Last week I purchased 3 cans of pumpkin and am now down to absolutely none. It feels almost like the stress experienced when I realize that there is not an ounce of coffee left in the cupboard – a situation that must be rectified immediately. Yesterday’s breakfast consisted of yet another Pumpkin Spice Green Monster, accompanied by a bowl of diced apple (microwaved to make it nice and warm) with cinnamon-spiced vanilla yogurt and mixed Nature’s Path puffed cereals.
After my late-afternoon workout with Mr. Trainer, I zoomed home as quick as I could because I was really looking forward to this:
That would be a Tuna and Veggie Pasta Bake , prepared earlier this week in anticipation of not wanting to chef up anything extraordinary and worth blogging about after work. Although it looks rather destructed in the photo above, this was one of my favourite recipes when I started learning how to cook, and it is one that I’d make for my family on a regular basis. Each time, I’d substitute a different protein (such as ground chicken or turkey) and whatever veggies we had in the fridge so that it didn’t get boring. The recipe makes enough for 4 fairly large servings and keeps well in the fridge.
The day ended with another dose of pumpkin – one serving in a day is just not enough! I scraped my last can clean to make some Pumpkin Protein Pudding which tastes ridiculously decadent but really isn’t. These are dangerous. I’m quickly becoming addicted.
Yesterday I received the following email from a reader regarding pre-workout nutrition:
Lately when I run, I’ve been getting side cramps. They are bearable when I run in the morning without eating anything at all, but are really painful later during the day after I’ve eaten. I’ve tried waiting 3-4 hours after eating to go for a jog. I take little sips of water during my runs, and eat good carbs before workouts, but the cramps don’t go away. Do you have any advice on tackling this?
I thought I’d share my answer here because I’ve received lots of questions on this topic. It is something that is discussed all over the internet, and what is the latest and greatest advice changes all the time. I should remind you that I am not a dietitian so I can only speak from experience, what I learned as a varsity cross-country runner, my current fitness certifications, and the sports nutrition articles that I read (of which there are many, because I’m nerdy like that). By the end of this year, I’ll be a certified Nutrition & Wellness Specialist and should be able to provide you with even better information, but for now, here are my thoughts and tips on the subject.
First, a few basics: Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of fuel. They are most easily broken down and come in 2 flavours, glucose and glycogen. Glucose moves about in the bloodstream, and glycogen is like packets of glucose that have been stored in the muscles and in the liver. More intense or longer periods of training require more carbohydrate energy in order for you to keep working out without fatiguing. If your body runs out of glucose, it will start looking for glycogen instead. If it uses all of this up, then you won’t be able to run much longer without feeling like you have legs made of lead (or something else really heavy!) And we don’t want that, do we?!
So, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the workout, but just as important is making sure you’re hydrated and fueled before you start. Ideally, eat at least 30 minutes before working out to give the food some time to digest.
Now, what to eat?
Check out the type of carbohydrates you’re consuming prior to running (or doing any other type of cardio). Although whole grains are great and are super important in a healthy diet, they are slow-digesting because they typically contain high amounts of fiber. When your body starts to digest high-fiber carbohydrates (which also include beans, broccoli, and fiber-fortified products), gas is produced. This can lead to cramps, bloating, and gas. What a pleasant thought, isn’t it?
Limit fats. Like slow-digesting carbohydrates, fats are also difficult to digest and can cause discomfort.
Avoid trapping any air in your stomach (which also leads to bloating and cramps) by staying away from any carbonated beverages and gum before your workout.
The most common recommendations that I’ve come across state that pre-workout snacks should be carb-based, but also contain some protein and a very small amount of fat. You’ve probably heard that refined, simple carbs can spike your blood sugar, and the protein and fat are a way of steadying it out.The American Dietetic Association recommends eating a larger meal 3-4 hours prior to exercise, and a smaller amount (around 100-250 calories) between 30-60 minutes before you begin. Some of my go-to pre-workout snacks are:
Kashi Go Lean (or other cereal) with milk and a little fruit – if eaten at least an hour in advance, the whole grains have more time to digest. A lot of the fruit’s fiber is in its skin, so oranges and bananas, or peeled fruits can be better choices if bloating is an issue.
Peanut butter and banana on toast or a bagel- again, there is a little bit of protein and fat in the PB, but the snack is carb-based.
Low-fat yogurt and berries or dried fruit – dried fruit contains simple carbs and natural sugars that are easily broken down. It’s also a great option for fueling on-the-go during longer runs because it is easy to carry.
Luna bars (or other bars that contain mostly carbs and a little protein)
Baked or grilled chicken or turkey breast with rice – the protein is prepared in a way that doesn’t add any additional fats. This seems to be a good option for me when I eat it 2-3 hours before a run.
Turkey or tuna sandwich – also a larger meal that is better when eaten a few hours before.
Smoothie made with fruit, yogurt, and almond milk (which contains no lactose – this can be difficult to digest) and a little whey isolate protein powder (which digests faster than whey complexes or other types of protein).
All of these are snacks or meals that sit well in my stomach, but it might take some experimenting before you find something that’s right for you. Just remember, if you’re training for a race, start experimenting early, not on the day of!
If you’d like some more ideas, check out these links: