Fine blend is a runner's friend

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2012, 12:00am


Dietitian Sally Poon is gearing up for her first Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon this Sunday. Of the 70,000 runners, 37,000, including Poon, will participate in the 10 kilometre event.

Knowing the importance of preparing for such a race early, she embarked on a training programme three months ago, first running for 20 minutes three times a week, and gradually increasing each session by five to 10 minutes each week until she could run for an hour straight.

Her diet has also come under scrutiny. In order to make the most of each training session, Poon has a healthy high-carbohydrate meal beforehand, and replenishes with a carb-rich snack afterwards.

However, Poon, who regularly appears on local television with nutritional advice, knows not everyone pays as much attention to preparation. 'This is why you see so many accidents. You see pictures [in the newspapers] of people fainting on the road,' she says.

Many participants, especially in the 10 kilometre event, are new to running and may not know how to prepare for the race, Poon says. This is why she jumped at an invitation from the organisers to create some nutritional recipes to help runners boost their performance - or simply avoid passing out.

Smoothies were a natural choice. 'They are easy to ingest and are full of nutrients,' says Poon. She concocted four tempting varieties: mixed berry, tropical, green tea soy and chocolate soy (see below).

Each smoothie packs between 33 and 42 grams of carbohydrates per serving. For the sedentary person, this could be a diet-wrecker, but for runners, carbs are invaluable. Stored in the body as glycogen, it's the first source of energy during exercise. When it runs out, the body begins to use protein or fats, which can have a negative impact on the runner.

'For faster recovery, you don't want your body to use too much glycogen in the muscles because that will leave you tired and depleted,' Poon says.

That being said, carb-loading - eating a high-carbohydrate diet in the days before a race - is only necessary in those running longer events. Those taking part in the half and full marathons should take seven to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day, for about three days leading up to the race, Poon advises. 'So, for instance, a 65 kilogram marathon runner should aim to have 455 to 650 grams of carbohydrates a day,' she says.

The amount of carbohydrates in these healthy drinks is similar to that of a standard 300ml bowl of white cooked rice (50 grams), but they offer other benefits. The berry recipe is full of antioxidants. Half a banana goes into each serving of the green tea soy or chocolate soy, providing potassium, vital for replacing fluids.

On race day, a smoothie may be the perfect pre-run breakfast. A lot of runners can't face the thought of eating so early - the first flag-off is at 5.30am. Others may turn to fast food, one of the few eateries open at dawn. Foods high in saturated fats or sugar do not provide long-lasting energy, and can be bulky and difficult to digest.

Watch out, though, if you don't normally drink milk in large quantities. Race day is not the day to start a new eating habit, and the relatively high milk content of smoothies could upset stomachs.

The only other time to avoid a smoothie is during a run itself: Poon says only water or sports drinks will provide the necessary hydration. Runners should make sure they slow down at every station, drinking one to two cups of fluid. Waiting until thirst hits usually signals dehydration has set in.

So, rev up your blenders and get ready to run.