You’ll need energy to run your 10K, but do runners usually eat anything during a 10K?
Runners know all about eating! But does a 10K demand a specific approach to fuelling-up? Or should you just eat as normal?
Running a race of any distance taps into your body’s glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. If you run low on glycogen, you’ll find it hard to push yourself, and your brain will tell your body to slow down. You could eventually “hit the wall”. So you need to keep on top of your nutrition as you train for a 10K. But what about on race day itself?
We’ve all seen people stuff their pockets with gels, or wear fuel-belts, for longer races like half marathons and marathons. But do you need to take any calories on board during a 10K race?
The Science Of Carbohydrates For Runners
Let’s start with the science. A recent (2000) study “Pre-exercise carbohydrate and fluid ingestion: influence of glycemic response on 10-km treadmill running performance in the heat” (http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/10822908) looked at what effect fuelling with carbohydrate an hour before a treadmill 10K had on performance. Turns out, the results were the same whether the runners had carbs beforehand, or just water.
This study, along with others, seem to suggest that 45 minutes of running is the tipping point. Less than that, and you don’t really need to take on board any carbohydrates. But more than 45 minutes, and fuelling with extra carbs could benefit you. But perhaps not the way you think. Experts have found that it’s your body’s central nervous system, not your body’s carbohydrate reserves, that will benefit from the extra fuel.
When your brain senses extra carbohydrates coming into your body, it knows that you are not in immediate danger of running out of fuel, so it allows you to push on and run further or faster. This is great news if you choose to fuel up whilst running. Just a small amount of carbohydrate will be enough to send the safe signal to your brain: a few gulps of energy gel or sips of carbohydrate drink.
How Does The Body Use Carbohydrates?
Race-day carbs can come from bananas, energy gels, drinks, or clever products like energy blocks and jelly sweets. We store carbs in our muscles and liver, but our body finds it easiest to extract energy from the carbohydrate stored in muscle.
Should You Fuel Up During A 10K?
As you’d expect, this depends on how fast you are and how long your 10K will take. If you will finish in under 45 minutes, there’s no benefit to taking carbohydrates on during the race. Save the time and have one less thing to think about. But if you’re going to be running for 50+ minutes, you should consider using energy gels, blocks, or a carbohydrate drink. You could either take some fast0digesting carbohydrates on board just before the race starts, or during. Some 10K races will have carbohydrate food or drinks at a mid-race aid station. Check with the organisers, and try out the exact brand and product during training.
Never use a food, gel, or drink on race day unless you’ve tried it out in training (preferably during a race pace training session).