Running On Empty by Joe T

Many of us started our running, walking or workout programs to lose weight.  That is the main reason I started running twenty plus years ago.  I was a former collegiate swimmer who had tired of the smell of chlorine but still loved the smell and taste of pizza, burgers and French fries.  As a result of my lack of exercise and unchanged enormous appetite, I piled on 80 unwanted pounds.  Embarrassed to be seen shopping in the husky section and tired, literally, of growing winded on the walk to the fridge, I decided to start a running program.

Since my initial goal was weight loss, the last thing that entered my thought process was fueling or consuming calories prior to or during my training runs.  In fact, it seemed counterintuitive to take on additional calories/fuel!  Therefore, I would head out the door everyday without fluid or food/fuel.  Initially, this was not an issue as I was limited by my enormous girth and only capable of covering a block, or so, of distance (we all have to start somewhere ;)).  However, as my runs grew longer, my energy levels waned and, as a result, so did my enthusiasm for running.  I thought I just wasn’t cut out to be a runner or even active, for that matter.  I was always fatigued and I was ready to give up.  As a last ditch effort, I decided to discuss my issue with a friend of mine who happened to be a marathoner.  The first question he posed was relative to the fueling protocol I was following.  I, in turn, asked why he was concerned with the type of gas I put in my car!  What can I say, I was a newbie!  As it turns out, he wanted to know what I was eating and drinking before, during and after my runs.  My answers were nothing, nothing and nothing.  After all, I was trying to lose weight, not gain it!  He called me an idiot (remember, he is my friend so I guess he can do that) and told me that my lack of energy and inability to run longer was a result of my insufficient calorie consumption.  He said I was running on empty, gave me some fueling pointers and sent me on my merry way.

I must admit, at first, I was hesitant to take his advice because calories had become the enemy.  Since I had pretty much hit a wall doing things my way, I decided to give this fueling thing a try.  At the time, I was running when I got home from work, so on the way home, about an hour prior to my run, I consumed ½ of a Powerbar (not to date myself but I think it was the first year they were on the market and came in 3 different flavors) and washed it down with an 8 oz. glass of water.  Guess what?  That run felt great and marked the start of what has become the love of my life!!!  As it turns out, I was basically starving myself and it was no wonder my energy and activity levels had plummeted. Times have changed a lot since then (there may even be a few more PB flavor options to choose from now), but the fact that we need energy to perform at our peak, and fluid and fuel provide that energy, has not. 

With that being said, let’s talk about some fueling rules of thumb.  We will start with fluid.  You will want to consume at least 8 ounces of fluid during the hour prior to your workout.  During your workout, you should consume 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes.  The fluid can be water or one of the many electrolyte replacement drinks available on the market.  For activities lasting longer than 30 minutes or when exercising in warm weather, I recommend the electrolyte replacement formulas because they will help replenish lost sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, staving off cramping and fatigue. 

The basic rules for food are equally simple.  Consume some sort of fuel 15 minutes before the activity and then every 45 minutes, or so, during the activity.  Now, we are not talking about a steak sandwich!  Typically, we will want to consume about 70-100 calories of a mixture of simple and complex carbohydrates.  The simple carbohydrates will give you instant energy and the, longer lasting, complex carbohydrates will hold you over until it is time to fuel again.  There are many endurance fuels/foods on the market that come in various consistencies from gels to chews to jelly beans.  These formulas are easier to digest and rapidly absorbed.  Once we have finished our workout, we will want to consume some protein + carbohydrates.  This can be in the form of a turkey sandwich/real food or one of the many bars or drinks that are currently on the market.  The protein/carb combo should be consumed within the first 30 minutes after your workout, as this is the best time to repair and rebuild the muscle fibers that were impacted during the workout.

With proper fueling, both in the form of fluid and food, you will be able to exercise longer and at a higher intensity.  You will also feel much better while doing so!  Just like your car, you won’t get very far while running on empty!

Remember, these are just rules of thumb!  We are all different and have individual tastes, needs and constitutions.  Therefore, you will want to experiment and find what works best for you.  Please don’t try anything new on race day or the day of your planned event.  Fueling needs to be practiced during your walk, training run or workout!

If you need help getting started or tweaking your fueling, stop into Fleet Feet Pleasanton and talk to us.  Whether you are looking to lose a few pounds or PR in your next race, we are here to help and we have a huge selection of fuel to choose from to help you accomplish your goals. Don’t run on empty!!!

See you on the roads,


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