Training for Toronto: Fueling

The more I run, the more I’m convinced that fueling is the key to making everything work right. Sure, a good training program matters. So does getting one’s head on straight. But proper fueling is fundamental. If it’s not there, nothing else is going to work.

So, in preparing for the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon, I’ve made some significant changes to my nutrition and fuelling strategies, at all levels. In this post, I’ll cover what I’m doing about my general nutrition, in my training, and what I plan to do for the race itself. As always, all this is the result of what I’ve found works for me. I’m not suggesting it will necessarily work for you or anyone else! However, I hope that my ongoing “experiment of one” will give you something to think about. If it helps you run or race better, that’s all to the good.

First, some background… After following a vegetarian diet for many years, some months ago I began eating meat and fish again. In fact, what I’m doing now is eating a more-or-less paleo diet. That means lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and nuts, with little or no grains, and hardly any dairy. (I still have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast each morning, and I eat a small bowl of yogurt once each day.) I started eating meat and fish again simply because I wanted more varied sources of protein. I cut back on bread, rice, potatoes, and then eliminated them entirely from my diet, because I found that doing so helped me lose weight. Three months ago, I weighed 158 lbs. This morning, I weighed in at 147. Forty-six years ago, when I graduated from high school, I weighed 145 lbs. Not bad, hey?

I’ve made equally significant changes in my training program for Toronto. As always, I do my training runs first thing in the morning. Starting in May, though, I started doing those runs without eating breakfast first. I made that change after reading in both Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running and Hammer Nutrition’s Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Success that running/training on an empty stomach is an excellent way to train the body to run on fat rather than glycogen. That doesn’t matter much to sprinters, but running a marathon successfully is all about running on fat. In his book, Noakes states that there’s no need to eat before a run or race if one has eaten a decent meal the night before. To be fair, before any of my medium or long training runs (i.e., any distance over 16K), I have a Hammer Gel five minutes before the run start, and I drink Hammer HEED during the run itself. And I follow each run with Hammer Recoverite and my regular breakfast (a bowl of oatmeal with raspberries or blueberries, and perhaps a banana after that).

The results of the above regimen speak for themselves. I’m obviously fueling well, because I’m running strongly and smoothly. I’ve lost weight. My energy levels are more consistent throughout my runs, particularly on long runs, which means that my body switches over quickly and easily from burning glycogen to burning fat. My training program is helping me develop strength and endurance, so I’m hoping that my improved access to fat-burning will keep me from fading in the latter stages of the race (a bad habit of mine in long races).

What does all that say about racing the Toronto Marathon on October 14? I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ll continue what I’m doing now. It’s working, and it’s working well. The day before the race, I’ll eat normally, though perhaps taking only a light meal in the evening. I won’t have breakfast on race morning, but will instead have a Hammer Gel. I’ll drink HEED and ingest gels during the race, and, as quickly as I can after I finish, drink some Recoverite and toss down a couple of Hammer Bars.

It’s a strategy, and I think it’s a good one. Sure, it may develop in time (it’s an ongoing experiment, right?) but I want to stay the course throughout the rest of my training schedule. After the marathon, there’ll be time for reflection, analysis, and further tweaking.

Next in the Training for Toronto series: The Program.

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4 comments

  1. This is a fascinating read, Alan. I’m glad you’re feeling the benefits of this diet and the consistency of energy levels on long runs you’ve noticed is certainly very interesting. I look forward to seeing how your approach pans-out as Toronto approaches.

    1. Thanks for those kind words, my friend. I’m sure that this approach will be a good foundation for the Toronto Marathon. (Of course, I have do all the other work required as well!) Quite aside from that, though, these recent changes have such a positive effect generally that I’ll keep to this (very pleasant) regimen.

  2. Hi Alan
    I am conducting a bit of an experiment with my own eating at the moment as well as learning how to run barefoot. I think m y wofe would really benefit from the paleo approach. Where would you recommend she starts reading?
    Thanks
    Chris

    1. I can’t recommend any books, Chris, as I haven’t read any on paleo. I’ve only gathered info from various sources on the Net. Your wife might start by checking out the comprehensive Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_diet), then taking a DIY approach, as I did. First is to eliminate sugar entirely from your diet. That means eliminating all processed foods and more stuff besides – you need to spend a lot of time reading nutritional labels and being honest about what you eat. Next, eliminate all grains and starches – no bread, no rice, no potatoes, no crackers, etc. Just eliminating sugar will make a huge difference in both energy and weight levels. You’re left with a surprisingly full and happy approach to eating. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten better or enjoyed food more than I do now. Try those things for a start, and let me know how things go, OK?

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