It’s marathon season in our home base of Boston, and the whole city is already buzzing with excitement. Come Monday, April 17th, thousands of marathoners will make the 26.2-mile journey on foot from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, east toward Boston, amid swarms of cheering, screaming, and festive spectators lining the entire race course.
The spirit of the marathon is contagious, and April’s milder temperatures are welcomed by an onslaught of outdoor athletes. Perhaps they are training for a big race, but most of us are just happy to be outside enjoying the breeze and the day.
Whether you’re a runner, a cyclist, a rower or an avid hiker, you’ve probably experienced the difference between being properly fueled for your venture or not. Maybe you’ve been completely sidelined after a long run, zapped of energy for the rest of the day. Maybe you weren’t able to make it through your bike ride without cramping, or felt so lightheaded on a hike you had to turn around early. Did you know the 88 Acres craft seed bars started out as triathlon training fuel for Rob and Nicole? The blend of seeds, oats, dried fruit and maple syrup offers a balance of energizing carbohydrates with just enough balanced protein and healthy fat to keep blood sugar steady. Read on to find out how to use real food to fuel you through whatever spring activity you choose this season.
For Sports Under One Hour (5K, 10K, Bike Ride, Short Hike etc.):
Before considering fuel, don’t forget about hydration. Going into a race or training ride dehydrated leads to quick performance decreases such as early fatigue, increase in body temperature, nausea and confusion. Since sweat loss is less noticeable in the spring when temperatures are lower, it can be all too easy to shortchange your hydration before an event.
Keep well-hydrated the days leading up to the event by snacking on watery fruits and vegetables like melon or zucchini. Bonus: these foods provide essential electrolytes like potassium and sodium which help the body maintain optimal hydration.
For a super-boost pre-workout, try blending watery fruits like pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe into a smoothie with a touch of 88 Acres seed butter to give the drink a bit more staying power and provide energy to last through your hour of exercise.
For sports or events an hour or less, fuel during activity is usually not necessary. If your exercise was short but intense, like a steep hike or obstacle race, make sure to start the recovery process as soon as you can after you finish. Muscles are primed to reabsorb glucose, amino acids and water for about an hour after exercise.
Start with hydration, replenishing water lost in sweat and with increased breathing. If you got especially sweaty, replacing electrolytes is important. You can get electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium) from food for a double-whammy of electrolyte AND carbohydrate repletion if you choose a good post-workout snack. Good options include:
- A smoothie of fresh fruit, yogurt of choice (if non-dairy, make sure to incorporate a protein source like chia seeds or hemp protein powder), and water
- A seed butter pita or rice cake. Try spreading 88 Acres seed butters inside the pita and stuffing with banana slices.
For Sports Over One Hour (10K, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, Long Bike Ride, Triathlon, etc.):
The same general hydration strategy applies to longer-duration events, too. The only difference for sports lasting longer than an hour is to have a strategy for staying hydrated during the event as well.
A general guideline is to drink about eight fluid ounces of water an hour, but your individual needs will depend on your sweat rate, the weather conditions, your body size and how hydrated you were going into the event. Sports drinks that contain both carbohydrates and electrolytes are a good choice when consuming food is not possible, or on a very hot day that leads to increased sweating. Whatever hydration plan you choose, practice first! It takes time for the body to adapt to tolerating fuel during intense exercise, so it is wise to not try new fueling strategies on race day.
Fuel Options During Exercise: Focus on Complex Carbohydrates
The easiest and most efficient fuel for the body to use during exercise is carbohydrate. Carbohydrate needs during exercise longer than an hour range from 30 to 90 grams per hour depending on your size, duration of the event and the intensity of the activity. Smaller people doing more moderate activity for a shorter time need less, while larger people racing a marathon need more. The most important thing is to getsomethingin so you don’t “hit the wall.” The body stores carbohydrates in muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen, and relies on this reserve for energy during exercise. With long enough exercise, our muscles will use up all the glycogen. If we aren’t properly supplying our blood with a steady stream of sugar to burn for fuel, we experience extreme fatigue commonly known as the “bonk.” Your muscles (and brain!) are helping you accomplish your goals - your job is to meet their needs.
In general, I advise people to eat more complex carbohydrates, which are higher in fiber, protein and fat to promote steady blood sugar, satiety and sustained energy. During long exercise events, though, that advice goes out the window. The primary goal for fueling during long events is to get carbohydrates to the muscles as quickly and efficiently as possible. With prolonged exercise, blood is diverted away from the digestive system so we don’t have the same digestive ability that we do at rest. Fiber, fat and protein all slow down the rate of carbohydrate delivery to muscle cells, and tend to lead to gastrointestinal distress like cramping or unwanted bathroom visits during exercise. You can train your body to better tolerate food with fiber during exercise, so practice fueling on your training runs and rides to see what works best for you. Simple carbohydrates like dates, bananas, pretzels, cereal or honey make great sporting fuel. Get creative in the kitchen and make your own portable energy bites by combining chopped dates, oats, honey, and seed butter for nutritious carb-dense fuel that is relatively low in fiber.
Recovery after an exercise session longer than one hour is crucial for ensuring that your body is able to bounce back and support you hitting the pavement, trail or pool for your next work out as quickly as possible. In depleting workouts such as a marathon or distance triathlon, it is important to replenish all of the lost glycogen with rest and carbohydrate-dense foods. Hopefully you maintained some hydration during your workout, but making sure you replace any excess loss from sweat and increased breathing should be the first step. Electrolytes and carbohydrates mixed in water help our bodies best use that hydration, so sports drinks are an easy post-race option when you might not be hungry for, or have time for, a full meal or snack. Aim to eat some quality recovery food that combines carbohydrates and protein as soon as possible but especially within an hour. 88 Acres craft seed bars or Seednola with some yogurt or cottage cheese provides a mix of simple sugar, complex carbohydrates and protein that is ideal for recovery. Get colorful with a smoothie full of richly colored berries, leafy greens, milk of choice and protein powder of choice for a well-rounded, antioxidant-rich recovery shake that will speed up your body's healing process and get you ready for your next adventure as soon as possible.
Contributed by 88 Acres Nutritionist Hannah Meier, a registered dietitian, food advocate and avid runner based in Boston, Massachusetts. As part of her masters program at Tufts School of Nutrition, Hannah counsels student athletes looking to optimize their performance simply and easily with quality nutrition habits. She believes food is an active person's best fuel and that small changes can make a big impact. She finished her first full marathon earlier this year, and hopes to one day join the "big leagues" and run Boston.