With Indiana’s biggest half-marathon just weeks away, now is the time for athletes to start fine-tuning their training protocols. During this phase, even experienced athletes may overlook a fundamental training tool that can help them reach their full potential—good nutrition.
“It’s easy to get preoccupied with your minute-per-mile pace and other indicators of progress,” said Heather Fink, a registered dietitian and consultant for IU Health Sports Performance. “Unfortunately, some athletes won’t give a second thought to their nutrition.”
Only a few dietary rules apply to all athletes. Everyone needs a combination of carbohydrates and protein to properly fuel the body, but other nutrition guidelines depend on the individual athlete (e.g., calorie needs based on body size or gender, fluid needs, daily routines, food preferences).
During the training season, morning exercisers may put more emphasis on dinner the preceding night. People who train at the end of the day may focus more on breakfast and lunch. Eating within 30 minutes of vigorous exercise is no big deal for some runners. Others need to give themselves at least four hours to avoid an upset stomach while running. “It’s so important for people to realize that it’s all about them,” Fink says. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else does; it matters what works best for you.”
As an experienced marathoner herself, Fink encourages experimentation with pre-race nutrition and hydration strategies. Factors such as food selection, fluid intake and timing of ingestion can be tested until four to six weeks before the race. By that time, Fink says athletes should know what and when to eat and drink for maximum performance during the race.
To finalize their pre-race routine, athletes should practice the plan with a couple of long morning runs on weekends. “They need to practice not only what foods, but the timing of their intake to make sure it’s just right,” Fink says.
In our next post, registered dietitian Heather Fink shares more tips for developing your race day nutrition plan.