Before today’s 20-mile run, I fueled up with three large slabs of polenta, pan fried in olive oil and slathered with pizza sauce. It turned out to be one of the best pre-long-run choices I’ve ever made in terms of easy-digestibility and sustained energy.
The polenta was a leftover from last night’s dinner, and I needed something quick – my schedule called for getting out the door right after getting home from church this morning.
I figured as an early lunch it would be filling enough to last through the coming 2-hour 45-minute run, but not so heavy or hard to digest as to make the run more difficult that it was likely going to be anyway. Last year my go-to, pre-long-run, calorie-storing meal was four huge slabs of greasy pepperoni and sausage pizza. But that had to be pre-run as in “the night before.” I have a fairly cast-iron stomach, but I doubt I could eat that on the way out the door for a long run without consequences.
[Which prompts this digression: many runners I know can’t eat anything for several hours before running without causing cramps or other gastro difficulties. On the other hand, I and others I know, need to eat right before run. For me, if I haven’t had a sandwich, or a plate of eggs, or something substantial within a half hour of hitting the road, I’m hungry through the whole run and never feel right. Feel free to comment as to which camp you fall into here.]
Back to the polenta – another reason I figured it might be worth a shot was its relation to pinole, one of the staple foods eaten by the Tarahumara, the legendary tribe of ultra-runners featured in Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. Pinole is made from finely ground corn with some seasoning. Polenta is basically just corn grits. You cook it until it’s super thick, let it cool a bit, then slice and serve. It’s a high carb food like pasta, easy to digest, inexpensive, and I think tasty. Before you add butter or oil, polenta is 130 calories per serving (1/4 cup dry), with .5g fat, 27g carbohydrate, 0g sugar and 3g protein.
One other note on my diet during today’s run – I was out of Gu and so I took two chocolate chip cookies with me for on-the-move refueling. I didn’t look it up, but I’m guessing this were significantly higher in fat and sugar than the polenta. Perfect. I ate one at mile 10 and one at mile 14. Tasty and I think pretty effective in terms of an energy boost. Not the first time cookies have outperformed Gu or other artificial foods for me during a long run. Last winter, a couple of Kristen’s ultra-buttery sugar cookies powered me through a brutal 16-mile run through the hills of Goffstown – in a snowstorm. They may have been frozen solid by the time I got to eat them, but man they tasted good and brought my energy level back up almost instantly. Take that, lab foods.