This week I wanted to write about something other than running, though obviously there will be an element of running within the blog because, after all, I am a runner, and of course I’ll end with an update of what I’ve been up to and any other follow up tales. So I decided to write something about nutrition. It is not intentional to blind you with science, or tell you everything there is, but rather to give you a few generalised facts and then to tell you how I interpret that to help me in my fitness. Remember that everyone is different and what works for one person does not necessarily work the same for everyone, in the same way that I use the same basic training principles for all my clients but manipulate them to get the best results from each, your own nutrition should be treated likewise.
I’m not going to go into great detail about what GI certain carbohydrates have or what foods contain different vitamins, etc. I’m going to generalise, otherwise the blog would just go on and on. There is plenty of material available for anybody to do follow up research or, of course, have more in-depth nutritional advice from myself.
There is some really simple advice for people wanting to lose weight, just ensure you eat fewer calories than you burn off. For the non-active reducing carbohydrates and increasing protein intake can be beneficial as it increases the metabolic rate, but don’t even consider cutting out carbohydrates altogether, even if your diet states so, it’s just not healthy to do such a thing. If you are active I wouldn’t cut back on carbs unless you eat a mountain a day, you just need to look at what exercise you are doing, you need to exercise for more than 20 minutes at an intensity of at least 60% max (however you measure this, heart rate, perceived exertion, etc). I strongly believe in a higher intensity workout, carried out over short bursts, with recoveries, coupled, on alternative days, with the 60% workout. Strengthening your muscles also helps to increase the metabolic rate, burning off more calories. That’s not to suggest you should consider becoming a body builder, for many of my clients, particularly the females, I use light weights with endurance which, tones and strengthens the muscles whilst using aerobic exercise to help burn calories at the same time.
If you’re doing quite intense sessions, i.e. for sport, you need more carbohydrate, before, during (if the session goes beyond the hour) and after (particularly within the first hour post exercise as that’s when glycogen replenishment is most successful). Think about glycaemic index (GI), low before exercise, though for more anaerobic exercise some high GI carbs can be beneficial just before exercise. After exercise, depending on intensity, you’ll benefit from a little high GI carb, for quick absorption, but low GI carbs are still good for long term glycogen replenishment. During exercise you shouldn’t need any carbs if your exercise period is less than an hour and you may actually be ok for longer as training your body for glycogen depletion is similar to training your muscles for lifting heavier weights, as an example when I ran the London Marathon in 2003 I ran for 2 hrs 34 min, I didn’t hit the wall, in fact I finished pretty strongly, but all I took on board during the duration of the race was water. I’d been regularly training for 2 hrs 40 min taking only water, so my body was used to it. This is not what I would particularly recommend to clients, it’s just that I didn’t get on with any of the carbohydrate based drinks I’d tried, so I took the risk, the risk being reduced by the training I was doing. My recommendation is to try out these products in training to see how your body reacts to them, it may take some sessions before your body is prepared to accept them.
After exercise you need replenishment, which should consist of carbs and protein. Carbs, as I’ve already mentioned, are to help replenish the glycogen, the protein will help repair damage you will have done to your muscles. For those thinking of building bigger muscles, i.e. for show rather than sport, a higher protein intake will help. There is an optimum amount, based upon your activity level and weight, above which you’ll gain no further benefit, any further intake of protein above this amount will just be turned into glycogen or fat, though you’d need to be eating a lot of protein for it to be turned into fat.
Speaking of fat, don’t neglect it, fat is required for the absorption of certain vitamins, there being both water and fat soluble vitamins. Fat is also required for tissue structure and hormonal function. It’s important to remember that very low body fat can cause problems, the minimum recommended percentage of body fat is 5% in men and 10% in women. Obviously unsaturated fats are better than saturated and trans fats, and omega 3 is very good for oxygen delivery to cells which means improved athletic performance (for those doing aerobic exercise).
Water must not be neglected, you should aim to remain hydrated at all times but it’s particularly important to ensure you are properly hydrated before your event. So excessive alcohol intake the night before a race is not recommended as it acts as a diuretic. The best way to remain hydrated is to sip fluid throughout the day, drinking a large amount of water in one go will just go straight through you whereas sipping enables good absorption. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consume a good amount after intensive exercise but don’t go overboard or you may dilute your blood, such that the sodium level falls and you end up with hyponatraemia. That’s why sports drinks are useful after exercise, as they will contain sodium and carbs. You could of course make your own sports drink; 1 part fruit juice to 4 parts water and a pinch of salt.
That’s a brief on some aspects of nutrition, there is so much information available and I haven’t gone too specific, if I had you’d have a book rather than a blog. Now the interesting bit, how do I, as an athlete interpret all the above?
For starters, you might consider that a man who trains as often as myself is very particular about how much and when I eat. Well I can tell you that one thing I don’t do is weigh my food or measure my portion sizes. I’ve got a pretty good idea of how much my body needs to eat. At the moment I’m about 5kg heavier than my ideal racing weight, due to reduced exercise whilst injured. I know I will burn that off, with an increased calorific intake, over the next few months, as I intensify my exercise.
