Running & Walking Nutrition Basics

I vividly remember the moment I started to appreciate the relationship between food and running. It was my freshman year of high school (Go Panthers!) when I discovered both distance running and gyros at the exact same time. I thought gyros were the perfect lunch–until I ate one on the same day as a track workout. Let’s just say that after that day my relationship with gyros changed forever. And my understanding of how to properly eat before a workout (and why) got a little better.

My next big revelation about nutrition and its impact on running came after college when I started running longer and longer distances (marathons and ultra marathons). Luckily, I had an experienced distance-running coach who explained the importance of in-race nutrition and its impact on performance. Even after 26 marathons and a half dozen or so ultra marathons in just over a decade, I am still playing with what works best for my body during long running events.

While I am not claiming to be a Sports Nutritionist, I do have a lot of experience when it comes to seeking out and finding the right fuel for my endurance events of choice. This is probably the topic that gets brought up the most when I talk with new half- and full-marathon runners.

If you are planning to run a race of ninety minutes or more and you are not thinking about a nutrition plan, you might want to start!

Below are some basic rules of thumb that I follow. Keep in mind that everyone is different and it is important to experiment and figure out what works best for you.

Nutrition Pre-Exercise or Pre-Race: (Source: Cassie Dimmick)

  • Shorter weekday workouts: eat 30-60 min before
  • Longer weekend workouts or competition: eat 2-3 hours before (Don’t worry about waking up that early before the long run unless you are simulating race day. Eat well the night before and snack 30-45 minutes before running.)
  • Choose a meal or snack that is low in fat, contains complex carbohydrates, and has a little protein.
  • Rule of Half: half a bagel, half a banana, half a cup of coffee, etc
  • Eat familiar foods that you know you can tolerate
  • Practice leading up to a long distance race
  • Drink 10-16 oz of fluid 1-2 hours before exercise and another 4-8 oz right before you start.

Pre-Exercise food examples:

  • Granola bar and a banana
  • English muffin or bagel with peanut butter and a piece of fruit
  • Smoothie
  • Nutrition Bar
  • Gel or Sports Chews
  • Pretzels

Nutrition During Exercise or Race: (Source: Cassie Dimmick)

  • Muscles use glycogen (the stored energy form of carbohydrates) and fat for fuel. Both fat and glycogen are used in most activities. Fat can be used as a fuel during aerobic exercise (long, low intensity exercise), but glycogen is the main fuel during strenuous exercise (running a half or full marathon) and anaerobic exercise (short bursts of all-out running).
  • For exercise over 90 minutes, you need additional carbs from gels, bars, or other well-tolerated foods.
  • For runs up to 120 minutes, 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise is helpful.
  • For runs over 120 minutes, aim for 60-90 grams per hour as tolerated.

Examples of approximately 30 Grams of carbohydrate:

  • 1 banana
  • 10 pretzels
  • 2 Fig Newtons
  • 1/4 bagel
  • Gels and Sports Chews (Note: Gels and chews have roughly 22 to 29 grams of carbs per serving along with electrolytes. Take these with water to speed delivery of energy into your system.)

Nutrition Post Exercise or Race:

To become a better runner or walker you need to recover from running or walking. For proper recovery, it is recommended that you eat something with both carbohydrates and protein within 45 minutes to an hour after exercise. Failing to do so will most likely effect recovery time and limit the the improvements you can gain from your workout. Failing to recover not only can hinder potential benefits from exercise, but also can lead to injury over time. Read more about the science behind post-exercise recovery in this report by the American Council on Exercise.

I hope this article helps you answer some of your basic sports nutrition questions. At the very least, I hope it gets you thinking about the subject if you have not been already. If this is something you are really fascinated by and think it is the edge you need, I would recommend going to see a Sports Nutritionist to learn more. And remember, we are all different, so it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for your body.

Indy Runners & Walkers Member Spotlight: Carole Miller

You might recognize Carole Miller, (standing in the center of the featured photo above), as one of the smiling faces serving breakfast burritos and pancakes at our cheer zone tent after the Monumental Marathon. Or, perhaps you know her from our Spring Training Program where she takes new walkers under her wing and keeps them coming back week after week with her encouragement and wonderful sense of humor. Carole has also served the past two years on the Indy Runners board as the co-walking director. Her self proclaimed mission has been “to give a face to walkers, because they are just as passionate about walking as runners are about running–it just takes us longer.”

Having served on the board with Carole the past two years, I can honestly say she is the perfect representation of what makes our club special. She is always looking out for others and making sure everyone feels welcome and appreciated. I couldn’t think of anyone better to do our very first member spotlight blog post with than Carole, who truly makes Indy Runners and Walkers a place for every pace!

Below are a series of questions Carole took the time to answer for us.

When and why did you join Indy Walkers?

I joined Indy Runners in 2013. I was looking for a training program for the 500 Mini. The last year I attempted to do the Mini was 2003. To put it mildly, it was the most miserable and painful experience of my life and it took me 10 years to try it again. I knew my training in 2003 was insufficient and I had to do better, so I went on the internet and Indy Runners popped up as a local running club.

What kept you coming back?

