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What a Cheeseburger Taught Me About Running Nutrition

Running Nutrition & Cheeseburgers

What a Cheeseburger Taught Me About Running Nutrition…

Perhaps hard to believe, but I learnt one of the most valuable lessons in my running career from the good old Maccas cheeseburger.

It was about the 58km point in an 80km race, that no man’s land where you are over halfway but not far enough through the race to smell the finish line. I had stopped at the aid station and looked in my green bag of goodies thinking, “is it time for a bit of sports bar, a gel or a honey shot?” – not an overly delicious sounding list of options at that point! While I was pondering my decision one of those old wisened runners with a 70’s style tennis band around his head and a t-shirt with some random ultra from 20 years ago emblazoned on it, ran up and pulled a cheeseburger, still in its wrapper, from his pack and began to get ready to chow down…I must have been staring as he started to tell me he had gotten through over 200 races with his nutritional requirements solely sponsored by the golden arches.

I definitely am not a frequent flyer at Maccas but I have never seen anything so inviting in my life…the pickles, the sauce, the plastic cheese…I could taste it…he must have seen the glint in my eye or perhaps my drooling gave it away so he reached into his bag and handed one over. I nearly knocked him over as I grabbed it and literally inhaled it thanking him as I ran off.

Of course this story has a point, and the point is that about 5 km down the road I was cursing every single cheeseburger in the world and desperately searching for the portaloo…I had broken my rule: PLAN YOUR RACE and RACE YOUR PLAN. 

As a runner you cannot control the weather, the course or your competitors, but you can control yourself: your nutrition, your clothes, your training, your recovery.

I always practice everything nutritionally before a race in as close to race conditions as I can and we do the same with all my athletes.

Here is what I believe are the key things you need for a perfectly prepared and practiced running nutrition plan:

  1. Night before meal: I have found over the years through trial and error that a big meal at a pre-race pasta party meal leaves me feeling heavy and full on race day. My preference and that of a large number of my athletes is to have that larger meal at lunch, and then at dinner have a small portion of easily digestible protein (like salmon) and about 1-2 fists of rice and a few token veggies. The key is to trial this before your longest training run – a month or so out – and then tweak it if it isn’t spot on. This meal is also travel friendly, I have found it at races from Boston to Melbourne to the Pacific Islands without any problem!
  2. Race day breakfast: The day after you trial your pre-race dinner get up so you can finish your breakfast 2 hrs before running that longest run…yes I know it will probably be 3am – you can go back to sleep! This is very scientific – I eat and recommend about 2g per kg of lean body mass…note this is lean not total – your sports dietitian can do your skinfolds to calculate this! So for a runner with about 65kg lean mass two options would be something like: one sports bar + 60g oats + 2 Tbsp honey + a Gatorade: This provides ~140g carb.
  3. Race Nutrition: This is a no brainer right? Well my story above shows that in a glucose-deprived state it’s easy to make mistakes or forget your plan….trial your gels/bars/chews. Work out how many you need and write down when you will have them or at what km marker. Know what sports drink is available on the course and try it in training! I race with a friend who writes it all in permanent marker on her arm! As a starting point I like to aim for about 50g carb each hour. So that’s a gel and some sports drink, or some lollies, or chews. BUT that’s me, some of our A to Z athletes can cope with more and some race brilliantly on less…that’s why it’s great to be guided through the process!

The next obvious area is post-race recovery…but I think Sal has that one covered in the next article…..

So if nothing else just treat your nutrition like your training and take it seriously; invest time and energy into it and it will reap huge performance and recovery benefits. It also means that there is one less stress on race day, you can get out run hard and enjoy the day!  AND if you want to eat cheeseburgers please, please, please try it out on a few training runs! J

Happy running everyone!

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