I am not a runner; let's just go on the record with that right now. I'm more of a team-sport gal. I like competitive sports because, well, I love to win, so chasing a ball (or a person) when glory is up for grabs is more my style. Running for the sake of running has never really appealed to me.
It still doesn't, but for reasons I haven't quite sorted out yet, I've signed up for the Vancouver Sun Run this year.
Yes, that's right: the non-runner is running a 10-kilometre race in, oh, four weeks. This should be cute. There are no delusions of grandeur here - I ticked the 1:46+ category for walkers and entrants with walking poles, baby joggers, strollers and non-competitive wheelchairs-box on the registration form without a moment's hesitation. And frankly, I'll be ecstatic just to cross the finish line with no major injuries.
Before going directly into panic-mode after sending off my registration, I've been trying to reassure myself that I'm not totally unprepared; hell, I'm more than halfway through Cat Smiley's at-home eight-week boot camp regime, and that's no picnic! But with less than a month to go before the big day, I figure there's still some major work to be done. I'll be sticking to a running program, obviously, but I also wanted to find out what changes I could make to my diet in preparation for the big day.
Cristina Sutter is a registered dietitian with 10 years of experience providing nutrition and exercise counseling and seminars. She has a degree in kinesiology and nutrition and is a Canadian Sport Centre - Pacific Sport Dietitian, providing nutrition coaching to B.C.'s elite athletes.
While I'm certainly not an elite athlete, and I think I have a pretty balanced diet, Sutter had some tips to offer me and any other novice runners who find themselves suddenly training for an event like the Sun Run.
Sutter says diet and nutrition is "really critical" for runners, especially ones who are just starting out.
"It can sort of turn your running experience into a really positive one, or into a negative one."
Diet is also key to overcoming a few common challenges that novice runners face, like muscle cramps, which are triggered by dehydration. Sutter recommends drinking one or two glasses of water - not sport drinks - a few hours before a run to ensure you're properly hydrated beforehand, then consuming up to another 800 ml per hour during the race.
"You don't want to drink too much, either," she cautioned with a laugh.
Runners should also avoid too much alcohol or caffeine, which can dehydrate or plague you with the dreaded "runners' trots" - serious stomach cramps mid-run. Okay, consider my espresso maker on holiday until after the Sun Run.
Generally speaking, runners should stick to eating "lean" to ensure that they're as close to their ideal body weight as possible, which will in turn make them faster and motivate them to keep training.
"With running in particular, the more body weight you have, the harder it is to run. You've got more to carry," Sutter explained. "You want to make your body weight as functional as possible, so that means if you're carrying any extra sort of non-functional or fat weight, that's going to slow you down and make the run more uncomfortable and difficult."
She suggests that regular well-balanced meals should be about 50 per cent veggies, 25 per cent whole grains and 25 per cent meat or meat alternative. By spreading your consumption of protein and fibre out over the entire day and snacking on fresh fruits and veggies, new runners can ensure that they're full and satisfied all day long and keep from binging on unhealthy, junky snacks.
"You don't want to be changing anything dramatically, but really cutting out anything that's too indulgent in the diet. So this would be a good time to cut back on the extra coffee or the extra beer that you might have, maybe skipping out on dessert," Sutter added.
Right before a run, avoid foods that are high in fat, protein or fibre, or anything that is high in sugar or caffeine, and try and stick to your regular diet. There's also no need to "carb load" with mountains of pasta beforehand; that's what longer distance runners will be piling onto their plates.
"If it's a morning run, a bowl of oatmeal and a banana is perfect - really easy on the stomach and mostly carbohydrates, easy to digest, not a lot of sugar, fibre or fat in that meal," Sutter said.