You may have noticed that you probably need something a little more than just a swig of water to make it through the longer workouts. Although there is no real hard and fast rules about fuelling and hydration, there are some good general rules of thumb I’ll share with you here.
If the workout lasts less than 60 minutes, water alone should get you through it. However, you should have had a pre-workout snack beforehand if your last meals was more than three hours earlier. But in the case of pre-workout snacks, less is almost always more. When you exercise, blood is diverted away from your digestive tract and too much food doesn’t break down properly… usually trying to claw it’s way out mid burpee. 100 calories less than an hour out or 200 calories 2 hours out generally works.
If the workout lasts 60 – 90 minutes, you might add a little something to your water or have a wee bit of calories. You can make your own energy drink or have a handful of raisins. I advise against most packaged drinks as they are a terrifying mix of chemicals. Seriously, what in nature is that colour? Once in a while in a race situation, OK… but in training it should be reserved to trials to ensure it’s works for you. We are doing this to be healthy right? I personally use NorthStar Organic Sportdrink because it’s made of food yet it’s still convenient. Although, I’d still say that most people don’t need anything but water.
If the workout lasts 90 minutes or more, you’ll want to at least bring something to eat or a drink high in calories. You should aim to take in 150 – 250 calories per hour of easily digested carbohydrate. That becomes increasingly important for efforts longer than three hours, like a Spartan Beast or Tough Mudder for most folks. In this case, you want to start 30 minutes in (even if you’re not hungry) to keep your blood sugar level. I advise you break your caloric intake up into 2/3 times per hour. I literally will “sip” on a gel.
I’m a big dude. Should I eat more?
Unfortunately for big dudes, the limits of human digestion are as such no matter your size. Although, since you expend heaps more calories than us small folk, you have to be way more on top of your fuelling and hydration…. perhaps adding a pre-race gel or energy drink. Your fluid needs and capacity will likely also be higher as you have less skin area for heat to dissipate and a bigger body to power.
What are some ideas for easy pre-workout snacks?
It’s almost always a matter of personal preference combined with general rules. No excessive fibres, spice, fat or protein. Easily digested but healthy sources of carbohydrate include oatmeal, bananas, oranges, rice and the like. Keep in mind again that you should still be eating healthy food since pre-workout snacks still comprise a big portion of your diet.
Is there any value in trying my race day fuelling and hydration strategy before race day?
Yes. Never eat or drink anything that you have not tested in training. Long days make the perfect laboratory to test how your body reacts to everything you plan to race with from gear to nutrition. Keep in mind that weather (and a boat load of other things) also effect your hydration needs so with fluid intake, get to know your body… instead of creating a set in stone drinking schedule.
What should I eat and drink after I run?
On an easy day, you can probably just get away with fuelling and hydrating normally depending on weather. However, if the session was particularly long or taxing, you need to start reloading your muscles right away… both to reap the most benefit from that workout and to ensure the success of the next one. It doesn’t have to be complicated… an apple with almond butter and a big glass of water would suffice. You don’t need to chug 2 litres of chocolate milk after every easy 5k run… but if you’re spent, it’s crucial to recovery (which is where you actually grow stronger).
Does your nutrition strategy change for a two race weekend?
Yes. You need to be extra diligent on taking in a solid carbohydrate based snack with some protein and lots of water. Water is necessary to help you digest the carbs. I also started taking in a gel on the second day regardless of distance since glycogen stores are so depleted, and felt it made a huge difference.
I’m not remotely thirsty, should I drink?
Probably not. The research is pretty clear at this point that thirst is actually a good indicator if you pay attention to it. Your performance will drop dramatically though if you are thirsty. So I like to have athletes check-in with their thirst and get familiar with their fluid needs rather than get used to drinking on a schedule. What is key is that you have access to water and sip at it before you get thirsty enough to chug it (at which point it will slosh around in your tummy instead of quench your thirst). During really hot long duration races, you’ll likely want to add some electrolytes.
I’m not hungry, should I eat?
It depends. Do you plan to be out for more than three hours or is this your longest run to date? I’d say yes. Especially if you are racing. You will be running on the limits of your energetic capacities and your digestive system is very limited in terms of processing power so you really don’t want to go down that hole. If, however, you can run easily for two hours without getting hungry or seeing a decline in your mood or performance, why the heck not? I have seen people who have routinely taken one or two gels over the course of a marathon and see unimaginable leaps in performance once they took in the required amount of fuel. I have also seen people run very well on very little.