Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gentlemen, start your engines

"Food is an important part of a balanced diet". - Fran Lebowitz (1950 - )

Hi guys - First of all, let me just say that I am a soccer junkie and I am super-pumped about the World Cup which began it's 3 week, 32 team, 64 game, Odyssey yesterday. I know that 98% of you don't give a flying flip about it, but to the rest of the world (and the 2% of us here), this is a BIG DEAL! Picture the excitement before the Alabama/Auburn football game (the OTHER football). Now, picture a tournament with your team - let's say Alabama - and 31 Auburns!! I'm beginning to hyperventilate, so I better change subjects, but as soon as I finish writing this, I'm plopping myself down and watching the USA/England game. Nobody here will kill themselves if the USA loses, but in England...well, this is MORE that life and death!! USA...USA... USA!!!
OK, I've calmed down from last week's blog and decided to get back to the crux of the purpose of these weekly ramblings. I have a strong connection to long distance running and any time I can impart some of my experiences to somebody that will listen to me, I jump on that. There are dozens of correct ways to train, fuel oneself, or dress appropriately to slant the chance for success in your favor. Goodness knows, I've been on the downside of that slope many times, usually chastising myself..."what made you think that was a good idea?". Sorta like the pitchers on my fantasy team that think a 65 MPH change up is a good idea to throw to the other team's best hitter, but that's a different blog. There are times I'll go off on some tangent, just letting off steam or writing about something only on the outer fringes of running, but for the most part, I want to keep the new or fairly new marathoner or ultramarathoner in mind, and one area that can have a blog of it's own is endurance nutrition. So let's start with what to do before you even get out the door on a typical "long run" day.
Almost every Sunday morning, someone will ask me if I eat before I run. It almost amazes me that most new runners, and some veterans, are afraid to eat before running because they're afraid of getting sick. Early in your marathon training schedule, it's OK to skip breakfast, but when you get about to the 4th week of training and are putting in around 90 minutes to 2 hours in your long run, we better start fueling like a marathoner so we can train like a marathoner. If you skip breakfast, realize that you've probably gone 12 hours without food, so you're in partial glycogen (stored energy) depletion. When our training goes more than about 90 minutes, then we need to start addressing the "fuel in our muscles" problem. See, we can only store about 2,000 calories of carbohydrates, and only about 1500 of that is stored in the muscles. The rest is racing around the bloodstream or hiding out in the liver. The body LOVES to burn carbos because they provide energy so much better than fats and proteins, but seeing that we burn close to 100 cals/mile, it doesn't take long for the brain to say "ok, time to go to plan B". Plan B is burning fats and that doesn't work so good. I'll talk about the muscle physiology sometime in the future and explain how you can train your body to store more glycogen and burn fats more efficiently, but let's get back to filling the tank the morning of the long run. Now, you don't want to have King Henry's feast before a run, but there are two general ways to get a good blood sugar level and provide carbohydrates to the system to delay the draining of the muscle glycogen.
The first is to have a light breakfast. Donuts and a coke are not a good idea! Eggs and sausage are not a good idea! We have to be a little smart about this. We need some carbohydrates that can be digested easily. I usually have a cup of coffee with toast and jelly. If I'm going be going closer to 3 hours (or before a marathon) I'll add peanut butter and to complete the absolute Gold Standard of pre-race foods, I'll top it off with a banana. So with this "Al Special", we have both simple carbohydrates (jelly/ripe banana), complex carbohydrates (toast/not-so- ripe banana), and some fats & protein (peanut butter). The coffee provides caffeine which has been shown to improve endurance and free fatty acids into the bloodstream which can be used as fuel before the stored glycogen. If the thought of food still gets you gagging, try a pre-run energy drink. Something like boost or ensure will get you a bundle of carbs, fats and protein (about 300 calories) and is very easily digested.
The second good idea for a pre-run breakfast is Powerade (or Gatorade) and a couple of fig newtons. Several studies have shown that Fig Newtons provide almost the same nutritional value of Powerbars! Plus, they don't have the consistency of shoe leather. The Powerade will also hydrate you. Anyway, the point is that you don't have to eat a whole lot to get you off to a good fueled start for your morning run. Be sure to try these methods during training - don't wait till race day! Don't wait till race day to try ANYTHING new. I have several threads that keep reappearing throughout my coaching, and the "Anything New" rule is one of those absolutes.
Now, on to the World Cup. Hope you all have a great training week, and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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