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Unfortunately many runners only think about nutrition in terms of what they should eat just before and during the race. To run at your best means making sure that your nutrition is at its best all the time; or at least most of the time. Aside from training, nutrition has the biggest impact on performance.
Getting it right isn’t difficult, at its simplest it means eating a variety of foods in sufficient quantity. There are no ‘good’ foods and no ‘bad’ foods, although some foods are better limited to small portions. Fruit and vegetables, of different colours, should form a significant part of an athlete’s diet. These are going to supply lots of antioxidants and micronutrients (these are good things). The next biggest group of foods should be carbohydrate sources, such as rice, bread, pasta etc. (wholegrain of course because that is better for you). Some lean meat and calcium sources, such as dairy foods comes next and finally a few fats, hopefully the good ones. You need some fats in your diet as they contain essential vitamins and minerals. If you are a vegetarian or vegan it is a little more complicated, but not a problem. Many Olympic athletes have a vegetarian diet and some are vegan.
You will find some healthy dishes on our recipes page.
For a general book on eating well that is easy to understand we would recommend Nutrition for Life by Lisa Hark PhD RD & Dr Darwin Deen.
If you want information about nutrition during exercise there are some useful articles on the Hammer Nutrition website. There are lots of other brands and they may have similar information on their websites.
Those nice people at Hammer Nutrition have given us some free samples to try out. We decided to give them to Ed to test as he is a bit of a purist (Luddite) and doesn’t use commercial products. His hydration and nutrition strategy is to carry a bottle of water and a flapjack on long runs and two bottles and two flapjacks on very long runs. He does use Science in Sport Rego as a recovery drink on multi-day events, but recently he was heard muttering about the recovery benefits of Miso soup and sesame snacks. After his long training runs on the South West Coastal Path chocolate soya milk is his recovery drink of choice. If it is a 40 miler he will add a little agave nectar.
These are his product reviews:
HEED – High Energy Electrolyte Drink
This product immediately scored highly with me because I could get the packet open without a fuss. I hate modern packaging; it is a battle to get into it and when you do the contents are normally spread all over the kitchen. The HEED sachet had a row of perforations making it easy to tear the top off.
The powder mixed well with water and did not need prolonged shaking to get it all mixed in. The taste was surprisingly pleasant, I had the Lemon/Lime flavour which reminded me of home-made lemonade. There was none of the sweet, sticky taste that I normally associate with electrolyte drinks and there was no annoying after taste.
All-in-all I liked this product, but I am still going to stick to water for my training runs. I might use it on some longer runs if summer ever gets hot, I sweat a lot and the sodium, magnesium and potassium HEED contains will come in useful as will the calories (100 per sacket) . I will definitely include it in the stuff I will be taking on the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in October ( www.extrememarathons.com/augrabies ) where temperatures last year were 48C.
I was looking forward to trying these as I had been given chocolate chip ones. I am a bit of a chocoholic, but am currently a chocolate free zone as I am trying to get my weight down.
Unfortunately I was disappointed; they did not taste very nice and to me were a little bitter. The consistency was good and they were nice to chew, there was none of the sweet stickiness that I associate with energy bars, but I think that they could suffer a bit in hot conditions.
The label shows that they are full of good things, are organic and free from genetically modified ingredients. They are probably better for you and the environment than some energy bars, but they are not for me. I will stick to my flapjack, not literally I hope, and whole dried bananas.
PERPETUEM – Extreme Endurance Fuel
This is an all-in-one drink mix that contains carbs, proteins and lipids. Apparently it ‘delivers stable, long-term energy hour after hour, with no stomach distress or GI issues’ Personally I have no problem with American servicemen, even though one got my Gran pregnant during the war, but I tried the stuff anyway.
The packet suggested different amounts for different weights which I though was a good idea, unfortunately these were given in pounds and I have converted to kilograms being a modern man.I settled on the heaviest weigh because I am on the large size. Or, as my report from the Department of Sport, Coaching & Exercise Science, University of Lincoln says, BMI and Body Fat percentages are high for an endurance athlete.
The drink tasted a little bland, orange vanilla is the only flavour, and reminded me of runny custard. Strangely as the hours passed I started to like the taste; it was rather comforting as it reminded me of my childhood. There was none of that sickly sweet taste you get with other energy drinks that stays in your mouth for ages. There was a faint taste of runny custard that remained with you.
The Perpetuem did the trick; my energy levels remained good throughout the run (4 ½ hours) and I had less muscle soreness at the end than usual, which would tend to validate the claim that it minimises lean muscle tissue cannibalization.
Verdict: On my normal trail runs I will be still be using flapjacks and whole dried bananas. However, on hard or long training efforts I will be using Perpetuem. I think that with a more sophisticated approach to keeping fuelled I will see a big improvement in performance. I particularly liked the fact that you can mix the powder with very little water, making a gel, which can be sipped from a small bottle. This leaves my normal bottles free for water, which I love drinking plus if it gets really hot I can tip some over my head. That is not something you can do with energy drink.
According to the pack these are a full spectrum, proportionately balanced, chelated mineral formula. As far as I am concerned they are a goodsend as I can take my electrolyte in a capsule form rather than a sticky drink that eventually makes hands and everything else sticky. Also with the drink you can never wash the taste out of the bottle. These are vegetarian capsules which is important to me as I am a veggie. Im case you do not know most capsules for medicines and supplements use gelatin - something which is made from unpleasant parts of cows or pigs.
These capsules seem to work well. I finished a long hot run feeling stong with no pain or stiffness in the legs. I still need to try them out in very hot weather. Just waiting for summer to arrive.
RECOVERITE – Glutamine fortified recovery drink
I do use commercial recovery drinks when I am doing multi-day events or back-to-back hard training days, however most of the time I rely on chocolate soya milk.
The Recoverite mixed up slightly more easily than the brand I normally use and was easier to drink, but it did have a rather bland flavour. It is called subtle citrus, but missing citrus would have been a better description. I suppose too little flavour is better than too much.
The label says that “Recoverite DOES NOT contain artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners, added simple sugars, stimulants, fad ingredients or anything unhealthy.”The powder I am currently using seems to be just as effective as Recoverite, however, as it contains aspartame I think I will swap to Recoverite.