How to Fuel Your Training Runs

By | Eastside 10k, Edmonton 10k, General, Nutrition, Racing Strategy, Scotiabank Vancouver Half, Uncategorised | No Comments

By Kim Doerkson

Regardless of whether you’re training for a road or a trail race, if you’re racing for over an hour, it is worth looking into how to fuel your training runs.  It may seem counterintuitive to eat during a run, especially if one of your goals is weight loss.  When the time spent running increases, it’s beneficial to have some kind of fuel to keep energy levels up.  Think of it like driving a car: if the tank is full, there’s no risk or fear of the vehicle breaking down; on the other hand, if the gas level gets low, it could damage the engine and leave you stranded on the side of the road.  The same is true for running.

So what is the best thing to eat during a run to avoid hitting the wall / bonking?  Like anything, it’s personal, but there these are a few go-to’s for runners:

  • Gels. These are widely available at any running or outdoor sports store and are the most common sources of fuel during races.  Essentially just little packets of sugary goo, gels are an easily digestible sugar source that can also include electrolytes and / or caffeine depending on the type.  There is a large selection of flavours, and they’re conveniently pocket-sized, making them the most runner-friendly.
  • Chews / Chomps: Exactly like they sound, chews are the runner’s version of gummy candy.  Much like gels, they are made with sugar and can have electrolytes and / or caffeine to help boost your energy levels during a run.  Unlike gels, chews require a bit more work: they needed to be chewed (hence the name), and more of them need to be consumed to match the caloric intake of a gel.  Typically 4 chews are equivalent to 1 gel; this is great if you prefer to eat throughout the run, and not just in bursts like you would with gels.  Just make sure to try a number of types are some get stuck in your teeth more than others!
  • Candy: Sugar-highs in children after eating sugar is the result runners are looking for; but maybe not to the extreme of the sugar-crash and crying after.  Most people have a favourite candy, so it’s a good start to fueling during the run.  Bringing wine gums, or any gummy candy keeps blood sugars up if they start to falter, and taste good at the same time.  Their only downfall is that they’re straight-up sugar.  Chews and gels will have a mix of electrolytes in them too which helps to keep electrolyte balance in check when sweating out salts on a run.
  • Dried fruit: Simple and natural. Taking a ziplock bag of dried dates, figs, raisins etc. is a great option while out for a long run.  Natural fruit sugars are readily accepted by most stomachs as an easily digestible fuel source.
  • Energy balls: These are most common during big train runs as there is more opportunity for slower paces while trekking up hill, and typically take longer than a road run due to technical terrain and elevation changes. Easy to make at home, energy balls consist of a mixture of dried fruit, nut butters, chocolate, coconut, and various seeds.  All natural ingredients with good fats, sugars, and a little protein goes a long way when out for a long time!

For all of these options, practice goes a long way.  Don’t show up to race day and decide to take a gel or eat during the race if you haven’t practiced in training.  It takes time to get your body used to fuelling while running, so include it into your training plan.  Also be sure to research what in-race fuel is available and if it’s not what you’re used to, make sure to pack what your need before getting onto the start line.

Hot meals for cold days

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Training in the middle of winter can be cold and miserable, but that doesn’t mean your food needs to be.  One of the nice parts of the cold weather is the warmth a hot meal brings to warm a chilled runner from the inside out.  Unlike in the summertime, when the thought of having the oven on for prolonged periods of time is unbearable, in the winter it’s welcomed with open arms.  Soup, stew, chili, and slow cooker meals, are hearty staples for a winter diets.  Another bonus to these soul-soothing meals is that they are filled with nutritious ingredients that are sure to help with recovery and refuelling from a hard session.  Here are some tips of how to perfect your winter meals.

