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Video: Marathon Nutrition Chat


WRITTEN BY: Sports Medicine
Friday, April 25th, 2014

UPMC hosted a Google+ Hangout on marathon nutrition. Our list of panelists included Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition, UPMC Sports Medicine, Mandy Budzowski, health coach supervisor, UPMC Health Plan Jon Kissel, Development Manager, Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Nick Fischer, R.D., founder, Fischer Nutrition Marlesa Adams, blogger, Mar on the Run Jenna Hatfield, blogger, Stop, Drop & Blog

Leslie: Hi, everybody. Welcome to our Google Hangout today. And we are going to be talking performance eating for the Pittsburgh Marathon. My name is Leslie Bonci. I am the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. I have done seven marathons, talk about eating for fueling all the time and I’m the co-author of “Run Your Butt Off.”

Mandy: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Mandy Budzowski from UPMC Health Plan and I oversee our on-site health coaching team, as well as one of the lead experts for our UPMC “MyHealth Matters” blog. I’ve done Ironman and several marathons and adventure races and triathlons all over the country. Great to be here and welcome.

Leslie: It’s great to have you here, Mandy. And let’s introduce the rest of our panel. Jenna, how about if you start?

Jenna: Hi, I’m Jenna Hatfield. I am editor by day, a blogger by night and a runner whenever it fits. I ran two half-marathons last year after a back injury in 2010 sidelined me. And the Pittsburgh Marathon next week will be my first full marathon. It’s my hometown and I’m so excited to run at home.

Jon: I’m Jon Kissel, Development Manager at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. Head coach of the Steel City Roadrunners. And I’ve run about 35 marathons and ultras.

Leslie: Great to have you with us. Mar?

Mar: Hi. I’m Marlesa Adams. I go by “Mar.” So, I’m a blogger. I blog at “Mar on the Run.” I’m also from the city of Pittsburgh. And next weekend’s Pittsburgh Half will be third half marathon, 15th half marathon overall and third time running Pittsburgh. So, very happy to be here.

Leslie: Fantastic. And Nick?

Nick: I’m Nick Fisher. I own Fisher Nutrition, LLC and I’m also the Pittsburgh City Marathon in-house dietitian and I dietitian the Steel City Roadrunners. I raced bikes for Freddie Fu and have done many marathon distance and half-marathon distance trail runs.

Leslie: Well, welcome to have everybody here today. And I’m going to throw out a question to get everybody started. Because we all run, we all know what it’s like to try and do this hand to mouth while you’re doing the other thing simultaneously. And I’m going to ask everybody to just give me what you think has been the toughest thing to do nutritionally?

And I’ll start. When I first started doing marathons, one of the things is our muscles get trained, but our GI tract, not always so happy. And I became the expert on where every gas station bathroom was in the city of Pittsburgh was during all that training. Mandy, how about you?

Mandy: I would say that the most challenging for myself in the past has been finding what works well with my GI tract and from there, finding ways to keep it interesting and continuing to always mix that option up so that I’m not fueling with the same things each time.

Leslie: And it’s a trial and error, right?

Mandy: It is. It’s very much trial and error.

Leslie: Absolutely. Jenna, how about you?

Jenna: The hardest for me was both with my previous spring half marathon and then the winter training for this spring marathon. The whole winter season, flu bugs, everything that came through where I just didn’t want to and/or couldn’t eat. And I was under-fueled on a number of longer runs and just trying to fight all that.

So, I think I’m where I need to be. I’m not 100 percent sure yet with the pre-race fueling.

Leslie: And you know what, Jenna? One of the things that with training, that a lot of people listening today might hear, is that you push, push, push your body. And sometimes, the end of that is your immune system becomes a little fatigued.

And so, this really is the key time in the next couple of weeks of doing what you need to do of really making sure that we are optimally prepared, a lot of that hand to mouth exercise.

Jon, I know you just finished a marathon. Not necessarily this one, but what has been issues for you, nutritionally, running?

Jon: The timing of my meals and the few days leading up to the race and then on race morning. Making sure I’m eating my dinner early enough the day before. I don’t want a heavy, late meal the night before a race. Making sure I’m eating my breakfast early enough.

