Saturday, February 11, 2012

Long Run Nutritional Epiphany

Ok, not really an 'epiphany' but rather a 'slow steeped realization' - but epiphany sounded more exciting for the title of the post - call it marketing.

After my California Marathon race last December, I've been thinking more and more about my nutrition - before / during and after longer races. I've also been doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts. Ben Greenfield on Endurance Planet podcasts is someone that I've been listening to lately and I've picked up a lot of good nutritional advice that I'm slowly incorporating into my training and every day eating. 

DISCLAIMER: So although I mention a lot of specific products in this post, I don't represent, nor am I paid to advertise these products (specifically UCAN, Hammer and Ultragen). I'm sure there are lots of high quality alternatives. I'm simply passing them along since they are working well for me. 

Somewhere around Christmas time I stumbled on the massive library of articles available on the Hammer Nutrition website.

The information there is overwhelming, but on the home page there is a 'Problem Solver' link. 

Now the two biggest problems I have on what I would term 'relatively high sustained effort over long runs' (i.e. marathon racing) are:

1. Stomach distress
2. Running out of steam at about the 2:30 mark

Normally my pre-marathon and racing nutrition looks something like this: Eat something easily digestible a couple hours out from the start of the race. Then use a sports drink throughout (mostly on course provided) coupled with trying to down gel packets starting at mile 10. This works 'ok' - but on almost all races I've felt some stomach distress even before the gun goes off and I seem to be running out of steam right around the 2:15 mark.

After poking around with the problem solver and recommended articles to read, I hit upon a formula that was worth trying. I also coupled in some advice I got from a coach at Boulder Running Company.

Basically, what Hammer tells you is that for 'longer efforts', eating before-hand starts you down a path that is much better targeted for efforts under 2 hours. For longer efforts - it starts you burning glycogen at too fast a rate, shunting your fat burning side of the equation due to an influx of insulin to offset the blood sugar rise induced by eating a couple hours ahead of time. They say that although you will 'feel' hungry on race morning - the overnight fast has not done anything to reduce your glycogen stores. Eating in fact makes you use your energy systems in a way that is incompatible with racing for more than a couple hours. Here's the article (although I read a few others as well):

http://www.hammernutrition.com/knowledge/how-to-properly-fuel-prior-to-workouts-races.1279.html

So based on combining all that reading, I started experimenting with a formula that I've seemed to hone down to something workable. Here's what I've been trying out for the last few long runs:

No food in the morning. Instead, take in a dose of UCAN about 30mins before the run. 

Then instead of using something like Hammer Heed (sports drink), use Hammer Sustained Energy, mixed in a multi-hour flask. I take a hit off that about every 15 mins, and wash it down with just water (from my hydration pack). The Sustained Energy is listed as 'flavorless' - but the mixture (to me) tastes like watered down pancake batter (but not as sweet). Now I know you are thinking "BLEAHH",  which is EXACTLY what I would have thought, but I can tell you that I've actually found it to be (VERY) surprisingly tasty while running. It goes down easy and stays down.

The above is do-able for racing because all races have water on course. This means I can get away with just carrying a 2.5 hour flask with me and that's it.

Right after the effort I then take in the Ultragen Recovery (Espresso flavored). I've had great luck with this product after hard efforts (not just long runs).

I was kind of skeptical the first time I tried this (incidentally it was while I was in China). But I've followed this now like 4 times and every time the result has been great. My stomach feels better throughout the run than it EVER has and I feel like an Energizer Bunny. I'm just able to hum along with a nice steady energy level. My recoveries have been better too.

So it will be interesting to try out for the Chicago Marathon. For all my other races, I do like the UCAN idea - although eating before shorter race distances doesn't really have the same negative effect (according to the article - in fact; you kind of want to fire off mostly pure glycogen for shorter duration events. But again - I generally always have stomach issues on things like 1/2 marathon distance too, so I may do at lead that instead of trying to figure out what's going to stay down.

I'm sure there are lots of comparable products out there for all of these - but these are working for me extremely well, so I'll stick with the formula.

If nothing else - the articles and content on the Hammer site were of exceptional help to me in cracking a problem that has been dogging me for a while. Thought I would share.

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