How to Fuel Your Workouts

Back in 2004, during one of my very first personal training sessions, my trainer asked me what I had eaten that day. I replied, "Yoplait with sliced almonds." "What else?" he asked. I said, "That's it." 

He was so appalled that I had eaten so little (at that time I trained in the evening), he stopped our session because he said I wasn't properly fueled for my workout.

That was the first time anyone ever talked to me about needing to "fuel" your workout (because heaven forbid my high school PE class taught me anything about "physical education"). 

I was clueless about how to "fuel" my workouts, so my trainer told me just to eat a piece of fruit one-hour before our training sessions. And that's what I did.

Fast forward four years later to when I was training for my first half marathon. Two weeks before the big day I was at a Body Pump class chatting with a friend about the upcoming race. She was an experienced marathoner, and I loved picking her brain for advice. She asked me how I was fueling my long runs to which I had no answer.

I had injured myself (yes, I was injured before I even began) so at two weeks before the race I still hadn't run more than six miles. Not having a clue what taper was, I planned to run 9-miles that weekend, then 10-miles, which would be my longest distance ever, the weekend before the race. Since I didn't really have any idea how to fuel on the run, my friend introduced me to "Gu" and she gave me a couple of packs to try. 

The weekend before my race, I ran 10 miles, my longest run ever.  At the half-way point, as instructed, I ate my Gu. It tasted so gross that I screeched, "This is disgusting!" It was nasty, and it upset my stomach (as documented in my very first race report). But not knowing any better, I continued to eat it anyway. Because "this is normal" I thought. As I now know, "common" is not the same as "normal." 

As I became a more experienced runner, I learned about other brands I could use to fuel my workouts. In fact, I tried many of them because at one point or another, they all upset my stomach during the run. This may fall under "overshare" but we're all friends here right? They made me have diarrhea while running and it got so bad that I had to: DNF (Did Not Finish) long runs and races, plan my routes so that there was a bathroom nearby at all times, and take Immodium. And let's not even talk about the chafing.

I tried everything - changing up my dinner the night before, not eating breakfast the morning of, eating an entirely bland diet, going gluten-free and even trying to get through a double digit run without any fuel. That only left me weak and even more depleted.

It got the point where I was so frustrated and stressed because I knew that I was making poor choices, but I was desperate to find a solution. 

I poured over every Runners World's world article on fueling, purchased countless books on Amazon, and read through so many running blogs that my brain hurt.

"Load up on carbs." "Train your body to burn fat, not carbs." "Fuel every 4 miles." "Fuel every hour." "I only took one gel during the marathon." "You don't need to fuel; you just need to stay hydrated."

I was overwhelmed and confused. And annoyed that I was spending so much money on different products and still nothing worked. I still had GI problems and felt so defeated.

By then my weight was slowly creeping up, my body was in constant pain and felt inflamed, every night was a sleepless night, and my gut was a hot mess. And soon the simplest of runs started feeling like Herculean efforts.

One day, I remember it so vividly, after my gut failed me again, and I had another failed long run, I sat on my couch drowning my sorrows in Pamela's Gluten-Free Mini Chocolate Cookies. As I was downing the whole bag (hey, they were minis!) I read the label and a light bulb went off in my head - sugar!

In the past, during my "weight-loss" years (2004-2006), I had sworn off sugar and would not have dared touched chocolate chip cookies, mini or not. But somehow over time, it became okay to eat this stuff. Why? Because I thought that "gluten-free" meant healthy.

So I started paying attention to just how much sugar I was eating. It was much more than I had realized. Through my own research, then later my studies, I learned what sugar does to our digestion, and began to connect the dots, building a timeline that helped me understand how my choices created the state of my health.

I had spent so much time trying to find the right supplements, the right fuel, the magic trick, when what I really needed to do was back things up, go back to the basics and take an honest look at just how much sugar I was eating.

It wasn't easy, but I worked really hard to get control of my sweet tooth and reduce my sugar consumption - especially in foods that had hidden sources of sugar. And for the first time, probably since birth, I gave my body a break from having to battle and counteract the damage that sugar was doing to my body.

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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.