mrt_12.jpgOne of my co-workers will be running the relay in the Big Sur Marathon. Stephanie Bouquet is a registered dietitian. And her relay team includes a cardiac health nurse and three incredible patients from our hospital’s cardiac rehab program. Their team name? “The Monterey Heartbeats.”

Stephanie tells me she started running for “more than just exercise” about a year ago. After her first 5K run, “I was hooked,” she says. “And I quickly found out how important the right nutrition is to improve my training runs and race times.”

 She should know. Stephanie is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics — an impressive credential earned through the American Dietetic Association that requires extensive training in the field of sports nutrition.

How do experts fuel their bodies for running? Like a car, she explains, a runner’s body needs proper maintenance and the right gas to keep all systems lubricatedbefore, during and after the race. Here are some of her recommendations.

Before: Athletes need a carbohydrate- rich diet every day to fuel muscles and feed the brainnot just the day before a race, Bouquet advises. This prevents “chronic glycogen depletion” (glycogen is the readily available energy for working muscles).And the focus is on high fiber sugars and starches like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Low-fiber candy, fruit juices, sports drinks, sports gels and bars provide the same carbohydrate “fuel”, but nutritionally they are not the same.”

The closer you get to race time, however, the more you need to rely on easily-digested (low fiber) carbohydrates, she explains. “When running, the stomach is getting jostled around, so you don’t want to give it fuel that will sit there too long and make you uncomfortable.”

“On the morning of the race, for example, I usually have a half of a plain bagel with apricot jelly and a banana. If it is a really early morning race (the Big Sur marathon starts at 6:45 a.m. and participants have to hit the shuttles at 4:15 a.m.! ), I may bring a 12- to 16-ounce smoothie made with milk, fruit and yogurt that I can sip on about an hour before race time.”

Fluids are also important — 12 to 24 ounces about 2 hours before the race and another 7 to 10 ounces 15 minutes before starting your run, she says.

During: Athletes who run more than 90 consecutive minutes must continue to refuel the muscles and the brain with carbohydrates, says Bouquet. “About 30 to 60 grams (100 to 250 calories) of carbohydrate per hour from liquid yogurts “go-gurts”, dried fruit, frozen grapes, sport drinks, gels and bars, and even jelly beans will do the trick.” Sports drinks should provide 14 to 19 grams of carbohydrates per 8 ounces. (Higher carb drinks can cause stomach distress and unwanted “pit stops” while on the course.)

“Racers hate to have a DNF (did not finish) next to their name on the posted race results!” Bouquet says. So it’s important not to “bonk” — the term used to describe what happens when muscle fuel (glycogen) is depleted and a runner “hits the wall.” The brain cannot burn fat for energy, says Bouquet; it needs carbohydrates before and during strenuous events. Otherwise, blood sugar levels drop drastically and cause disorientation and other symptoms of hypoglycemia.

 Fluids are vital during a race as well to prevent dehydration that can drastically affect performance, says Bouquet. She recommends switching back and forth between water and sports drinks — 6 to 10 ounces every 15 minutes — during endurance events to supply fluids as well as essential electrolytes (especially sodium).

“I use an easy method when I run. Every gulp I take is about one ounce. So I get two Dixie cups at each water station on the route and between the two I will be able to get in 6-10 gulps (ounces) of fluid.”

After: The first 30 minutes to an hour after exercise is the best opportunity to refuel glycogen muscle stores, says Bouquet. “As soon as you cross the finish line, try to eat as soon as you can — orange slices, strawberries, fruit pops, bananas, bagels. Carbohydrates (about a half gram for every pound of body weight) plus a small amount (5 to 10 grams) of protein has shown to be the best fuel to aid muscle recovery. “Chocolate milk is the number one recommended fuel for this purpose,” says Bouquet.

And don’t forget to drink fluids — about 3 cups (24 ounces) for every pound lost during exercise.

Why does she do it? “When registering for the Women’s Nike Marathon recently, I was asked to complete the following sentence with one word: “Running makes me feel .”. My answer (without hesitation), ALIVE!

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. E-mail her at

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