It appears that spring in all its beauty...and pollen...has arrived in my little corner of the world. And it proceeded to knock me on the base of my running shorts. Sore throat, aching accessory muscles (those are the small muscles which become fatigued when you have a problem breathing); nope, not a good thing. So then I started asking myself the "conventional wisdom" question...starve a cold, feed a fever...feed a cold, starve a fever? Shoot, I don't even know what it is, but my body is telling me it doesn't matter; I have to eat something. The worst part is that when I get sick I want "comfort food," usually an item I would not normally grab during the course of the week. On days when I feel this badly Suzanne will strongly consider bringing home some Indian curry. However, she's out of town; worse yet, the nearest Indian restaurant is closed. It's not like I'm going to starve. It's just that I'll feel less miserable about recuperating at home today.
Since I've got my train of thought deeply immersed in the topic of food, one of my athletes asked me the other day:
"What are some good dietary options for before our Sunday morning long runs? Should I grab something an hour beforehand or go on an empty stomach? I think some of the slowing of our pace might have had to do with the fact I didn't eat anything this morning. Are there any good books I should consider reading on the topic?"
Mind you, Angela's target race is eight months down the road, so to speak, but it's never too late to develop or reinforce good eating habits.
Timothy Noakes, M.D., author of "Lore of Running," had some fairly strong convictions about a high-carbohydrate diet earlier in his career, but in the past two years has pretty much told people to "rip the dietary advice out of the book." He now recommends a carbohydrate-restricted diet, specifically limited to eggs, fish, organic or grass-fed meat, milk, cheese and yogurt, leafy, low carbohydrate vegetables, nuts with the exception of peanuts, lower carbohydrate fruits like apples and berries, water, tea and coffee.
Of course, the question presents itself both in matters of content and of timing. Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D., "Which Comes First, Cardio Or Weights?" states that the time solid food takes to transit from the mouth to the stomach and upper colon (when nutrients taken from food begin to enter the bloodstream) averages as little as three hours, so that means unless your peanut butter on toast, or a PowerBar, or a bowl of oatmeal is a midnight snack, you'll probably be better off making certain your Saturday lunch and dinner have the right amount of good fats, protein, carbs, micronutrients and sufficient hydration.
I've known folks who can't stand to eat anything the morning of a run. For me, a slice of toast with butter and Nutella or peanut butter and a cup of coffee seems to work quite well; more so for the stimulation to my lower gastrointestinal system than for any nutritional benefit. And if your GI system isn't happy on the long run morning, believe me, you are not going to be happy, either.
When it comes to literature on diet and sport, I claim a certain degree of ignorance. Dietitian Nancy Clark writes a great number of professional and public literature for sports and fitness magazines; most every article I've read of hers has good, solid information. Several other coaches have written on athletic-focused diets, with a look toward the long-term season-to-season building of lean muscle, shedding of excess weight and energy allocation. "Chris Carmichael's Food for Fitness: Eat Right to Train Right." - recommends a focus on certain types of food sources during each phase of training (foundation, preparation, competition, transition).
But...like I said before... n=1. What works best for you might not work as well for someone else. There is no such thing as a single "super-food," and no magic time to eat immediately before a workout that will guarantee the best performance. A diet which is consistent in content as well as in time will.