You are what you eat, they say. So if you’ve decided to take on the momentous challenge of running a marathon this year, it makes sense to change your usual diet to one that enables you to bring your A-Game on the big day!
Emma Rose, nutritionist for Fresh Fitness Food, London’s premium provider of bespoke nutrition plans for fitness enthusiasts, athletes and busy professionals, shares her advice on matching your nutrition to your training goals…
What should you eat?
When training for a marathon, it’s important to fuel your body with high quality foods. The main fuel for training is carbohydrate, which is stored in small quantities in the body in the muscles and liver as glycogen. This stored glycogen is used as energy for the muscles during training sessions, which is why it is important to have an adequate intake in order to keep this topped up.
Protein requirements increase when you are doing endurance training, and the correct amount of protein will facilitate faster recovery and allowing you to train harder on workout days by repairing and growing lean muscle. For optimal recovery I would recommend between 1.2 – 1.7g of protein per kg of body weight.
When should you eat?
For the composition of a pre-training meal, try to focus on smaller carbohydrate snacks that have a reasonably high glycaemic index score (GI). A food’s GI measure is relative to how quickly it is digested and broken down into glucose, so high-GI foods are absorbed faster and less strain is placed on the gut.
Your post training meal needs to include both protein and carb, both macronutrients are essential for recovery after training. The carb component replenishes glycogen stores and the protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue.
Should you drink while training?
Alcohol is essentially empty calories and is devoid of any nutritional value. While training for a marathon, it is important to fuel your body with the most nutrient-dense foods you can to support all your body systems, as heavy training can put stress on the body and impact immunity and recovery. For this reason, it is best to avoid alcohol completely while training.
On the day…
The morning of your race is the time to top up your glycogen stores and hydrate after a night’s sleep. Try to ensure you have meal a good three hours before an event to give your body time to digest. Slow release (low GI) carbs are the best nourishment for your body a few hours before a race, foods such as wholegrain rice and pasta are good options. Avoid fatty foods that will lie in your stomach – and anything that you’re not used to – to avoid gastrointestinal stress and discomfort.
During the race you will need to top up glycogen stores – a guideline is 30-60g per hour- that’s roughly a gel plus a sports drink (containing carbs) every hour. In addition, the sports drink will help to replenish electrolytes.
Your post-race nutrition should include high GI carbs and protein-rich foods to boost your energy, rebuild glycogen stores and repair damaged muscle tissue. Bananas are a good post-race snack as they provide a good supply of carbohydrate and potassium to prevent muscle cramps.