What to eat when training for running is a question you will ask yourself very soon. It does not really matter if you are training to be in shape, to prepare an event or simply because you like it. It is undeniable that a correct approach with eating habits can improve your performance, avoiding both the sensation of running… out of fuel, or heavy.
Please find few tips according to my experience: things I learned from other runners or websites, but also – unfortunately! – by a trial and error method on my own skin 🙂
1. Don’t fast before running
Yes, that’s especially for you, morning runner! I understand that you have a packed working schedule, the best temperatures or road conditions can be in the morning, or simply that you like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from a fulfilling your runner’s duties early in the day. But this is not a good excuse to hit the road with an empty stomach, or just a coffee. Especially if you aim to a 10K, or longer distance. Have a small pre-run breakfast (e.g. some toasted bread with marmalade) to have a source of usable carbs. as you need to allow some time for the digestion, this means you need to wake up one hour earlier. Believe me, it is worth it!
2. Allow time for digestion
Digestion is a complex mechanism that allows the body to chemically decompose the nutrients into components directly usable for the organism. It is a demanding process, that uses around 10% of the caloric intake. This already gives an idea how adding up to this process a demanding activity like running, creates a conflict that will impact your performance and well-being. It is worth to wait about 3 hours after a main meal (even more if a legendary one :D), before hitting the road with your running shoes.
3. Familiarize with the different nutrients
Calories are basically energy you introduce in your body. But they are very different chemically. Proteins are constituents useful for your muscles and their chemical complexity makes them difficult to digest. Fats are not all bad (although, pretty highly raising your caloric income). Saturated fats (e.g. in butter, meat) will act on your bad cholesterol, while good (unsaturated) ones (e.g. in salmon, avocado, walnuts) lower diseases risks. You can find more on this document from Harvard School of Public Health.
Bottom line: carbs are an useful fast energy supply: I aim at 50% of my calories income based on carbs. Fats are low level energy the body will try to burn after one hour of aerobic exercise, switching from good quality energy, to its reserves of fat. I aim at 20% of income of (good) fats. The remaining 30% are proteins. I recommend to familiarize with it, as your right balance will help your performance and your health.
The most important tip: running will cause losses of liquids through perspiration. Liquids and salts lost need to be compensated: hydration before (you need to start from a good hydration level), after and even during, if you are running more than 5-6 km, is of paramount importance. As water will not integrate mineral salts lost with sweating, consider to eat some fruits, like a banana rich of potassium and carbs that need to be recovered, and energy drinks, within the hour after the session.
5. Moderate your alcohol consumption
Although everything, with moderation, can be tolerated, let’s face it: there is no way consumption of alcohol will be beneficial to your running performance. Over consumption tends to increase your weight, dehydrate (having diuretic effect). But running close to consumption of alcoholic beverage will put your body under stress, in a similar way as digestion does: requiring its metabolism resources, your body will not be fully dedicated to support your session.
In other words, if you are just leaving a barbecue with friends, where you indulged on some beers or glasses of red wine, probably you should skip your training. If you are a moderate consumer of alcohol, keep enjoying it with moderation. Enjoy that drink, and plan your running schedule without annoying overlaps.