Whether you’re tackling a half marathon for the first time or are about to take part in your hundredth race, Lynn Clay has some tips that could help you on your way
If you’re upping your mileage in order to get to grips with a good half marathon, you’ll need to pay particular attention to recovery in order to maximise your results. If you can recover well, you can train more effectively in each session, ultimately speeding your progression and improving your race times.
There are no miracle foods which, used alone, will give you a strong body capable of recovering well from each session. A holistic approach to diet is needed to get the best results. The fundamentals of a good diet are adequate calories, sufficient fuel (carbohydrate), protein for muscle repair and immune function and enough vitamins, minerals and fibre for good health. Throw-in some healthy fat, and you have a near-perfect diet. Once you’ve established a reasonable diet framework you can begin to look at particular foods that can support recovery and performance progression.
Start the recovery process during training
Our bodies need fuel to perform. Apart from the carbohydrate content of our diet, we can also benefit from fuelling the body during exercise. If the duration of your run exceeds 90 minutes, drinking a quality carbohydrate drink – approximately 750-1000ml per hour, mixed to a six to eight per cent solution – can aid energy provision. If you select a variety also containing Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), these can also help to reduce muscle breakdown during training. Electrolytes are also a must once you’re running for over 90 minutes.
“If you fuel the body well, you’re likely to cover more miles each month just from the added benefits of staying well and training regularly”
Get the facts: studies show that supporting your body with a carbohydrate drink during exercise can reduce the likelihood of picking up colds and bugs.
Don’t be put off: Some people worry that drinking a carbohydrate drink during exercise adds calories that they are looking to burn for weight loss. Not drinking a carb drink, however, is a false economy as a poorly-fuelled body can’t perform as hard or for as long as if it were well-fuelled. A good carbohydrate drink mixed to the correct solution will be providing at most 250 calories per hour (for 1000ml). For a 70kg runner, covering seven miles in an hour, their calorie burn would be approximately 784. If you fuel the body well, you’re likely to cover more miles each month just from the added benefits of staying well and training regularly.
This is the optimum time to put food into the body as just after training the body transports fuels more effectively. Your aim should be to get carbohydrate into your body to the muscles so that it can be stored and then released during a subsequent exercise session. If your muscle glycogen levels (stored carbohydrate) are low at the beginning of a run you may experience heavy legs and a general lack of energy.
“Even if you don’t feel hungry after exercise, still ensure you eat”
Get the facts: Science tells us that the best nutritional recovery strategy after training is a mixture of carbohydrate and protein. The precise mix, a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein, has been shown to be optimal in supporting the transportation of carbohydrate into the stored muscles. If this is ingested after every training session then the levels of stored carbohydrate can be topped up to drive long-term performance.
Options: Choose to mix a jacket potato with some tuna to get a mix of carbohydrate and protein, opt for a wholegrain cheese sandwich or even go for a chocolate milkshake. All of these foods will be transported better during this period of time than if eaten away from training and offer a mix of fuels. Choosing more easily digestible foods, however, will offer even better recovery at this time. Sports nutrition products such as Recovermax, from Maximuscle, offer a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein in a powder format that you just need to mix with water. Not only are you getting the ideal mix with no guesswork, but also this formula is digested very quickly due to the nature of the protein and carbohydrate choice. Also containing glutamine, this product can provide support for muscle recovery and the immune system, which is vital, if you want to stay in training.
Don’t be put off: Even if you don’t feel hungry after exercise, still ensure you eat. Not putting fuel into your body at this time is more likely to leave you struggling with your training and putting in sub-optimal performances. Drinking a recovery formula is sometimes easier than ingesting whole foods at this time. Calorie-wise, you can choose a half or whole serving (or even two servings) depending on the length of your run, to ensure that you recover well but don’t replace all of the calories if you’re looking for weight loss.
Other nutritional treasures
If you want to speed your recovery even further try adding red fruits, in particular cherries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, to your diet either in dried or fresh form. These fruits have high levels of phytochemicals called ‘anthocyanins’ that studies have linked with reduced inflammation in the body. Popping some on the top of your cereal, using as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack and adding to smoothies, will help you to get your daily complement.
Integrating these recommendations into your daily diet will support your training and hopefully see you completing your first half marathon this year or posting a personal best. Best of all, you’re likely to stay strong and stay training.