on... Fuel

Now I've put this one off for some time as it may be a little controversial. As a reminder, these are just my thoughts and experiences, what works for me may not work for you. Also, there's a lot of research that says that this stuff is just not needed, a balanced diet should be sufficient for most people's needs. A jam sandwich works perfectly for many people!

My initial experimentation with Sports Nutrition came about when I started running parkrun, 09:00 on a Saturday morning (previously lie-in time). After a few weeks of running without breakfast, I decided that I was tired through lack of food. Eating breakfast was not an option, since it'd be churning around inside of me - an hour isn't much time for digestion. I tried bananas, no good, and so I looked into alternatives.
Here's the science bits - claims that are made:

  • Electrolytes - facilitation of hydration and proper muscle contraction (including reduction of muscle cramping
  • Sugars - carbohydrates for quick absorbtion and use
  • Caffeine - stimulates the brain, helps to reduce fatigue

I started with sugary drinks from that company that used to just sell the orange stuff your mum bought you when she was fed up with how long you'd been ill. They were OK, but pretty expensive, so I looked elsewhere.

I purchased some electrolyte-sugar-caffeine blend that actually worked pretty well. Drinking this before running gave me a bit of a boost and left a really nice taste in my mouth - something that I could draw on when things start getting a bit rough, research shows that just the taste of food tricks the brain into thinking the body that it's about to be fed, thus suppressing some of the feelings of self-protection shutdown. Being the helpful soul that I am, when someone else mentioned similar problems with needing to eat before running, I took some down to parkrun. I have to admit, it probably looked a bit dodgy, helping a lady tip powder into a water bottle in a car park, but it worked for her too.

During a recent television programme about Sports Nutrition, there were only two products that had been scientifically proven to increase performance - Creatine and Caffeine. Caffeine certainly works for me, though I often find it better to get this from a cup of espresso, generally about an hour before the start of the run. I once tried something new, just ready for a NEWTS evening running session. What I hadn't reckoned on was just how much caffeine was in there - I realised the following morning, having not slept a wink that night. I did rather fly around the track though, even on the last lap! I still use this one, but at a lower dosage, especially during the evening! Not everyone can take caffeine, and not everyone can take it in all forms - I am better drinking it in coffee, powder is OK, only ever drunk a caffeine drink as part of a Jagerbomb and never taken tablets.

Other runners that I know swear by Beetroot juice - this can be taken during the week for base-building, but mainly as a shot about an hour before running. Combined with a sugar solution, this is said to be a potent charge... but only if your body can take it. Beetroot claims to increase Nitric Oxide levels in the blood, but it can also have a bad effect on the digestive system. The best "side effect" that you can hope for is pink wee, medium effect is a slight worry about "passing blood" (always a joy after eating beetroot), the worst that could happen... If you've ever experienced driving up a hill following an old car that's just been given a dose of STP Fuel Injection cleaner and experienced the resultant blow-out then I've pretty much given you the picture. 

That pretty much sums up my thoughts on pre-run Sports Nutrition - know your body, never use full "suggested dosage" from day one, record what happens and adjust accordingly.

My personal rules on pre-run fuelling...

  • When trying something new, use a third of the dose first, increasing over time
  • Hydration - drink water, starting from when you first wake up
  • Take a solution of Electrolyte and sugar, maybe some caffeine
  • Drink it 45 minutes prior to exertion
  • Drink over a period of more than five minutes to avoid needing to visit the "Runners tree"

BTW, a lot of this stuff is "all in the mind" - you think that you're going to perform because you're properly prepared, and you do perform.