I’m hydrating early enough so that I’m not 20 minutes from the start, needing to use the port-a-johns. Something I think I finally figured out based on what works for my body.

Leslie: And that’s it? Trial and error. And we always talk about, it’s carboload, not carbo explode. There’s a huge difference between the two. Mar, how about you?

Mar: I would say just timing, again. Timing of my meals and figuring out what works. The thing about running is there’s a lot of failure involved. You put one foot in front of the other, but there’s so much that goes with it. And you just don’t know until you try it and you have to see what works for your own body.

Leslie: Absolutely. And that’s the beauty of starting to train in January for a May marathon is you get a lot of time to figure out what’s good, what’s not. And sometimes, it’s reinvent the wheel, start again. Nick?

Nick: I would say my biggest hurdle has been the difference between bike fuel and running fuel. What can I eat when I run versus when I ride. The difference is in heat for each, how different foods sit differently with me. So, trial and error and learning what works for me, but maybe not for my teammates.

Leslie: There we go. And what worked for you is going to be different than what works for everybody else today and two of us sitting here. And I think Mandy would probably think different. Swim, bike, run. You hope to carry a whole buffet along with you.

Mandy: You do.

Leslie: All right. So, I know there were some things that people were asking about, specifically and questions that come up regularly and having done Pittsburgh a lot. I am a native Pittsburgher, bleed black and gold, I do.

But one of the things about Pittsburgh is that we’re incredibly friendly in the city. But we offer a lot of things along the course. So, I’m just going to put out my general warning guidelines in when you see pierogies at mile 22, it’s probably not a good idea if you are running. Beer, I don’t think so. Wait until you’re done.

And really try and stick to the aid station of where things are being offered. Even though that banana might look awfully tempting. If you didn’t package ,this is not the time to be experimenting with anything new. Mandy, what do you think about that?

Mandy: I agree. I mean, there’s a lot of options out there on the course, but you really have to be careful on race days, not some time to try something new. You have to do what you practice so that you can finish strong.

Leslie: A lot of people mentioned timing as being the issue here. When we look at what timing is for running a marathon, it really is three days ahead of time. That’s when you start to do it. We’re not even talking about a night before, so you sit down to a trough of pasta.

If you start three days out, what happens is your body is able to hold more glycogen in the liver and in the muscle and you also hold more liquid. So, you are optimally fueled and hydrated.

So, let’s talk about that specifically. What does that mean in terms of how much? It is a tennis ball-sized amount more at each meal. Not a five-pound box of cereal. Not a 5-quart bowl of pasta, not a gallon of juice. It’s a little bit more as part of every meal, of the foods you’re used to eating.

Because if you do that, then you’re not going to be too comfortable the night before. You sleep well, but you also have the peace of mind of knowing that now, your body is optimally fueled.

Mandy: Agreed. And carbo loading is not meant to make you faster. It’s meant to fuel you so that you can do what you’ve done in training and perform optimally.

Leslie: And with that being said, so many people now will say “Carbs are bad. And we shouldn’t.” And some of you might have had heard that before, believed it. And I will tell you, one of the beauties about running, in all the years on this earth that people have been running, the fuel source for running hasn’t changed, it’s carbohydrates. That’s important.

So, this is not the time to try the pork chop diet. This is not the time to be doing coconut oil. This is the to be doing the carbohydrates that you eat in order to fuel your body. If you want to make changes to your weight, you do that. After my fourth, not now.

Mandy: And Leslie, let me ask you something. Is it true that you actually gain a little bit of weight? Because you’re retaining more water when you’re carbloading?

Leslie: And this is one of the things that people will say, the old way. The question is the old way is you run your butt off, you exhaust every possible cell. And then, you restrict your carbohydrates. So, your body is literally on empty.

So, then what happened. People inhaled those carbohydrates and you feel like a blimp. Because you’re holding more water and people kind of waddle to the start line, sloshing, it’s like a duck.

Mandy: It’s uncomfortable.

Leslie: Uncomfortable. But if people say “I’m assessing about my weight,” and I’ve had clients who have said that. “I’ve got to be a race weight.” If you have carbo loaded the right way, you’re going to be probably a little heavier. You will use it over the course of the run. It’s better that way than starting too light. If you start too light, then you’re playing catch up. Bad idea.

