LAST WEEK I WAS INVITED TO TWO INCREDIBLY STIMULATING EVENTS. FIRSTLY, THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF UKACTIVE (see separate post), AND SECONDLY, AS A NUTRITION EXPERT ON THE RUNNERS WORLD EXPERT PANEL AT THE RUNNING SHOW. I was lucky enough to sit on the Runner’s World expert panel for four seminars over the course of the show, along with Kerry McCarthy, Senior Writer from Runner’s World, Mark Saunders from Physio4Life and the lovely Personal Trainer, Sarah O’Neill.
One of the FAQs at each seminar was:
Should I eat before my early morning ‘pre-work’ training run and if so, what?
This is always a difficult question and the answer really depends on three factors: the individual, the intensity and the length of the run. Runners should in theory run better with a little fuel inside them, but some can put their trainers on first thing and run on empty for an hour or so with no problem at all; others cannot function properly without some proper breakfast inside them. The fact is, you’ve fasted your body overnight, blood sugar levels are at their lowest, and your body will appreciate some kind of energy boost before getting pushed out of its comfort zone. Those who find they can’t run on empty (which includes me, by the way) find dawn running a real challenge without the luxury of waiting an hour or so for their breakfast to digest before they run. I am afraid that it’s a matter of trial and error to work out what works for you as an individual. If running for over 90 minutes, you’ll need to either eat before you leave, or take some fuel with you in the form of sports drink (see my home made versions in FuelSmart for Race Day), gel or alternatives but here are my suggestions for shorter morning runs:
Get up earlier and eat a light breakfast! Something with carbohydrate and a little protein which isn’t going to nail you to the floor…. a small bowl of porridge, muesli or healthy cereal, a slice of wholemeal toast and honey and a banana, for instance. Most runners will need at least an hour to digest breakfast, some more, some a little less, but getting up extra early can be a revelation for some who find that the spare ‘digestion’ time is an ideal moment to get other stuff done – pay the bills, get on top of the emails, write Christmas cards, prepare supper in the slow cooker!
Train the body to eat a small snack nearer the run…. this is quite an individual one; works for some but not for others, so worth a try at least. Try eating some raisins and a spoonful of honey, a banana and some raisins, half an English muffin, half a slice of toast and honey or perhaps one weetabix with a little milk as soon as you get up. Each time you run, reduce the time between eating and getting into your trainers and out the door. If you’re lucky, you can squeeze this period to around 15 minutes – just enough time to put your kit on, brush your hair and read the headlines!
Forget the theory and run on empty. If you do this it is important to make sure you hydrate before you leave and refuel as soon as you return. Runners often make the mistake of returning from dawn runs feeling good, rushing into the shower and straight off to work without taking anything on board to replenish depleted glycogen stores, repair muscle trauma and replace salts lost through sweat. Hunger pangs then set in later in the day and this is when any concept of healthy diet goes out the window and you reach for the nearest food available which might be a pasty from the bakery, processed rubbish from the vending machine or supersize bar of chocolate!
Don’t forget that whether you eat before a dawn run or not, it is really important to hydrate properly before you set off. This brings me onto an interesting new technology I came across at the Running Show; a personalised sweat-testing method from Precision Hydration. From one single test of your sweat (£75.00), these guys claim to be able to give you a detailed personalised hydration strategy, advising you on the appropriate level of electrolyte replenishment to aim for from liquids drank before, during and after exercise. Before endorsing this, I need to take a deeper look into the science behind it and will ask the opinion of my medical contacts, so watch this space….