When making soups remember to:
  • Cook raw spices for about 1 minute to intensify the flavours
  • Fry any ingredients that need to be softened with a little bit of oil before simmering in stock (i.e. onions, garlic, spices)
  • Add in your main ingredients (vegetables, meat, potatoes etc.) and add just enough stock to cover them
  • Bring this all to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender.  If adding in noodles, or rice, time the boiling duration right to fully cook the vegetables and the grains.
  • Add extra water if using rice in a recipe as the grain will absorb a lot of liquid.
  • If blending the soup to make it creamy, place in a blender and cover with a tea towel to allow the steam out, or use a hand blender.
  • Season well with salt and pepper (to taste).
  • Adjust the consistency using water to thin it down, or cook it longer to thicken.
When making slow-cooker meals:
  • Choose the right cuts.  Chuck roasts, short ribs, or dark meat from poultry will remain juicy and become melt-in-your-mouth tender.  Lighter and leaner meats will tend to dry out unless a larger amount of flavourful liquid is added.
  • Keep the lid closed!  Opening the lid and releasing the steam will increase cooking time even further.  No stirring is required in slow cooker meals, so there’s no need to open the lid for that.
  • Care for your crock pot.  If you’ve pre-assembled the ingredients and placed in the refrigerator overnight, allow the pot to reach room temperature before placing it on the preheated base.
  • Browning boosts flavour.  Piling raw ingredients into a slow cooker works just fine, but to add depth to the flavours, brown the meat and sauté the vegetables.  If you want a thicker sauce, coat the meat in flour before browning.
  • Avoid overcrowding.  For best results, fill the slow cooker about one-half or two-thirds full, so the lid still fits snugly on top.
  • Trim the fat.  Take an extra few minutes to trim excess fat from the meat, and skin from chicken to ensure the sauce / gravy is silky smooth.  Too much fat can lead to greasy cooking liquid.
  • Layer wisely:  Cut all ingredients into equal bite sized pieces.  Place all root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips etc) on the bottom, and place the meat on top.
  • Add dairy last.  Sour cream, milk, and yogurt break down in the slow cooker.  Stir them in the last 15 minutes to avoid breakdown.
  • End of a fresh note: Sprinkle fresh herds, or a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of simmering to enhance the flavours and cut the richness of long-cooked recipes.
healthy winter

Healthy options for winter

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When the weather gets colder, meals typically get warmer. People go into hibernation mode in the winter, and crave heartier meals.  Suddenly creamy soups, pastas, and stews become far more appetizing than they did in the summer. Unfortunately, some of these meals may make your pants fit a little tighter if you opt for a decadent dish at every chance you get. However, there are so many ways to make healthy and delicious meals that are just as satisfying as their heftier counterparts.

Eat seasonal produce

The summer has fresh berries and summer vegetables, whereas the winter is laden with winter squash, apples, pears, cauliflower, potatoes, and other root vegetables that are staples for any winter meal.  Plus, they taste exponentially better than they did in the summer as they’re actually in season. They don’t cost a fortune as they’re in abundance, so you can eat well without putting a dent in your wallet.

Bulk up your salads

Salads seem to be deemed a summer meal, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Top off your usual greens with roasted potatoes or yams, toasted nuts, crispy chickpeas, or grilled meat/tofu to enhance the meal. Even adding grains like quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice or barley will up the ante and ensure you’re incorporating healthy whole grains. Finish it off with fresh fruit, or crumbly cheese and you’ll be rethinking your views on winter salads.

Fill up on soup, stew, and chilli

Restaurant versions of these options can be loaded with cream, butter, and other delicious, but no-so-healthy ingredients. However, if made at home they can be a healthy and time-saving option for dinner.  They usually make lots of leftovers that are fantastic for lunch at work. It’s easy to throw in a lot of vegetables into these meals to not only bulk up the dish, but to increase the nutritional value too.

Be creative with healthy alternatives

Some of the classic comfort meals like mac & cheese, fettuccine alfredo, or creamy soups are loaded with heavy cream and butter. There are lots of ways to make healthy versions of these meals with seasonal ingredients that won’t break the bank.  Whip up cauli-fredo sauce, instead of the classic alfredo. Or use pureed squash and chicken stock instead of cream in your mac & cheese sauce. There are many ways to create nutritious options. Unsure of how to substitute? Just ask Google and a multitude of options will appear.

Don’t skip dessert

When produce is fresh, it’s sweet enough to make dessert without requiring large amounts of sugar. Simple options like baked apple crumble, or sweet potato brownies, are healthier options that incorporate the natural sweetness from fruits and vegetables while adding a nutritious punch.