Anybody experience any of that kind of thing with fatigue when you’ve been out there on a course?

Jon: Well, all I was going to say was don’t bother weighing yourself on race week. Nothing good comes out of that because you should put on a couple pounds if you’re fueling right. I’d rather get to the start line a little heavier and finish fast, but also having lost that water weight during the race.

Leslie: Absolutely. Anybody? Any issues with fatigue during your training runs or any races you’ve done previously?

Mar: Not often, but I certainly have felt some fatigue. And it’s usually because I haven’t fueled properly beforehand. Either not drinking enough water, not having water with me as I run. Thinking “Oh, yeah. I can run those nine miles” without anything attached.

And so, I think it’s important to bring things with you and to know what you need and also to know where there are gas stations or convenience stores along the way, so, if you don’t have something you can stop by and just pick something up. That has happened to me before.

Leslie: Jenna, how about you?

Jenna: On my 16-mile run, I had to call my husband and say “I need you to meet me in 15 minutes with more water.” It was hotter and more sunny than had been forecast for that day. And I was fueled fine. But the sun and everything, it just didn’t work out perfectly.

So, he met me and gave me more water and off I went for the rest of it. So, I live in a rural area, so there’s no convenience store. There’s just a call to the husband and he comes.

Leslie: Thank goodness he answers. Hey, Nick, how about you? Now, you’re a dietitian, so you know all the answers to this. Surely, this has never been an issue for you?

Nick: I‘m not even going to try to lie and say it hasn’t been. It certainly has. There’s a lot of experience in age and learning. I know one of the biggest errors I see on the group rides I lead and the group runs I lead, my area. These are people worrying about race weight. Trying to think of their runs as away to quickly lose water weight or the weekend party weight they put on.

And then, coming in with too little fuel or food and not bring any extra. And then, 10, 12 miles in, blowing up, hitting the wall and they don’t have anything else with them to compensate. I always like to tell people “Come prepared for the anticipation of needing it, even if you don’t think you will,have a little extra.” Because you never know when you might need it.

Leslie: Absolutely. And I know we have a question from Christine wanting some advice on what to eat and when to prevent that post-run digestive issue. And Christine, here are my three favorite words, “Less is more.”

Often times, people will say “I’ve got to be prepared. I need my goos and my gels and my chomps and my sport drink and my everything.” And that’s usually a recipe for disaster because it’s too much.

And the more that you put in, the more likely you’re going to be getting rid of it and become directionally challenged and not a good way. So, it’s really a good idea to keep it to a minimum.

We usually talk about, for most people who are going to be doing the race, it’s going to be about 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour after the first hour. Now, what does that look like?

If you had about 2 cups of sports drink, that’s going to be 30. If you use something like a goo, that’s about 30. If you use a couple of the chews, that’s about 30. So, it’s either/or.

If you are picking the goos or the chews or the chomps, not going to drink a sports drink. If you have that sports drink, then don’t do that. You have the goos with water. That’s really the best thing to do.

But we start that after the first hour. Hour number one, water alone is fine. You definitely have to keep the hydration. But too much carbohydrate means too much running and not necessarily on the course. We don’t mind that.

Mandy: And luckily on the course, they do offer, around mile 10, if you forget it or you lose it, you always have the option that if you’ve tried that brand or that you know that it’s safe, you can always pick it up there.

Leslie: And even there, some of you might be going to the expo the day before and there’s all these cool things. Wait until after the marathon to try them. Do not use those on race day. No new foods, no new goos, no new nothing until you’re done. Because you don’t want to have any chance of upset.

And to Jenna’s point, it’s Pittsburgh. It’s 70 degrees on Monday, it’s ready to snow today. Who knows what the weather is going to be like on May the 4th. And so, you’ve got to be prepared. And the best way of being prepared is the variables you control.

What is that? What you’ve trained with. And it’s going to be warmer, then you’re going to drink a little bit more the day before and make sure you are on top of it on race day.

Mandy: Absolutely. I agree.

Leslie: All right. And somebody had also asked about carb depletion. Again, we don’t want to do that. What really is the best thing to do is whatever you’re doing currently. So, now, today is April the 23rd. Until May the 4th, you don’t really want to change it.

Unless you’re doing paleo or some variation on a low carb, then shame on you,stop it. And you’ve got to start eating some carbohydrates as part of every single meal, that’s important. But in the three days prior, that’s when you just add a little bit more in.

So, we’re really not depletion. We are optimizing. That’s the focus. Because you will hold more liquid at the same time.

And then, it’s up to you. What I am not saying, what Leslie did not just say is have a bag of a jelly beans. No, you don’t have to do that. It’s a little bit more tennis ball-sized as part of every meal.

Mandy: And would you say eating good nutrition? Something that’s valuable for your body. So, avoiding some of those highly-processed foods and…

Leslie: But the reality is that when we’re looking at running and what’s available as an energy source, some of those things that are easier to digest and better during that time.

But the other side of that is if somebody said “Okay, let me just load upon bran cereal.” I don’t think so. It’s just not good for the digestive tract. It’s that balance of both is what we want.

Mandy: Perfect.

Leslie: Does anybody else want to weigh in on those types of things on what you’ve done or maybe what you think you’re going to do? How about that? What’s everybody going to do for their meal the night before? Mandy, how about you?

Mandy: I will have a typical pre-race meal. It’s typically a smaller dinner and then, I wake up around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. race day. I have a breakfast so that I can eat a snack before I leave the house.

And then, I use my fuel on the course and I’m typically pretty good. Now, it’s taken a while for me to figure that out. So, I know that’s what works well for me. But I skip the pasta dinners and the really big…my family always says “Let’s go out to Olive Garden and chow down on pasta.” But I’ve learned that that just doesn’t work well for me.

Leslie: And that’s exactly right. And suddenly, you’re not in control of how it’s made. And then, you’re trying to sleep there, it’s like pasta shooting out of your nostrils at that point in time. It’s just not comfortable. Jenna, how about you? What are you going to do? The night before, morning of?

Jenna: I learned if I’m eating pasta, I can’t have any tomato sauce or I have the worst heartburn ever the next morning as I’m trying to run. So, I will have pasta, but probably just with a little bit of cheese and butter. Real butter, because I love real butter and it’s so awesome.

And then, I also wake up early and I just have a normal kind of breakfast. I am, because I have been practicing with it, probably going to have a peanut butter sandwich in my fuel belt to munch on somewhere in the awful miles because I found that that works for me.

Leslie: And that’s great and you’ve trained with it. And one of the things about peanut butter–I love it, it’s my favorite food. But it definitely makes you drink more because otherwise “Oh, look. My jaw is shut and I cannot even waive ‘hi’ to the crowd because the peanut butter is sticking to the roof of my mouth.” Mar, how about you?

Mar: Usually, I try to eat dinner fairly early the night before. So, I always eat by 5:00. I typically will have a small bowl of pasta. I’m not a big sauce person anyway, but I might have just a little bit of sauce or I’ll have it with butter and cheese, same as Jenna.

But whatever it is, it’s always very light. I don’t go to the Olive Garden or Pizza Hut or anything like that. And then, sometimes, I will have a beer because beer is carbs.

But usually, I’m almost always done eating by about 5:00 in the evening. And then race morning, I’m not a huge eater in the morning but I will have that cup of coffee. And I will have either half a bagel or maybe a piece of bread with some peanut butter on it. And that usually gets me going for the race.

Leslie: You know what? I love what you just said. You trained with it, it worked for you. And even the alcohol thing…if it’s one. One is okay, it just kind of settles you down and helps you to relax. And as long as you were optimally hydrated, then that is not going to be a problem.

I know that there are going to be some people crossing that finish line and saying right when they’re done is saying “Beer, champagne, martinis, all of the above.” And you really do have to replace the fluids first first before you drink. Even though it is a carb, it’s a minimal one. It actually depletes carbohydrate. It prevents the body from restoring carbohydrates as quickly as possible. So, we don’t really count it in the same category as other carbohydrates.

And Nick, what about you?

Nick: The night before, I have a normal dinner I normally would have. Sandwich with some soup, fluids and sodium, that way, I make sure I’m getting them in. But nothing super heavy. Wake up early. Have another normal breakfast I’d normally have. Nothing ever too high in fiber and protein and fat. Keeping them easy to digest.

