On 18 February 2018 In Running News

Marathon Monday: Food is your friend

Welcome to our next instalment of Marathon Mondays. Remember the performance triangle? It consists of training, nutrition and rest and recovery. Today we are focusing on nutrition. This will give you some insight into the role of day-to-day nutrition and race-day fuelling.

Why should you bother with nutrition? And if you want to adapt your nutrition which diet should you follow? After all, there are any number of endurance athletes and experts who will tell you that you have to follow one of these diet approaches to improve your performance: Vegetarian, vegan, paelo, high fat low carb, Atkins, Juicing… the list is endless. While each of them has their good points, many will not adequately provide for endurance athletes. Your food is not just what keeps you going, it is also necessary for body composition, bone health, consistency of training, mood and motivation, as well as reducing the risk of injury and illness. As such your food choices affect in one way or another all aspects of the performance triangle.

nutrient dense food horIn your every day nutrition, the "I'm marathon training, I can eat what I want" approach can work as a nutrition strategy to a point. But nutrient dense food choices, ie foods that give you lots of nutrients with comparatively few calories, will support the functions of food mentioned above much better, prevent fatigue and stress of the immune system. Nutrient dense foods are for instance salmon, kale, potatoes, garlic, blueberries and egg yolks.

For running at marathon pace, your body will burn carbohydrates due to the intensity and duration. But not all carbohydrates are created equal. The more processed a carbohydrate is (like packaged foods, sweets, refined sugar) the more it becomes stripped of its nutrients, making its calories “empty.” To fuel your body and your run, reach for complex carbohydrates like whole fruits and vegetables, dairy, whole grains, potatoes, and legumes. These foods provide a host of nutrients, including fibre, vitamin C, and calcium, that will help runners feel full and perform at their best. In addition to being better for your health than simple sugars, complex carbs are a better choice if you are interested in weight loss.

That does not mean denying yourself that slice of cake after your run (we all run for cake, right?). The key point is moderation and aiming to generally eat a balanced diet of mostly nutrient dense foods.

So when it comes to racing, what should I do?

Certainly, you will want to "carb-load" in the days before the race. How to carb load properly is a whole separate blog post, but when done properly, you fill your muscle glycogen stores to the brim before you take off on your half or full marathon. But even with the carb-load, there’s a limit to how much muscle glycogen you have on board. This means that at some point during the race, you need to start topping up your fuel tank. Physiologists stipulate a carbohydrate intake during your race of 30 to 60 grams per hour (depending on your bodyweight and intensity), which you can typically find in gels, blocks, bars, and drinks. Aim to consume some carbs every 15-20 minutes along the course. This will give your body time to absorb and disperse the fuel to the working muscles.

Remember to practice fuelling during your training. Find the fuel that works best for you. Some runners prefer fuelling with solid foods (e.g. bananas, cold pressed fruit and nut bars, rice cakes) because taking 3 gels per hour over a long period of time can impact the best digestive system. Experiment what works for you!

If you are running the London Marathon, test out Lucozade products which will be available along the course at the feed stations. If you can tolerate them, you can be confident on race day that you won’t have any GI surprises and you won’t need to pack as much in your fuel belt. Once you find products that work for you, stick with them and pack them on race day.

What are your race day fuelling strategies and top tips? Let us know!

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