someone has said it to you. “Just go with it!” Maybe it was just before the adventure of your life, or maybe it was as you disappointingly agreed to do sometime, or maybe, just maybe, it was during a 50 mile run when you felt like you had no other options. YouContinue Reading

How to Beat Your Fears of Running Trails

This post is written by Jennifer Heidmann I originally wrote this post before the Boston Marathon took place. The attack is a reminder of what the feeling of fear is based on: vulnerability. On April 16, the day after the bombings, I took a 20 mile run and without even thinking had thrown on myContinue Reading

The Finish Line: My Reflections On Boston And A Letter From My Mother

The finish line is a sacred place for runners.  It represents months, sometimes years of dedication, hard work, sweat, and tears. It is a place of celebration, relief, and most importantly, triumph. Like you, I was devastated by the news coming from Boston yesterday.  I’ve never run the race.  I’ve never even made it aContinue Reading

5 Benefits of Hill Workouts (infographic)

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve altered a route because of an approaching hill.  They are just one of those things we runners tend to avoid as much as possible. But skipping a hill is a big mistake.  Like it or not, hills make us better runners. This week I’ve decided to doContinue Reading

Moving Forward (Broken Ego and All)

It was only mile 16, but it felt more like a tired 40.  I had already climbed around 5000 feet, descending about half that, and here I was fighting my way up another climb. I first started to notice my body screaming while standing at an aid station waiting on a friend just a fewContinue Reading

Rock Creek Round-Up: March 2013

Sometimes I have plenty to say, but other times it is best to let the others do the talking. Every day I read something inspiring, informative, or just plain fun, and it seems selfish not to help spread the word about these great articles, videos, and podcasts. I’ve decided to try something a little different. Continue Reading

OGIO Endurance 8.0 Pack Review (Video)

Sometimes you buy a product and think to yourself, “eh, it’ll do.” But other times you pick up a product and know after first use that it is really going to make your life easier. I didn’t actually buy the OGIO Endurance 8.0 Pack, it was given to me for Christmas by my mother, butContinue Reading

The ABCs of Healthy Running

This post is written by Jennifer Heidmann First, a disclaimer. Though I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. I do not herein offer official medical advice. Read at your own risk. If you are new to running, or planning a great big new running feat, check in with your doctor first. I haveContinue Reading

One Word Changed My Training Forever

I discovered a new word this year. Well, I guess I’ve known the word for a long time, but this year brought it new meaning. Consistency.  Yeah, I’m sure you know the word as well. Over the past several months, I’ve really begun to adopt this word as my main focal word for running.  I’veContinue Reading

New Free eBook: The Power of a Running Mantra

There is just no way around it. Running is tough. I recently experienced this firsthand, several hours into the Mount Mitchell Challenge, when my legs were on fire and my mind was starting to doubt a finish. Had it not been for the 7 word phrase I repeated dozens of times, I might still beContinue Reading

37 Mini-Lessons of the Mount Mitchell Challenge: Told Through 37 Mini-Stories

Last week’s Mount Mitchell Challenge was full of new experiences, each of which taught me a little lesson.  Lessons I know will help me in the future, and ones I believe you can learn a bit from as well. As a good way for me to work through each of the, what I’m calling, mini-lessons,Continue Reading

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