Then before the either bike race or run, another something small and consistently fuel and to hydrate throughout. Sticking with things that I know work for myself. I have my list of five things before and five things for after a workout that I always stick to.

And even with the people I work with, every time we develop our five and five menu that they always have on hand. That just seems to work the best to just eliminate the guessing game.

Leslie: I love that. And the more we can control, the better. And a lot of you have said that pasta is something that you enjoy. However, there are people out there who just really don’t like pasta. And they’re looking for some other alternative.

And so, it could be rice. Some people do a risotto, some people do quinoa. Some people want to do bread. Some people will do a potato, not a fried one, but a baked potato can be a very comforting food.

So, it’s what you like and how much. We’re probably talking about like a fist-sized amount. So, I thought a potato looked like a canoe. That’s a relatively small one that would work well.

Nick: I’ll eat potatoes while I ride and run. They work so well, they sit easy. You can put a little bit of salt on it if you want. It’s just a really cheap, inexpensive fuel source.

Leslie: It’s a great fuel source and it’s one of the only food toys, it’s Mr.Potato Head. It’s a carb-toon. I love it, I just love it.

So, let’s talk a little bit about some of the beverages that are out there that people are consuming. We mentioned alcohol, somewhat, and really making sure that people get enough liquid is important. And using these next two weeks to optimize that hydration so you’re prepared no matter what the weather’s like.

So, generally, what we say is for women, it is baseline 90 ounces of fluid a day, which is roughly about four and a half water bottles, that amount. For men it is 125 ounces or basically six water bottles. And those of you who eat more fruits and vegetables, you don’t need as much. But that’s baseline.

Then, ideally, it’s about 20 ounces, so like this, a standard size water bottle an hour before you run. So, when Mandy said she’s going to be up at 3:00 or 4:00,this is not “The gun is going off at 8:00.” We’re not talking about drinking at 7:55. You really have to do it ahead of time so you have a chance to void. Get looking at urine.

But you know what? Dark-colored a little is not a good thing. Lemonade-colored and lots, that’s what we’re looking for. The only way to do that is you’ve got to get the fluid in. Mandy, what about you? What do you have to say about fluids?

Mandy: I agree. I have my water bottles. Everyone saw me bring it in here. And I’m a big drinker of water all the time. But I also like to have fruit smoothies and so, I get a lot of water in that way. I eat fresh fruit for snacks.

But I agree. If I wake up in the morning and it’s a little bit and it’s dark and I know I’m in trouble, I start immediately hydrating. Sometimes, that’s happened. Even if you hydrate completely right, you can still end up…in the morning and looking and then, that’s whenever you can really plan and know “Okay. I really need to make sure I get this in now.”

Leslie: And the reality is that a lot of you who are watching this right now,you may not sleep well the night before because you’re nervous, especially if it’s the first time. So, you’re tossing and turning and sometimes you’re sweating and all that stuff goes on. So, you may be losing a little bit more fluid than you think that you are.

I’m not anticipating that that will happen to you, but you’ve got to be prepared. And that’s why really getting comfortable with hydration is critically important.

Anybody want to chime in on that? A little bit on the liquids and what they’ve done?

Mar: I agree. My biggest beverage is water, anyway. I gave up soda years ago. If I do anything outside of water, it’s usually tea on a regular basis. But I tend to focus on…and I alternate between water and some sort of electrolyte drink at least three or four days before. So, probably next Wednesday, I’ll start focusing on making sure I’m additionally hydrated. But I’m a water gal.

Nick: Yeah. I think people really need to look at, like you were saying, Leslie, what the color of their urine is. There are so many numbers telling us to drink “X” amount and it’s such a broad number sometimes. Really paying attention to what you’re doing in the morning and seeing where you stand in relationship to hydration and knowing what you need to do for yourself is key.

You have a water bottle with you there. Everybody should always have access to water. Make it easier on yourself to hydrate. Don’t make it complicated.

Leslie: Absolutely. Great advice. And two questions that came in, one of them was about “If you’re doing the half marathon, would an energy gel be helpful”? It probably depends upon how quick you’re going to do it.