Because I train pretty much every day, and usually my running takes place in the morning, I tend to eat the same breakfast. A bowl of porridge, with a banana and honey, made with a drop of milk and water. It’s a big bowl mind you, I’m a daddy bear portion man. I have a small fruit juice before, not diluted with water as I put a lot of water into the porridge, and a large cup of coffee to follow. That’s it, then I wait an hour and a half to 2 hours before I exercise. This gives plenty of time for the stomach to work on it and, even in a hard session, I rarely have any issues. I usually give myself a little longer if I’m racing, if the race is in the afternoon and I’m travelling a fair way, I have two bowls of porridge.
I don’t take anything on board during training, it’s unusual for me to be training for more than an hour in one go and I cope pretty well without water, even in hot climates. After training I’ll have a cup of milk (if I’m away from home I’ll take a milk shake carton). I usually try to follow my run with some other form of exercise, either abs, with or without weights, or kettle bells, during which I’ll eat a handful of peanuts, in the rest between sets. Then off for a shower, swiftly followed by lunch.
Lunch will usually be sandwiches on wholemeal bread, I’ll either have cheese and tomato, tuna or a spread (houmous or taramasalata). Because I’m still burning calories from my session, I’ll have six sandwiches, followed by a piece of fruit and a coffee, which will keep me going until dinner, although if I do get hungry I snack on peanuts. Occasional cups of tea in the afternoon to keep me hydrated, I will drink water outside of the home but prefer tea at home.
Actually my hydration plan is the one thing that I could do better, I actually don’t like drinking too much and will sometimes not drink much water before a race or training session, as I don’t like the feeling of it sloshing about. Whilst that isn’t something I would recommend for others, it works for me and my body has adapted to it. This further reiterates my initial point about us all being different and how we need to find what works for every individual.
My dinner is something that usually consists of a mix of vegetables, fruit and meat and pretty much depends upon what is in the house at the time. I usually have potatoes, pasta or rice, chicken, various vegetables and tinned tomatoes. I’ll drink water with the meal and have a coffee after the meal. Occasionally I’ll replace the water with wine, sometimes more occasionally than I should, but I’m only human.
So you see my gastronomic life is a little dull. Unfortunately I do enjoy pretty much every type of food and drink, and know that if I wasn’t so regimented I could eat all day and eat four courses regularly, easily. In fact the one thing I really hate is having to eat out at both lunch and dinner time, as I’ll invariably end up eating too much. The same is true about staying in hotels before a race, though in this situation I try to go with fish instead of a cooked breakfast. To add to my bread and water style existence I try to not have crisps, biscuits or beer in the house – because it’s too easy to just eat or drink it! Lord help anyone who shacks up with me.
British Masters Cross Country Championships – Perry Park, Birmingham
For those who’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know that I made a last minute decision to enter these championships. A year ago I was flying high, topping the UK M45 rankings for 5 miles and 10k, and went to Belfast full of confidence. With the course very much to my liking, I ran one of my best cross country races to take Silver, just 15 seconds behind the winner, Brian Rushworth. This year, with very little training behind me and the memory of a very muddy Alton Towers still deeply entrenched in my memory, I was also confident, confident I’d get nowhere near the medals.
And I was right. Despite the course again being to my liking my lack of fitness was telling, though I would say I actually ran a good race for my current fitness level. I came 53rd in the race, 17th M45, taking 29:36 for the 8k course. Clearly the fitness is improving as I finished 46 seconds ahead of Alex Rowe, whom you may recall was passed by me just before the finish at Alton Towers. Still a long way to go on the fitness front but I’m now running 24 minutes of quality, on my hard days, instead of the 18 minutes I’ve been doing previously. A few more weeks and I’ll be back up to 30.
I was a good decision to run as I came away with lots of confidence for the future. I feel like I’m on the way back and believe I can be in a position to make a difference to Herne Hill’s chances of gaining further road relay medals. It’s now just down to fitness and confidence to run at a stronger pace. It was also nice to meet up with so
many of my peers and the friends that I’ve made over the 22 years I’ve been running. In particular it was great to catch up with Phil Carstairs and Charlie Dickinson, old training partners from my Belgrave Harriers days, both of whom have suffered long lay-offs due to injury. I was also pretty amazed to hear so many people giving me vocal support around the course, proving what a friendly atmosphere comes with Masters Athletics.
After the race I went for a warm down with Mike Deegan, who works for Ronhill, the company who supply me with some of my kit. Well I should say Mike went for a warm down, I was still running at race pace to keep up. Not bad for a man about to turn 55. An interesting fact I learned about Mike, which ties in nicely with the previous section of this blog, is that he also eats porridge before a race, though I forgot to ask him the size of his bowl.
I haven’t thought about my next race yet, I’m aiming at the masters road relays in May so I may do a few more park runs and then there is the Killer Mile at Mow Cop.
Riley’s at it Again
Lee Riley was back in action this Sunday, this time carrying his 40lb pack around the Stafford 20 miles. Lee ran another fantastic race on his way to the London Marathon, finishing in a time of 2 hrs 40 min 06 sec. That’s exactly 8 min mile pace, if Lee can keep that going for a further 6 miles he can squeeze inside 3 hrs 30 min. It’s the Derby Kilomathon this weekend, Lee’s final pre-London race with his pack. After that he’ll be into his final training phase.
Herne Hill Southern Silvers
I couldn’t finish off without saying well done to my club, Herne Hill Harriers, who took part in the South of England Cross Country Relay Championships, finishing in runner up position. A great achievement, and one that should build further enthusiasm for more of the same.