Hack your diet for better performance
I know the 2020 LA marathon wasn’t going to go well for me after the first 5K. I was battling an upper respiratory infection that came on the week of the race, and on top of that I was feeling the kind of fatigue and pessimism that most runners associate with over 20 miles. it wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling – I had missed most of my practice runs before race day.
Looking back, I realize that this was not about my physical training. As obsessed as I was with tracking running metrics like heart rate and VO2 max, there was one number I had basically ignored: calories. To maintain their weight, active women between the ages of 19 and 30 should consume up to 2,400 calories per day, while active men between the ages of 19 and 35 should consume up to 3,000 calories per day, according to the 2015 to 2020 edition of the report. USDA Diet Guidelines for Americans. The fact that I was barely eating 2,000 calories – honestly, out of sheer laziness while in front of my computer – and burning a lot more was probably sabotaging my workouts.
When I realized how undernourished I was, I knew I had to rethink my eating habits. Fortunately, home testing and wearable devices offer personalized tracking and information to everyday athletes who want to optimize their performance through workouts and nutrition.
“Labs are great for doing controlled experiments, but it’s really about trying to push the lab out into the real world,” says John Mercer, professor of kinesiology and nutritional sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and co-director of the UNLV Sports Research and Innovation Initiative.
Nutrition tools to optimize your workout
Learning how certain foods affect you, what nutrients you’re missing out on, and when to plan your meals and stay hydrated can help you get the most out of every run.
So when it came to preparing for the 2021 Chicago Marathon, I didn’t start training with a race plan, I started with a blood test. Six months before race day I started wearing Levels, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that tracks your glucose levels (and how they’re affected by diet, exercise, and stress) in real time ($ 398 for one month). CGM technology has long been used to help people with diabetes, and although it is expensive, results in users without diabetes are almost equivalent to blood tests, according to a 2015 study published in PLOS A find. (Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s fastest marathoner, wore one.)
A week after starting the tests, I realized that my blood sugar was almost always low. After a meal it hit the middle of what the app considered a healthy range for me, around 85 mg / DL; when I woke up in the morning it was often below 70. “If your blood sugar drops significantly during the night it is definitely a sign that you are undernourished or that your glycogen stores are too low or you haven’t eaten enough before bed, ”says Maddie Alm, RD, dietitian with TeamBoss, the professional running group founded by Emma Coburn and her husband in Boulder, Colorado.
This is a big deal, because if you don’t have enough glycogen stores your body doesn’t have readily available energy to burn. It will make you feel tired and weak, and, if you run long enough, you will hit the wall not at mile 19 or 20, but at a seven or eight smile. To avoid breaking down with every run, Levels told me I needed more food, more consistently.
Not eating enough also increases the risk of missing essential nutrients. Five months before race day I had my blood tested by InsideTracker, a laboratory service used by athletes like Shalane Flanagan to measure up to 43 biomarkers and 261 genetic markers that could impact performance (from $ 189). My blood work showed I had low levels of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron, three of the most common deficiencies, Alm says, and all of which play roles in energy and stamina.
“Iron helps carry oxygen in your blood, so runners with a deficiency will notice that things that were comfortable before can now feel really tough and stimulating. And B12 helps build red blood cells and to energy production, which will have an impact on how you feel in training, “says Alm. Vitamin D is crucial because it plays an important role in your immune and bone health, your mood, etc. (These deficiencies, along with upper respiratory tract infections, can be a warning sign of RED-S, aka Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, a condition caused by inadequate energy use.)
Finally, to focus on hydration, I used the Gatorade Gx sweat patch, a single-use adhesive that tracks sweat rate and the amount of sodium lost through sweat ($ 25 for two). During a six mile run in 80 degree heat, my sweat rate was 1058 milliliters per hour and I lost between 398 and 858 milligrams per liter of sodium. “That translates to about one and a half 24-ounce bottles of water per hour,” says Alm, “and one to two Nuun tablets sodium per hour.
Until I found out, I drank when I was thirsty and barely drank fuel during a race. Whereas dehydration can affect endurance and increase fatigue, according to a Frontiers in physiology studies, I was preparing for failure.
The accuracy (and benefits) of nutritional monitoring
Are these new devices accurate? Not entirely. “Devices like InsideTracker try to combine information from a variety of sources and then run it through an algorithm to determine the advice they give you,” says Mercer. And you shouldn’t always trust an algorithm.
Plus, while knowledge equals power, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the data, Mercer adds. “Having someone to help you interpret your data – show you trends or give you direction – and continue to teach you how to make good decisions is crucial,” he says. Plus, no matter how many devices you use, you can’t ignore your body’s signals.
I wouldn’t have known where to start with my information without the help of a dietitian to decipher the data and apply that information to my training. But what these fancy tests and trackers did was ultimately involve myself enough in my nutrition that I got the job done to implement real refueling plans.
For my final months of training, I took supplements and, with Alm’s guidance, followed a meal plan that included eating every three hours, prioritizing fuel before and after. running and increasing my fluid and electrolyte intake. By the time I did a follow-up blood test with InsideTracker 10 days before the Chicago Marathon, I had improved my iron levels, nearly doubled my vitamin D, and more than doubled my B12 count. But I didn’t need the blood test to find out; the proof was how more energetic I felt while running.
Fortunately, this optimization paid off on race day. Despite the debilitating heat and humidity, I increased my time in the marathon by eight minutes. Even better? I bounced back faster than ever after 26.2.
No technology (nutrition or otherwise) is a shortcut to optimizing performance, but without digging into my data, I wouldn’t have known what questions to ask to determine my best refueling strategy. And the knowledge I gained will stick around long after race day.
Trackers with Nutrition Tech
Levels, InsideTracker and the Gatorade Gx Sweat Patch will give you insight into your diet. These trackers can also provide real-time advice on updating your fuel plan.
This smart strip counts digested calories by tracking the movement of glucose and fluids in your body through a bioimpedance sensor. It also uses the sensor to know your “normal” hydration and provide advice on when to sip. ($ 199)
Polar Vantage M2
In addition to standard activity tracking, Polar’s FuelWise feature automatically calculates the number of carbohydrates you need for a workout and, based on your energy expenditure during a run, sends automatic refueling and consumption reminders. ($ 300)
Supersapiens Energy Band, Zero Version
Get real-time blood glucose data with this device that displays information collected from the same sensor Kipchoge wore. In the middle of training, it sends out notes to help you optimize refueling. (Availability in the United States to be determined)
How to review your diet
Modify your diet to perform better on your next run by following these steps to get you started:
1. Find out if nutrition is holding you back from RA
Are easy workouts difficult? Is your heart rate higher during training, or lower when you rest, than normal? Are you tired even when you are not running? These are all signs of nutritional deficiencies affecting your run. So if you answered yes then go to steps 2 and 3.
2. Take a blood test
Your primary care physician may order a nutrition panel to check for deficiencies in key areas. Or, if you opt for a service like InsideTracker, you can then share the results with your doctor for more information about the issues.
3. Talk to a dietitian
Connecting with an expert can help you decipher your data and determine feasible next steps. Look for a registered dietitian or, better yet, a certified sports dietitian. To find a certified expert near you, visit EatRight.org.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and uploaded to this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and other similar content on piano.io