A guide to planning your marathon nutrition
Nutritional strategy to support your marathon training and recovery is a crucial part of getting fit to complete the 26.2 miles.
Training for a marathon can be as demanding as racing one. The high weekly mileage and long runs that you will complete over the next few weeks and months use energy, (for most people just over 100 calories per mile), so the nutritional strategy to support your training and recovery is a crucial part of getting fit to complete the 26.2 miles. Each training mile uses energy from the body’s limited stores of carbohydrate (glycogen), so making sure that you eat plenty of carbs on a daily basis is vital. These include starchy foods, such as bread, cereal, rice, potatoes and pasta, as well as some sugary foods such as jam, honey and marmalade. Rehydrating after training is important, since sweat rates of 1-2 litres an hour are common, even on colder days, and if too much fluid is lost it can quickly lead to a decrease in performance.
- Eat carbs on a daily basis – not just for the days before the race.
- Stay hydrated by drinking sufficient fluid to keep your urine light in colour.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to provide vitamins and minerals that maintain health and sustain your immune system.
- Most people need a time gap of 2-3 hours between a meal and training session, giving time for the food to be digested.
- As your training reaches a peak, some of your longer runs will be close to marathon distance, so don’t forget to support them with fuel, fluid and a high carb recovery strategy.
- The first couple of hours after a training session are the best time to replace energy, and scientists have shown that optimal recovery occurs with a mix of carbs and protein.
You must start the race properly fueled and hydrated. The marathon distance will need around 3,000 calories of energy, mainly from carbohydrate, but unfortunately your body can only store enough to get you to the 18-20 mile point. Unless you can "spare" some carbs by running slowly (especially at the start) and burn fat, or consume carbohydrate on the way around the course, you run the risk of "hitting the wall" – the point in the race where you exhaust your carb stores and are forced to use less efficient fat instead.
- Make sure you overload on carbs during the 3-5 days before the race, by cutting down on your mileage and adding extra carbohydrate to your diet.
- Try to have a "light carb" breakfast 2-3 hours before the start, giving a final top up to energy stores. Toast, bread, cereal, honey or marmalade is ideal.
- Drink a sensible amount of fluid so that your urine is clear, but don’t overdo it and find yourself nipping to the toilet every 10 minutes!
- Make use of the drinks stations on course, especially if it is a hot day. Drinking small amounts frequently is the best way to avoid dehydration without getting stomach cramps or nausea.
- Carbo Gels provide enough energy for approximately 1 mile of running. Try them on a training run to see if they work for you, and only use them if they do. A maximum of 4 or 5 should give you the extra energy that you need to complete the course.
- The isotonic on-course drinks will provide a boost of both energy and fluid, replacing the energy stores are used.