Peak performance: nutrition for early morning running

Peak District 27 November 2011

New Balance Minimus trail shoes

This weekend, my new running shoes and new early morning nutritional regime got tested out in the wild and windy Peak District.  My shoes (the New Balance Minimus trail shoes – see left) are recovering after an ankle-deep mud bath. More on those later.

I mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago that I was keen to find out a few simple but effective ways to prepare for an early morning run without falling back on Lucozade as an energy boost, and to recover and get ready for a busy day without slumping mid-morning.

Enter fellow early-morning-runner, Jo Scott-Dalgleish.

Jo is a nutritional therapist specialising in sports nutrition, and here are her expert pointers for getting the best start to the day:

EARLY MORNING RUNS – HOW TO EAT FOR ENERGY AND RECOVERY

Getting up before dawn for an early morning run, it’s only too easy to pull on your trainers and head on out of the door on an empty stomach.

But this approach isn’t going to allow you to make the most of your run. To exercise effectively, your muscles need to be well topped up with glycogen, for which you need carbohydrate. The best pre-run carbohydrate is quickly digested and delivered to your muscles. A banana is a good bet or half a toasted white bagel with honey. If you prefer to drink something, try diluting 125ml of fruit juice with 125ml water. Grape juice, pomegranate juice or blueberry juice are good choices to drink before a run as they contain more anti-oxidants than other fruits.

Once you are back, it’s best to eat breakfast within 45 minutes as this is the ‘window’ to replenish the glycogen you used up in your run. It’s also important to eat around that time to prevent a blood sugar crash later on, which can result in making unhealthy choices such as pastries, croissants and muffins. Including a slow-release carbohydrate with your breakfast will help to sustain your energy levels throughout the morning. A great post-run breakfast choice is porridge with a couple of tablespoons of nuts or seeds (which provide healthy fats and protein) and a handful of fresh or frozen berries. Other ideas would be low sugar baked beans, boiled or poached egg with whole grain or rye toast, or low sugar muesli with semi-skimmed milk or natural yogurt.

Putting new shoes and Jo's nutrition tips through their paces on a muddy trail through the Peak District

I have to admit that I put a Yorkie bar (when in Rome…) in my pocket just in case – it seemed appropriate in case of emergency!  

But otherwise I didn’t miss the Lucozade and Jo’s tips are much more natural and healthy, so I will be sticking to them from now on.

Jo Scott-Dalgleish BSc (Hons) MBANT is a Nutritional Therapist practising in Chiswick, West London. She specialises in sports nutrition, energy management, weight loss and digestive health. Please see www.nutritionsolutions4health.co.uk for more information.

6am high to 6pm crash

This is my first post about nutrition.  I love the subject of nutrition. I absolutely love the idea of learning how to have more energy, feel better, run better, recover faster and prevent problems in the future.  I love the idea of understanding the impact of everything that goes in and how fundamentally it affects us and how we think and feel and perform.

In theory.

But as a subject, it also makes me a bit fidgety.  There’s just so much to learn, and you only have to scratch the surface for it all to become quite technical.  In the same vein, I’d love to know more about wine so that I could expand my choices, but really you can’t hope to learn more than a smattering about it without years of study, and you end up feeling more ignorant than when you started. 

I’ve always felt that once you get into nutrition, you really have to get all the way into it.  If you know a little bit about good nutrition, then you’ve got to know all about good nutrition.  And you’d have to absorb it into your life totally, morning to night and everything in between.

And that’s what makes me twitchy and sends me back to my regular diet and emergency rations of Snickers and Lucozade.

It’s not that I eat badly, far from it.  I love to cook from scratch, and I enjoy fruit (although I’m SO bored with bananas and it’s hard to get anywhere with good sports nutrition without them) and vegetables, and I have a near-fetish for dairy products so there’s definitely no problem with calcium.  But I know I could do so much better, and I know there must be a better way to avoid the 6pm crash than Snickers, or needing a pre-run Lucozade.  And the unavoidable truth is that getting up early and going for a daily run does take a lot out.

So I’d like to try and adopt the same approach to nutrition as I do to running in general. 

I’ve never followed a training plan.  I decided to start running one day about three years ago, so I invested in some trainers (and a good sports bra – most important), and ran a bit.  And that was it.  I ran a bit and walked a bit, and ran a bit further and walked a bit less.  And then I reached that magically happy point where I could sustain myself and recover on the go, and then I could run a lot further. 

Most importantly, I LOVED it.  I enjoyed being out in the open air in the early morning, and the natural high of moving.  There are far better runners who’ve studied the best and latest guidance, but I only need to be able to do what I love doing.

And therefore I will endeavour to seek out the essential ingredients to enable me to run early and run well, and not slump later on, and share them in a series of posts here.  The “basic trainers and sports bra” of running nutrition if you like, and the rest comes naturally. 

Nothing that’s a chore, definitely no seeds (meh) and not too many damn bananas…