Supplements and your performance

Posted: December 10, 2009 in Nutrition

A few weeks ago I was asked by a friend to write about what kinds of supplements I use (specifically during long training runs and races) to ensure maximum performance and sustain energy.  With Boston training beginning on Monday (12/14) and Sunday long runs will start to build in mileage from 10 miles in week 1 up to the three 20 mile training runs in weeks 11, 13 and 15 nutrition was back on my mind this week.

Training for virtually all endurance sports really is as much about mathematics as it is about heart and desire.  Calories = fuel.  This is a difficult reality for many endurance athletes to embrace as many of us are “fanatical” about not only running or cycling or swimming (or all three in the case of tri-athletes), but also about things such as our body weight or composition.  Even though we “know” that we must increase our caloric intake to train and compete at a high level we try to cheat the system by doing so at the same caloric levels to avoid weight gain and in some cases even lose weight while we are training seriously.  This is not the way to improve performance.

Garmin Forerunner 405

Calories = energy.  Energy = fuel.  Fuel = being able to compete at a high level for a period of time.  My most prized possession when running right after a new pair of Asics is my Garmin.  I haven’t been on a training run in more than two years without it.  For a person like me who travels quite a bit and finds myself running in new cities along new routes with great frequency – this device is a critical piece of training equipment.  If the schedule calls for an 8-miler I know exactly how far I need to run to get there.  It also tracks my overall time, my average pace, my pace per individual mile, elevation changes and even uploads this information wirelessly to my laptop.  One thing it also does however (after you input your weight at set-up) is tracks my calories burned.  This helps me understand that over the course of a 20-mile training run I burn approximately 2,102 calories (I burn 106 calories for every mile traveled).

At a race weight of 136 lbs., running approximately 8.3 miles per hour – 106 calories per hour is the fuel I need in my tank to sustain that energy for that period of time.  So in approximately 2 hours 25 minutes I will burn the daily recommended caloric intake for an entire day.  Because neither I nor anyone really could (or should!) eat 2,000 calories of fuel prior to a long morning run – enter supplements.

I will cover pre-race and pre-training run meals as we get closer to race day – one of the greatest gifts to a distance runner is the fact that you can and will eat A LOT of food as your mileage increases, many runners will tell you they run marathons because they simply love to eat – there is a lot of truth to that.  But back to the topic of the day which is nutrition while training/racing.

5-hour energy drink

I saw the other day an energy “drink” that was called 5-hour energy.  When you look at the label on the back it boasts of all its wonderful ingredients, but then shows you that it packs only 4 calories.  4!

Well if you are dieting and you would like a drink to provide you with some caffeine to get you started in the morning I suppose this would work.  A cup of coffee would do the same trick and actually save you the 4 calories.

This is not a drink that will provide you with “energy” – this is a caffeine drink.  Remember calories = energy.  There is no cheating this fact.

I don’t think that I am going to have 5-hour energy sponsoring Run for Dom anytime soon, (sorry Dom) – but that is o.k. as there are a lot of products out there that do provide runners, swimmers, cyclists the fuel that they need in a delivery system that is conducive to that sport.

I know that during the course of the 26.2 mile test which is the marathon that I am going to need to eat well two days before the race with a lot of carbohydrates.  Really watch my hydration and drink a lot of water for the 36 hours leading up to the race and eat a small meal on race morning.  A bagel, A banana and a caffeine drink (coca-cola, Dr. Pepper etc.) along with my last drink of water 2 hours before the starting gun.  (more on managing bathroom breaks during a race at a later time I’ve never had to stop on a course yet and I’m pretty proud of that fact).

Clif Shot Blocks

My bagel (280 calories) and banana (80 calories) are only going to take me so far come race day – so I need a little help along the course.  For me Clif Shot Bloks are the answer.  They are small, light, packable and do a great job.  They come in a lot of flavors – personally I like the black cherry Bloks the best, I can manage how many I take at a time, which in turn lets me know exactly how many calories I am adding and when and most importantly they do not make me feel sick to my stomach.  In the case of all such supplements taking with water is critical to help absorbtion and to settle your stomach – but these Bloks do the trick.  I race with my own water while on the course as I like knowing when I will be able to drink and eat, not relying on aid stations.  That is simply a personal preference – other runners do not like to have their hydra-belt with them on race day.

For me the formula works, I drink water on every even number mile (2,4,6,8,10 etc.) and eat three Clif Bloks (300 calories) every 5 miles for the first 20 miles of the race (5,10,15,20).

Gu Products

This allows me to consume 1,200 calories along the course along with my 360 at “breakfast” on race day.  Like most things when it comes to training – you have to experiment – for me this has proven to be a very reliable formula where I still have plenty of energy during the latter portions of the race, but I also have a very settled stomach, no cramps and no dehydration issues.

A lot of runners will tell you that the GU product line is the way to go.  Their delivery system used at most races is shown on the left which is simply a quick squeeze after tearing off the top of the package and you are good to go.  For me it was a lot of product to take in all at one time and it made me a bit nauseous.  This is why experimentation is key, just because something works for me or anyone else does not mean it will work for you.  GU has changed their delivery systems quite a bit since their early days and now even has chewable gels such as the Clif Bloks that I am fond of. 

There is one thing however that holds true no matter who you are – be it Lance Armstrong or Joe Marruchella.  Read the label – if it states 4 calories per serving you are looking at perhaps 1/16 of one mile of fuel, Calories = Fuel there is no way around it.

  1. tbrush3 says:

    Very helpful post. This is always the toughest thing for me to balance on race day

  2. joerunfordom says:

    Practice, practice, practice – the hardest thing for me to learn was how to drink while on the move during a race – I just couldn’t get enough fluids without soaking and choking myself … what a sport!

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