Now, the winner of Boston just did it in 2:08. So, he wouldn’t probably have needed to that at a half because he was running a blistering pace.

If you don’t think you’re going to be doing a four or five-minute mile, chances are, if you’re going to be out there longer than an hour, it might be two hours, so in that second hour, if you do the energy gel, have it with water. It’s absolutely fine to do that. You don’t need anything more than that.

And the other question was about protein during. Now, I think when you were on the bike for extended periods of time, it’s a little different. When you’re doing and you’re running, the problem is is it’s just jostling up and down.Protein takes longer to leave the stomach. Of really needing to do that.

The goal is what you put in is to empty quicker, not to stay in there for a longer period of time. I’m not a big advocate of the need for protein during a run. When we’re looking at longer distance, ultras and we’re looking at triathlons, yes. But not for the run.

Mandy: I agree. I feel very differently on my bike than I do on my run. And just like you said, especially some foods just don’t sit as well. And like you said, the sloshing. And also, I want something that’s readily available so I can get the energy now.

If I’m on my bike for six hours, it doesn’t matter. I have six hours I’m sitting on the bike. So, it’s a little bit different for the run and the bike or even your swim.

Leslie: And because we don’t know what the weather will be like, everybody, if it’s a really hot day and you’re doing a lot of mouth breathing. If some of those items that are high-protein like the bars, it’s like “Oh, it’s back in my esophagus. I know it’s not going anywhere.”

So, this is the challenge and all of this of really waiting…maybe you’ll do that before in your early-morning breakfast or maybe you’ll do it when you’re done. But along the way, we want the quick empty. That’s really the goal.

So, I would like everybody to just kind of chime in, maybe your final thoughts here on what you’ve learned over the course of your fueling and what you expect to do for this race coming up and any little tip you might want to offer to our viewers.

So, let’s start with Jon. How about you?

Jon: Well, I always try to make sure I plan ahead. I know what kind of sports drink is going to be served on the course. I like to know what kind of gels they’re offering.

Personally, for the most part, I’ve decided to stick to just gels because I think there’s a lot less guesswork. You can measure exactly how many calories you’re taking in, whereas you grab a Gatorade cup, it might be half-full, it might be overly diluted. You just never know.

That’s basically…the advice I’d give is to plan ahead and try to find a best way to measure how much you’re taking in and eliminate as much guesswork as possible.

Leslie: Perfect. Jenna, how about you?

Jenna: I am no goo, can’t do it, I will die. So, I am huge on sports beans and all of the water ever. I save my sports drink for after, when I finish. It’s just how my body works. So, it’s me and water and away we go.

Leslie: Awesome. And Mar, how about you?

Mar: I tend to stop at every aid station. And I start with water and I do every other station for a sports drink, depending on the weather. So, sometimes, I will adjust. If it’s warmer, then I tend to drink more water. Though I do make sure I stop and do the sports drink.

But I also carry gummi bears with me. Those are my favorite, those are my thing. Usually around mile 5 or 6, I say “Okay.” But again, you adjust as you get on the course and you see how the weather is and how you’re feeling. Sometimes you need more, sometimes you need less. So, that’s my general plan.

Leslie: Nick.

Nick: My biggest piece of advice to people is to practice. Even if you have an hour and 15-minute run, treating it like you are doing the half marathon. And practice getting fluids in at 30 minutes, if that’s your plan. Practice a goo and practice Gatorade or power.

Pretend like you’re in the real thing and get there and be in the zone. See how you react. You have to mimic it before you get there. You don’t want to walk into a fight blind.

Leslie: Mandy, how about you?

Mandy: My final advice would be to stick with the plan that you’ve been practicing with. It’s the one that’s probably going to work best for you. I am a water and a goo kind of girl. I know that that works.

And if you haven’t tried yet, you still have some time. So, find something that works so that you’re not trying anything new on race day and potentially having some GI issues.

Leslie: And I think most importantly, everybody, in these next couple weeks coming up, is really fine-tuning that technique for your fueling and your hydration. If you eat well, you’ll race better.

Everybody have a wonderful race and thank you all for being part of our marathon nutrition Google chat today.

Mar: Thank you.

Nick: Not a problem.

Jon: Great being here.

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