Limbering up for Comrades

2013-05-09 00:00

COMRADES fever is about to hit our city once again as Pietermaritzburg prepares to host thousands of super-fit athletes from around the country and the world. For those competing in the Ultimate Human Race this year, final preparations are well under way.

Today I will give a few last-minute tips to the courageous runners and next time we will turn our attention to how the eager seconders and spectators can assist.

It goes without saying that ultra-distance running demands careful preparation and plenty of kilometres of hard training. One of the greatest challenges of this endurance sport is ensuring that the body has adequate fuel — both to recover between training runs, and to outlast the event’s demands on race day.

An athlete’s everyday diet during the long months of training holds the most potential to affect ultimate performance on race day. Paying attention to eating habits during training is essential to ensure adequate fuel stores in preparation for the Big Day. Nutritional requirements differ from athlete to athlete depending on fitness levels, training demands, body weight and body composition. These factors greatly influence the amount of fuel needed, but one constant remains — with an empty fuel tank the body will not perform at its peak.


Filling up the fuel tank

Carbohydrate (stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles) is the body’s main fuel source. Despite it receiving plenty of bad publicity lately, it is the most efficiently used fuel source during exercise.

Eating enough carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread and starchy vegetables is essential to refill the glycogen stores after a run as well as to provide immediate fuel during a run. Below are some tips for incorporating carbohydrate-rich foods in your everyday eating plan.

• Enjoy bread in a variety of forms to keep it interesting — pita bread pockets filled with meat and salad, rolls with your choice of filling, slices of raisin bread or banana bread for teatime snacks. Choose thicker-sliced loaves to increase the bread part of your sandwiches.

• Cakes, sweet biscuits and puddings are high in carbohydrates, but are also often high in fat. To prevent carrying a few extra kilograms for close to 90 km, rather choose scones (without cream), pancakes or bran muffins instead of cakes. Bread pudding made with skim milk or apple crumble served with custard are carbohydrate-rich yet low-fat pudding alternatives.

• Include fruit at meals and snacks. In addition to fresh pieces, you may also include dried fruit or fruit juices. Remember that these are very concentrated sources of glucose and should be eaten in controlled amounts.

• As a change from the usual sandwiches, use leftover pasta or rice as the basis for the next day’s lunchbox. Add salad vegetables and some cottage cheese, tuna or leftover cold meat to create an interesting lunch alternative.

• Experiment with adding legumes (kidney beans, chick peas and lentils) to casseroles and mince dishes to increase the fibre and carbohydrate content. This is also a great way to extend a meaty meal and cut grocery costs. Hummus spread on wraps, crackers or pita breads is a tasty way to increase both carbohydrate and essential protein intake.

• Make the most of starchy vegetables such as potatoes, butternut, peas and corn. Corn on the cob can add an interesting difference to any braai, meal or lunchbox.


Refilling the fuel tank

The body’s capacity to store glycogen is limited and a full fuel tank will only provide energy for about two hours after leaving the starting blocks in Durban. That’s a long way from the finish line. At this stage, muscles become fuelled by blood sugar and fat stores. Most healthy individuals have adequate fat stores for this cause, but blood sugar needs to be topped up constantly through the race. If blood sugar levels drop, fatigue and light-headedness set in and you may be forced to stop running — the infamous “hitting the wall”.

It is essential to start eating or drinking extra energy sources before the fatigue sets in, as time is needed for the glucose to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Gels, jelly sweets, sports drinks, bananas, potatoes and sandwiches can all do the trick.

After prolonged and exhaustive exercise (I think Comrades qualifies), it can take up to seven days for energy reserves to refill completely. So once you have received your medal, enjoy a well-earned rest and give your body some time to recover before planning the next challenge.

I would like to wish all of our Pietermaritzburg runners a very successful and enjoyable Comrades 2013. Go for it!



• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@


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