What should I eat before I run is a question that all runners grapple with, probably on a daily basis. Before sports drinks, bars and neon gels became normal fare for runners, athletes had to tap the supermarket aisles for a competitive edge. Sports nutrition research is once again showing that Mother Nature knows a thing or two about fueling your runs. Whether you’re kicking up some dirt in the woods or pounding the city pavement, gnawing on the right edibles and chugging the best drinks before, during and after a workout is like flipping a switch that tells your body to run harder, faster and longer. What foods and beverages can you count on to go the extra mile? Here’s a list of natural fuel choices derived from the latest science.
Supercharge your runs with foods and drinks that give you a natural energy boost.
By Matthew Kadey
Time Zone: 2 to 3 hours pre-run
Eat: Steel-cut oatmeal
A study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that subjects who ate a low-glycemic meal such as a hearty bowl of steel-cut oats three hours prior to a run had better endurance capacity than those who consumed a high-glycemic meal. Further, a 2012 investigation in the European Journal of Applied Physiology reported the healthy volunteers burned more fat during endurance exercise when they ate a low-glycemic meal two hours before working out than when they ate a high-glycemic meal.
The slow-releasing carbs in whole grains like oatmeal will provide a more steady energy source during exercise, while too many high-glycemic foods like sugary boxed cereals and white bread spikes insulin levels, which can hamper fat burning and lead to blood sugar crashes.
Try this: Place 1 cup steel-cut oats, 2 tbsp chia seeds, 1⁄2 tsp cinnamon and 1⁄4 tsp nutmeg in a jar and pour in 1 cup milk of choice. Stir, secure lid and refrigerate overnight. Soaking steel-cut oats overnight gives them a great chewy texture so they can be consumed uncooked. When ready to serve, place oats into serving bowls and top with additional milk, nuts and fruit. Running after work? Spoon this up for lunch.
Eat: Dark chocolate
Scientists in the U.K. recently discovered that subjects who ate dark choco- late two hours before a long workout experienced less muscular oxidative stress afterwards. There’s evidence that high levels of exercise-induced oxidative stress can hamper muscle recovery. Researchers believe the high amount of polyphenol antioxidants in dark chocolate are behind this benefit.
Try this: Give into chocolate cravings before a hard run by consuming an ounce or two of chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa content or mix in some pure cocoa powder into your pre-run bowl of oats.
Eat: Sweet potato
The orange spud has plenty of carbohydrates to help top up your energy stores. With a lower glycemic index than the white potato, it won’t send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride.
Try this: Puncture a sweet potato a few times with a fork, place on paper towel on a microwave-safe dish and cook on high for 4 to 5 minutes. Turn over potato halfway through cooking. Cooked potatoes can be wrapped up and reheated in a workplace microwave. Try topping with a couple dollops of Greek yogurt.
Time Zone: 15 to 45 minutes pre-run
Drink: Yerba mate
If you’re looking for a pre-run jolt, try steeping this South American tea. Popular in Uruguay and Argentina, yerba mate has several stimulants, including caffeine, but without coffee’s jittery side- effects. By stimulating the central nervous system, a shot of caffeine can help you run harder and longer.
Try this: You probably don’t want to guzzle a cup of steaming hot tea before a run, so brew a few bags of yerba mate beforehand and chill the beverage in the refrigerator. If you’re gearing up for a hot run, try serving over crushed ice.
Researchers from Greece discovered that runners who consumed easy-to-digest carbohydrates like those found in portable applesauce shortly before a treadmill test were able to run 13 per cent longer than subjects who ate nothing. Spooning up applesauce before you hit the trail or pavement isn’t likely to cause stomach woes and will give you a quick boost of carbohydrate energy to help you keep up the pace. A small snack before a run also helps stave off hunger pangs during exercise.
Try this: To avoid too many sugary calories just before a run, opt for unsweetened applesauce.
Drink: Beet juice
The crimson drink might just be the secret to running past the competition. A 2012 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that subjects who consumed beets before exercising ran at a faster pace and felt less exertion than those who didn’t take in the root vegetable. Nitrates in beets are believed to be turned into nitric oxide in the body, which widens blood vessels and improves blood flow to working muscles.
Try this: Beet juice is a convenient way to take in a hefty dose of nitrates. If you don’t have a juicer, most health food shops and some supermarkets carry bottles of pure beet juice. Studies suggest the best results come from consuming the juice for several days before an important run.
Time Zone: During a run
Eat: Dried plums
Various forms of dried fruit have high amounts of fast-digesting sugars that can be quickly and efficiently burned for energy. Typically, the benefits of consuming carbs during exercise occur only when running continuously for longer than an hour. Because dried plums are moister than many other dried fruits, they’ll be easier to eat when running hard.
Try this: For easy carrying when running, place dried plums in a small zip-top bag and stash it in a jersey pocket or fuel belt. For a performance benefit, you need 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate for each hour of exercise, the amount found in six to 10 dried plums.
Drink: Coconut water
If you’re out for an easy run lasting less than an hour, skip the sugary sports drink and instead try filling your water bottle with this tangy tropical thirst quencher. Coconut water has a tremendous amount of potassium to help curb muscle cramps and just the right amount of natural sugars to fuel your stride. For longer, hotter runs though, you’re better served by a sports drink with more carbs and sodium.
Try this: Aim to drink about one cup of coconut water for runs lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Some brands now come in tasty flavours like pineapple and mango.
Eat: Baby food
Consuming carbohydrates during a run helps prevent your blood glucose and muscle glycogen from taking a nosedive thereby making exercise seem easier and delaying fatigue. So pay a visit to the baby food aisle at the supermarket to get your carb fix. Here you’ll find tasty pouches of 100 per cent puréed fruit and vegetable blends including items such as banana, sweet potato, blueberries and orange.
Try this: Look for brands that come with convenient twist tops that make it easier to suck back a pouch while running. Bring along two pouches of the puréed snacks for each hour you plan on exercising.