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To smoothie or not to smoothie: What’s the best food before a training run?

I was feeling quite Zen after a solid run: There I was, face-down, mid-drool on the massage table when my masseuse, elbow-deep in my shoulder blade, tells me, "You really should go Vivo, you know. Get into barefoot shoes gradually, but you'll love it – run like our ancestors."

I'm not surprised. By week three of training for my first half marathon, the sheer quantity of advice has been overwhelming. These are no gentle recommendations. No, these are runner tips, which I learn are always bold, underlined commandments. Runners are passionate, dedicated and diligent by nature, and when they find something that works, they are compelled to share.

"Always breathe in and out through your nose – there have been studies," my barista nods. "As soon as I changed my foot strike, I'm telling you, my life changed," my old friend insists over lunch.

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Above all else, the subject of food has been the most prevalent. Welcome advice, frankly, as I've never been hungrier. At the 45-minute mark, the grumbling commences like clockwork.

"Don't worry about drinking too much water, you can let that go down your leg in the race," one reader wrote to me. "But whatever you do – don't eat a shepherd's pie or as much as you think you should the night before. That will cause, um, problems." I spat quinoa salad all over my keyboard.

I call a dietitian to get clarity on my prerun food choices, excited to talk about my amazing breakfast – and she smacks me down.

"One big huge thing I need to say: I steer my clients away from what I call this smoothie situation. Why are we blending food when we can chew and digest it?"

I tell her smoothies are my jam, my go-to prerun breakfast and that I don't have time to chew. Besides, my smoothie is ridiculously healthy, with only frozen raspberries, plain non-fat organic yogurt and brown-rice protein powder.

She's unfazed. "You eat all of those foods separately tomorrow, chew them, then you tell me how much better you feel. Smoothies are not meals – we digest them too quickly and feel hungry quicker."

Dietitian and Globe and Mail contributor Leslie Beck tells me precisely the opposite. "We want our bodies to process food quickly from a sports-medicine perspective, so we can use it for fuel. You're running pretty soon after you eat, so the quicker it's out of your stomach the better."

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I'm questioning everything, when a third, calming phone call puts it all in perspective. Marathon runner and Toronto Women's race organizer Cory Freedman calls to check that I'm still up for the race, and I ask her the big question: to smoothie or not to smoothie.

The answer takes me right back to my Zen place: "It's your body and this journey is about finding out what makes your body happy. You need fuel in the car, but how you get it there is up to you."

Fuelling up

This magical beet pesto recipe might be the winner of reader-suggested eats. Fun fact: Marathoners who ate a single beet 75 minutes before racing finished 5-per-cent faster in a 2012 study. Better yet, it's delicious, healthy and energizing.

Blend 2 roasted red beets, 3/4 cup olive oil, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup roughly chopped beet greens, 5 cloves garlic, a dash of salt and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts in a food processor. Smear the pesto on everything from scrambled eggs to pasta or pita.

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Follow @amberlym on Twitter and offer tips with #globeruns. See her evolving training plan at tgam.ca/halfmarathon.

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About the Author
Editor in the Opinion section

Amberly McAteer is an editor in the Opinion section at The Globe and Mail. She has been a homepage editor, online editor and community editor in Features - including Life, Travel, Style, Arts and Books. She's written columns about her quest to run a 10K and find the perfect dog. More

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