The reason I kept coming back was because of Kay King and Sue Murry.  Both of these wonderful women took me under their wing in 2013 and walked with me. Although their pace was much faster than mine, they made sure that I was never alone. They are part of the reason that I always tell the new walkers our motto: “No one is left behind.” The training is fine and the seminars are helpful, but you can pull down a training schedule from the web and get what you need. The most important thing for me was the camaraderie of our walking group. Sue and Kay and anyone who walks with me has heard about my WONDERFUL grandson, my crazy sister, my stressful job, and my cancer.  These wonderful people are always there to listen. That’s why I get up on Saturdays and go across town to Broad Ripple to walk 6 miles. I could walk in Eagle Creek, but Eagle Creek would not have the wonderful people I’ve met training with Indy Walkers.

Left to right: Natasha Jones, Kay Greene, Carole Miller

When were you diagnosed with cancer and what is your current status?

I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer in January 2018. The first people I told were my walking buddies. First, because it was the start of the 2018 training for the Mini and I would not be able to continue as a pacer, and second, because they were my walking buddies and after five years I told them everything. When I was diagnosed I had grand plans; I wasn’t going to let cancer dictate to me how I was going to live my life. I was determined to keep my walking routine. I received so much love and support from everyone in the Club, and not just my close walking buddies, but runners that I only knew in passing. I don’t think I would have had such a successful recovery without my buddies at Indy Walkers. They laughed with me about my bald head and the side effects of chemo, and when it came time for “slice and dice” also known as surgery, Kay and Sue provided me with meals so that I would not have to cook. I will never be able to thank them enough.  I truly believe that one of the main factors in my successful recovery is that I was in good health. I contribute that to walking three times a week: 3 to 4 miles on two days and 6 miles on Saturdays.

What is your most memorable Indy Walkers moment?

Believe it or not my most memorable moment with Indy Walkers is walking up Holcomb Hill without stopping! I complain a lot and on that first attempt at Holcomb I was complaining at the top of my lungs. The first time, I had to stop 3 times and at the end, my lungs were burning, my heart was beating so fast I thought I would die, and the words coming out of my mouth would put anyone to shame–but at the time, I didn’t care. Five years later, I can make it in one try! I still breath hard, but I don’t stop. I still complain, but not as robustly. And I really don’t have that much time to complain because it doesn’t take that long for me to do it. That just tells you how successful my time with Indy Walkers has been in improving my health.

What does Indy Walkers mean to you?

Indy Walkers and walking are part of my life. Want to make me mad? Tell me I have to work on Tuesday or Thursday evenings or Saturday morning. Want to get on my bad side? Keep me from making a race that I paid for in January. I spend more money on shoes for walking then casual or dress shoes. Sometimes I feel like the Post Office: nothing–and I mean nothing–keeps me from my Saturday morning walks. If I don’t make it on Saturday, my entire weekend is messed up.

What would you tell someone thinking about joining Indy Walkers?

I really think Indy Runners/Walkers is a great club for anyone wanting to train for races or just get in shape. I’ve tried training on my own and it was not a good choice for me. I’ve tried walking by myself and it doesn’t work. The accountability, camaraderie, and sheer fun of seeing myself improve keep me getting up every Saturday morning. On top of that, talking with my buddies beats spending money on a shrink. Without Indy Walkers, I never would have met Pam or Natasha, or Sharon and her brother, Karen and Kathy, or Chris and Laura. And without Sue and Kay, I never would have survived that first year. Throw in the facts that my health has improved, I can walk Holcomb in one attempt, and I’ve seen parts of Indianapolis I never would have seen without Indy Walkers, and you have the reasons I continue to come back and would recommend it to anyone.

What are some of your proudest walking accomplishments?

My proudest walking accomplishment is going to sound insane. One year it was bitter cold. Elizabeth, Sue, and I decided that we were going to walk that Thursday. It was 5 degrees outside. Our vow was that if we could walk 1 mile we would reward ourselves with dinner at 317 Burger. That night I wore 2 pairs of socks, 2 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 1 jacket, 2 pairs of gloves, and a hat and scarf. At the .5 mile mark, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s keep walking.” At the 1 mile mark, we kept going, all the way to 75th street. That night, I knew I was crazy but had accomplished something special. I walked 3 miles in 5 degree weather with two of my crazy walking buddies. I’ll never forget that night. So regardless of how wet, hot, or cold it is, I try to walk. Ice is the one element that I’ll say no to: broken bones aren’t any fun. Also, any time I finish a race and I’m not the last walker crossing the finish line is great.

What races do you currently have lined up?

In 2019 I have only one goal: to finish the races I’ve signed up for. I’ve done the Mini and received my medal. I’ve signed up for all five 317-Series races: that’s 5 medals. I’m making plans to complete the Wright Patterson Air Force Half (1 medal), Fort Ben 5K (another medal) and the Women’s 5K (yet another medal). The goal this year is to get as many medals as I can and not be asked to leave a course. So far, I’m on track. I will start to improve my time and pace next year, but right now I’m just glad to be alive and glad I have my walking buddies to help me along the way.

Thank you Carole for letting us all get to know you better! You are truly inspiring and represent the club so well.

If you know someone that you think should be featured in a future blog post, email Jesse at blog@indyrunners.org.