March is the month where the clocks go forward. It is a gateway to lighter nights, to warmth in the sun and signals the time for longer runs. Marathon season is round the corner, early fell races are sneaking up quickly and as the countryside bursts from a chill damp winter, so we emerge from our baseline runs and inject a little pace or distance into our eager steps.
In the same way animals awake from hibernation in search of food, this coming of spring heralds a rush to the nutrition counter for energy-craving athletes. The difficulty arises from the vast array of products, powders and conflicting advice. Even the much viewed recent BBC Horizon programme, The Truth About Exercise isn’t as clear as it could have been. For instance, when looking at recovery drinks following exercise on feelings and markers of muscle soreness, they did not compare like with like. Although milk was shown to be preferable over the sports drink, the sports drink used was not designed as a post exercise recovery beverage. So how do we know what works when?
As a general rule, water is usually sufficient for exercise lasting less than one hour. However, in hot weather or if the exercise is really intense, a drink that replaces electrolytes may be beneficial.
However, once our long runs stretch out before us, it is important to replace some of the carbohydrate we are burning off. Not only can it improve our performance  but help to keep our immune system functioning more fully . For exercise lasting 1-2hrs, around 30g of carbohydrate per hour should be sufficient; if your long runs fall between 2 and 3hrs try consuming up to 60g of carbohydrate per hour; and if you are exercising for more than 3hrs, consume up to 90g of carbohydrate per hour, but make sure that this is in the form of a mixture of carbohydrate types .
For runners in particular, the numerous types of foods or drinks that are are available are necessary as stomach upsets aren’t uncommon and it’s vital that we find nutritional strategies that work for our individual tastes and requirements. Consuming a mixture of carbohydrate types can be beneficial – particularly over longer durations. Carbohydrates are sugars – and there are many of them. By combining different types, we are able to oxidize carbohydrates at higher rates. Look out for products with glucose, sucrose, malodextrins or combinations of glucose, fructose and sucrose.
Still confused? Here are some ideas of what the numbers look like in product form…
The above suggestions are just that, suggestions. They are based on the recommendations from sports scientists and nutritionists. In reality, many athletes find that they are not comfortable consuming so much. Drinking to your thirst has been shown to be sufficient  and consuming a small amount carbohydrate – particularly if running for over an hour is better than nothing. The gut can usually be trained to accept food and drink up to a point, and nutritional strategies must be practiced before an event or race.
So what about afterwards? I guess a pie and pea supper is good right?!
If you intend to reap the benefits of the training session you just worked hard to complete and you expect to exercise again a day or two later, what you eat immediately afterwards is of real importance. Post-exercise re-fueling should be part of your routine. Try to consume a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein within 20 minutes of finishing a tough or long session. Up to 60g of carbohydrate to around 20g of protein is a good starting point…similar to the nutritional make up of a banana and 500ml of skimmed milk. So funnily enough, a basic homemade banana milkshake is a great way to replenish nutrients. As always, there are plenty of dedicated products on the market – and with these you know exactly what nutrients and how much you are getting – a shop favorite are Clif Builder’s bars.
So now that Spring is upon us, get out there and enjoy being active; just make sure your nutrition intake is good enough to do it all again tomorrow!
 Temesi et al (2011) Carbohydrate Ingestion during Endurance Exercise Improves Performance in Adults. The Journal of Nutrition
 Walsh et al (2011) Position Statement. Part Two: Maintaining Immune Health. Exercise Immunology Review
 Jeukendrup (2011) Sports Nutrition Conference Mallorca: Guidelines
 Noakes (2010) Is Drinking to Thirst Optimum? Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism