Becoming a Sponge

I am going to be making a change. And change is hard for me.

I got my teeth cleaned on Monday. An experience that I do not mind in the least because my hygienist is a sports enthusiast with a husband who recently completed the Pikes Peak half (and he has done the marathon in the past). I was eager to talk with her about that, and I enjoyed hearing about his experience there. Their whole family is in to “title boxing” or some such thing. And her kids are runners. All this is to say that I respect her perspective on dental issues from both a professional and sports perspective.

So… when she said (with her face right in front of mine and a slight look of distaste on it), “You don’t drink a sports drink do you?” I responded somewhat defensively (and enthusiastically) that I did. I drink about 20 oz over the course of each of my shorter (about an hour long) workouts, and I just pounded down 40 oz on a recent 10 mile run. Over the course of the conversation, she got me to think about what that is doing to my teeth.

Especially on the shorter workouts, sipping Gatorade (which I love with a physiological passion!) means it is sitting in my mouth. We talked about various strategies for getting around the sitting in my mouth problem. For example, I could drink a concentrated dose of Gatorade followed by water to rinse my mouth. I could switch to gels. I could switch to a low-carb drink or dilute my Gatorade. But low-carb is not for me. The WHOLE POINT is carbs.

What I’ve settled on is forgoing Gatorade during my short workouts. That is… anything at an hour or less. This decision is actually a little bit freeing. It means I won’t be mixing Gatorade every night, and I won’t be “carrying” Gatorade on my “fun run.” To balance this, after shorter workouts I am going to pound the recovery shake and then rinse my mouth. The advice I have read is that your body is ready for those carbs 15 minutes – 1 hour after the workout. (The sooner the better.) My recovery shake is 300 calories with about 60g carb and 15g protein. This is based on a 1g carb / kg body weight rule I picked up somewhere and the golden rule of 4-1 carb – protein ratio. About an hour later, I’m hungry again so I have a small breakfast. About an hour later, I’m hungry again so I have a big breakfast. Then I resume “normal eating.” That is, I eat like a lot of people: lunch, snack, dinner.

I love the recovery shake. But this week I’ve realized, I’ve been putting it off later and later after my workout, because having the Gatorade during the workout means I’m not “hungry” right after it. I have said, “The point of the run is the recovery shake.” By which I mean, after the run, you want (you need!) to get back to homeostasis, which is “normal” or “in balance.” The best and fastest way to do that is with a proper recovery shake. Your body craves it. It takes those carbs and shoves them into your muscles so they’re ready to go the next time you call on them, and it takes the protein and starts doing the repair (and hopefully improvement) work on your muscles and tissues.

I am hopeful that this change is turning me into a better carbohydrate sponge. The marathon is a challenge to the energy holding capacity of your body, so I’m starting my carb-loading practice right now.

The other thing I’m doing is going back to plain water as my beverage of choice. I had been drinking a lot of decaf coffee. And I’ve realized this week that the after taste was making me want MORE decaf coffee. This reminded me of the salt/butter of popcorn making you want a sugary drink… which makes you want more salt and butter. Water breaks the cycle. It actually helps you realize either (1) that you’re not hungry or (2) what you are actually hungry for.

I think this is going to be a good change for me… but it isn’t going to be easy. Are you making any modifications to your eating (fueling) strategies? Do you have any advice for me as I start tinkering with mine?


It has been two weeks since this post, and the change has been good. I feel like I’m a little stronger in my workouts, which is probably because my body isn’t trying to figure out whether to send blood to my muscles or stomach. It just all goes to the muscles. Also, the recovery shake right after working out is delicious and satisfying!

I ran a “glycogen depletion” long run on Friday of 8 miles on which I drank only salt water (20 oz with 1/8tsp – which is the amount of sodium in Gatorade). It was not too brutal, but I was definitely HUNGRY at 40:00 with 20 minutes of run to go. I’m going to be doing one of these on my cutback weeks – once every 4 weeks – until the end of March. This time it was 8. February is 10, and March will be 12. I think I picked this suggestion up from Runner’s World, but previously haven’t had the courage to try it since I was used to drinking Gatorade on all my runs. I’m looking at it as a “drain the battery” run. All the carbs out… all the carbs back in. I am becoming a sponge! I think it is actually working.

My prep for the long run is 1/2 Tbsp Folgers instant coffee and 2 tsp sugar in 4 oz water. For the glyc-depletion run, I left out the sugar. I like it better with sugar, and on my next one, I think I’m going to allow myself at least a little sugar in my prep coffee. I’ll burn through that in the first half mile.

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