Back in May, I started ramping up the running miles. The snow had (mostly) melted and it was time to get base miles in for summer running adventures. By the end of May a starting feeling run down, worn out, and just wasn’t recovering from even short runs. My first instinct was “panic”. “What is wrong with me? Chronic fatigue? Adrenal Insufficiency? Imbalanced hormones?” I had already spent the winter not running and focusing on replenishment of nutrients, muscles, and rest.
As I struggled through a twelve-mile Memorial Day run with my new running group, The Donner Party Mountain Runners, I felt like I had no energy and picking up my legs was more work than it should be. “Should I be on the gluten-free diet after all? Am I pre-menstrual, low on vitamin D? There is no way I am bonking! I eat plenty of carbohydrates daily and during my runs.” Or do I?
I am a fueling expert. I know what I need and how often. At least that is what I have been telling myself. I haven’t felt super great running for the last year and I thought it was overtraining but rest didn’t help much either. This year I am on prudent training plan to ensure I am not overtraining. The only thing that changed in the past year is that I began running almost all of my runs at higher altitudes. I thought back to my racing experiences at higher altitudes and what I knew about myself was that to feel good I needed to eat more carbohydrates than races I had done a sea level. Ah-ha!
After giving a talk on my nutrition framework for fueling endurance activity lasting longer than one hour, I began tracking carbohydrate intake more closely. Turns out my miles increased but my intake did not. Time to experiment. I bought a gallon of organic orange juice and chugged it after an easy morning run. The next day I drank a sports drink BEFORE heading out for my run and then ate an entire package of BLOKS. Low and behold, I ran well, had fun, was upbeat, and giddy the way I like to be when running. I continued to increase my fuel intake during long runs being consistent with 60-70 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
I recall sharing my tale with a fellow runner saying, ” I feel like I am bonking but I know am eating enough.” When she said, “Are you sure?” I got curious instead of insisting I knew everything because we all know the story of the cobbler whose children had no shoes.
My statement ” I feel like I am bonking” continued to ring in my ears. Why? Because that made perfect sense (that I was in fact bonking). I wasn’t feeling recovered. I was increasingly run-down and, with each run, I felt more and more tired right down to my muscles. AND this all started when I started increasing the running miles from casual to more regular. The answer was in eating more carbohydrate.
When I am running less, I eat fewer carbohydrates, hardly ever eating bread, pasta, rice or cereal. While those foods can be a good source of fiber they don’t really deliver a lot of nutrients. For carbohydrate food source I lean to fruit, sweet potatoes, oats, and quinoa. I have also been limiting/eliminating gluten as an experiment (more on that later). The problem here was that when I increased the muscle burn of carbohydrate energy, I was not increasing my intake.
With big fun mountain races on the books, I began to include more gluten-free carbs like chickpea pasta, rice, and gluten-free cereals. I also stopped being influenced by those around me who seem to get along with a lot less carbohydrate during their runs than I do. My body needs more. Before each run of any length now I drink at least sixteen ounces of a mixed-source carb sports drink and possible some grapefruit juice too. All of this has lead to more bounce in step, a great 26 km Broken arrow sky race and the ability to feel more ease and less struggled during my longer runs.
Here is what I ate before, during, and after Broken Arrow:
5:00 am 1 cup of coffee with a tablespoon of Birota Foods creamer
5:15 am Sunbutter + banana + honey between rice cakes
5:30-6:30 am 32 ounces for sports
One package for chews per hour + 8 ounces electrolyte sports drink for a total of 32 ounces of fluid per hour and 70 grams of carbohydrate
One box chocolate milk + one sprite + spaghetti with meat sauce and salad.
It is important for me to remember that we are all individuals with individual responses to fueling in different conditions. For me, more carbs and more fluid are required to navigate longer runs at higher altitudes than I need at sea level.
Fatigue plaguing you during your workouts? Not feeling as though you are performing to the level of your current fitness? You could be underfueling either during your runs or your daily diet.