Whether you are a seasoned marathon professional, a first timer, or even just getting ready for a fun run, detailed preparation and planning around your nutrition is just as vital as the running & strength training for success and injury free enjoyment. Find out more on what you should be doing with your nutrition in prep for your next race from our Accredited Sports Dietitian Andrew Ho-Peng below.
The 5 P’s – Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
Look beyond race pace and heart rate zones 8-10 weeks before your event, and engage with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to set your plan of attack, covering carbohydrates and fluids. There is simply no replacement for personalised, expert advice.
Make sure you practice your nutritional approach, which will include the most important strategy, and that is timing! Also, start to research the food, fluid and/or supplements offered to you at feed stations on the course. A handy tip is to practice using what is offered on the course before experimenting with other strategies. You need to find out weeks in advance what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.
I must state from the start, carbohydrate loading is only really needed for half to full marathons and does not mean excessive calorie loading. It won’t play much of a role in fun runs of shorter distances.
Extreme carbohydrate loading the day before the race or training taper weeks with no carbohydrate intake followed by high carbohydrate intakes are not effective, so it’s time to throw away your seriously sizeable pasta bowl the night of. Just eating a little more carbohydrates than usual in each main meal and snacks is enough to maximise your glycogen stores the day or two before the race. It’s simply changing the ratio of carbohydrates to proteins and fats. I won’t go in to specifics as it must be a tailored approach.
If you suffer from GUT problems, you can switch to low fibre and/or low FODMAP carbohydrate rich foods 1-3 days before the race which will minimise any GUT symptom that may affect you.
It really depends on your personal preferences as to what is the best pre-race breakfast (+/- snack) you choose, however it must be rich in carbohydrates. Why? Well it’s important to top up your glycogen stores and ensure you have readily available energy for your event. Again, if you suffer from GUT problems you can switch to low fibre and/or low FODMAP carbohydrate rich foods. Aiming for about 80-120g of carbohydrate rich foods is a good starting point. Best strategies I have found are a main meal 3-4 hour prior, +/- additional snack 2-3 hours prior that covers this carbohydrate range should be sufficient to meet your needs.
And of course, don’t forget hydration and drinking enough fluids. Everyone has different fluid needs and filling up on too much water and sports drinks may make you feel bloated and/or give you an upset stomach. The most practical way to know if you’re hydrated is looking at your urine. If it looks like lemonade you are most likely hydrated and if it looks yellow and dark you are most likely dehydrated. Avoid supplements with B-Vitamins as your urine will always be bright yellow; making it difficult to assess your hydration status.
During race – Food
As mentioned above in the 5 P’s Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance, experimenting and practising, especially during training sessions that simulate your race, will help you determine the ideal plan for you. So, it’s hard to write ‘general’ terms when this is very individual for each athlete. You need enough to optimally fuel your body without causing any discomfort or distress.
30-60g of carbohydrate per hour is recommended to prevent muscle fatigue and to maintain pace and cognition. The amount of carbohydrates you need will differ depending on how quick you finish the race or in other words, the slower you are the less you need and the faster you are the more you need within this range. GUT tolerance is important, so be specific when choosing the types of foods, drinks and/or supplements to ingest your carbohydrates to avoid GUT problems.
Interestingly, you can ‘train the gut’ to increase the absorption and oxidation of ingested carbohydrates during your run whilst reducing GUT symptoms such as bloating and runner’s diarrhoea leading to better performance and comfort whilst running.
During race – Fluids
Just like with your food, experimenting and practising, especially during training sessions that simulate your race, will help you determine the ideal plan for everyone. So, it’s hard to write ‘general’ terms when this is very individual for each athlete. You need enough to optimally hydrate your body without causing any discomfort or distress.
Every athlete has different sweat rates, and these can be influenced by the environment on the day (hot versus cold). This can be understood in general terms by monitoring your fluid intake and weight changes pre and post simulated race. Understating your sweat rate can help you develop a drinking plan to prevent dehydration as you will need to drink amounts that is equivelant to your sweat rate.
Andrew’s top dietary tips for your Marathon
- See an Accredited Spots Dietitian for assistance with your nutritional approach.
- Nothing new on race day so make sure you follow the 5 P’s.
- Carbohydrates and fluids are the most important nutrients for a marathon. You need enough to optimally fuel and hydrate your body without causing any discomfort or distress.
- It’s all about timing and don’t forget to listen to your body.
Written By Accredited Sports Dietitian Andrew Ho-Peng