With the Women’s Running 10k season underway, here is our “Top Ten” guidance on fuelling yourself for a 10km run.
1. Planning and preparation
Whether you are a novice runner, or a seasoned long distance runner, it is always important to plan your food well in advance of an event. Firstly, think about logistics. What time does the race start? Will you have to travel? Most 10km runs commence mid-morning, so schedule in time for breakfast 2 to 3 hours before your race starts to allow adequate time for digestion. Plan to snack at regular intervals (if you know you get hungry) and make sure your snacks are easy to eat on the run.
2. Trial your nutrition plan
Once you have worked out what you will be eating to fuel your run (this includes dinner the night before, breakfast, pre and during race snacks, and hydration), it is crucial to have a trial run with all the food. Tummy upsets and discomforts are common in long distance runners. Select foods you know that you can comfortably digest, and avoid any unusual or spicy foods before or during the race.
3. Optimise your meals for performance
If you are not familiar with the term ‘macros’, it is short from macronutrient. Carbohydrate, protein and fat are the 3 macronutrients that the body digests to release energy. Carbohydrate is the main source of energy when exercising at a medium to high intensity (e.g. when running a 10km), whilst fat is the main source of energy when exercising at a low intensity (e.g. leisurely cycle or walk). A high carbohydrate meal (e.g. pasta, rice, potatoes) the night before a race will maximise your muscle glycogen stores ready for the run.
4. Think about energy release
Athletes are typically advised to select slow release energy foods (like porridge) a couple of hours before the race. This helps to avoid an energy spike shortly after eating, and a subsequent energy dip pre-race. Your muscle glycogen supplies should provide you with sufficient energy for the whole 10k run. However, if you are relatively new to running, having a sweet snack to hand will help to keep you going. Bananas, fruit bars or jelly babies are great for a quick energy boost mid-run. Some runners prefer energy gels or sipping on sports drinks as they can be easier to swallow. Choose whatever suits you best!
5. Have you tried caffeine?
Caffeine is an athlete’s friend! It is well documented that supplementing your diet with caffeine can boost performance, but we recommend you try it out during your training programme! A relatively small dosage of 1 - 3mg/kg body weight (that’s 70 - 210mg for a 70kg person) could help you cut minutes off your time! Caffeine reduces your perception of pain so you can run harder for longer, and also boosts your alertness. Bear in mind that most research with caffeine is carried out with trained athletes. Beginners and amateur runners should focus on improving their fitness and stamina before reaching for supplements.
6. Boost your immunity
The last thing you want on race day is get a cold! To avoid infections, take necessary precautions in the weeks leading up the event. Get plenty of sleep, eat nutritious wholefoods, wash your hands properly, and avoid sharing water bottles.
7. Allow yourself time to recover
Whilst scoffing a calorie laden protein bar within minutes of passing the finish line is not wholly necessary for recovery, eating a nutritious protein rich meal after your run will help your muscles to recover. Including a good source of carbohydrate is equally as important for recovery, as your muscle glycogen stores will need replenishing ready for your next run (if a 10km wasn’t enough for you!). Build in plenty of rest days in your training programme to avoid overtraining and reduce the likelihood of injury.
8. Keep hydrated
Water is a cheap and convenient way to keep hydrated before and during the race. Supplementing your water with electrolytes will boost your hydration and replenish any salts lost during sweat. Bear in mind that over-hydrating can be as detrimental to your performance as under-hydrating. Sip water regularly (at least every 15 minutes) before and during the race (rather than gulping) to prevent stitches and discomfort, and remember to keep drinking after the race. Practise keeping well hydrated during your training programme. You can monitor your hydration status by checking the colour of your urine. Aim for pale straw coloured.
9. Avoid alcohol
This point does not need much elaboration! Save the alcohol for afterwards (if you must!) but remember to drink moderately as you are likely to be dehydrated after the run. Drinking the night before a race will not only make you feel hungover and less energetic in the morning, but it will also deplete your muscle glycogen stores and dehydrate you.
10. Food first
Take a food first approach when planning your food for both your training programme and your race. Eating a wholesome diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is the best way to help your body prepare, and recover from exercise. Think carefully if you are considering using supplements (such as protein powders). More often than not, all the nutrients we require can be provided by consuming a wholesome and balanced diet. We recommend seeking advice from sports nutritionist or dietician first.
Ali Benger MSc (Hons) Applied Sports Nutrition