One of the more exciting aspects of designing the half marathon challenge was the opportunity to experiment with my diet. I love food and the thought of being able to eat in excess excited me more than the proverbial kid in a candy store. In this post, I’ll outline some of my favourite meals that helped fuel my body. I had to look back on my daily posts to remember everything I consumed and how it made me feel. I burned about half a pound of fat everyday from running the 21.1k and needed to consume a lot more calories on a daily basis.
As I previously mentioned, I experimented with a ton of meals to help with my runs; from protein smoothies, energy bites, chicken wraps, to dinner leftovers (and yes, pizza). At night, I tried consuming more carbs that I could use for fuel in the morning and found that I would have way more energy the next day. “Carb loading” is the term most used to describe this strategy to prepare for long distance races.
However some days caught me by surprise. On day 50, I ate a really fattening meal and ended up getting a PB of the challenge of 1:55:05. I wrote, “I’m embarrassed to write this, but my pre-workout meal was leftover Dominos pizza and chicken wings, and a Vanilla whey isolate protein smoothie with spinach and banana. I guess the carb and fat fuel was enough to get me a PB of this challenge!”
Each day varied and I actually surprised myself with what foods worked better than others. Some days I would wake up starving and others I would barely be able to get down a few sips of a smoothie. Overall, however, I did see some consistency with my energy levels and tried to stick to my favourites for the most part.
I’ve broken this post up into my top pre-run meals, keeping in mind my energy levels, the taste of each meal and the overall effects on my body. Here’s the list:
- Vega Protein Smoothie (Pre)
For those who followed my progress throughout the challenge know that this was by far, my favourite meal in the challenge. I’ve tried a ton of different proteins, but nothing keeps me as full and satisfied as Vega. I don’t represent this brand at all and am giving my honest opinion after trying several of the other brands. I would mix Vega with variations of other ingredients, but my favourite was egg whites, spinach, almond milk, blueberries, banana, chia seeds, and occasionally I’d add some peanut butter. Sounds like a weird mixture, but it was actually delicious with a good mix of carbs, fat, and protein.
- Energy Balls
Although the Vega smoothie was great, I found on some days I would get hungry mid-run and my energy would feel depleted. For the raw energy balls I used dates, peanut butter, shredded coconut, plain protein powder, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. I would usually eat 1-2 before my runs alongside a Vega smoothie, or on days that I wasn’t quite as hungry, I would just eat them on their own.
- Steel Cut Oats
This wasn’t a popular choice during the challenge, but if I was really hungry I would go to the good ol’ fashioned steel cut oats. I don’t ever eat anything plain so I would combine ¾ cup of steel cut oats with almond milk, banana, Vega powder, raw almonds and/or chunky peanut butter. A warning: this is a calorie dense meal and sometimes would leave me overly full and tired at first. The benefits of increased energy would usually kick in after about 10kms or so.
- Eggs, Whole Wheat Toast, G2 and Energy Gels
Before #RUN70, I had a ritual and strict meal plan before I would run a half or full marathon. I ate an egg on a piece of whole-wheat toast and a G2 (way less sugar than the Gatorade) and consumed a few energy gels during the run. This used to be my go-to and for the most part, I was happy with my race results so started the challenge with the same meal plan. However, it got boring quickly and buying G2’s and gels everyday got expensive. Although the electrolytes were great, the sugar content was high and I would crash a bit post-run followed by a few 2 hour afternoon naps. I was able to still replenish my electrolytes with foods instead by consuming bananas, leafy greens, sweet potato, and a piece of whole grain toast with almond butter.
Although I had my go-to favourites, occasionally they would fail me. I would be full and satisfied on some runs, while others left me hungry mid-run. However, these foods were the most consistent and I could rely on them to get me through my runs. The trick for me was to eat just enough without overeating and feeling overly full and bloated. I think it’s different for everyone and my advice would be to stick to what works for you. I’ve read several blogs mentioning to stay away from nuts before a run because they are hard to digest; I could see why – but they were great for keeping me full and satisfied over longer durations (as long as I ate them in moderation and didn’t overdo it), which is why it worked for me!