Top 3 Issues For Marathon Runners If Nutrition Is Neglected
There is no doubt that training is extremely important for marathon runners as it ensures you have the all-important cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance that is required to complete those gruelling 26.2 miles. When taking on a marathon, many people whether it is their first or they are seasoned marathon runners, actually neglect their nutrition which is equally as important to their success as the physical training.
A failure to meet the required dietary requirements can result in a number of issues. In this blog I am going to focus on my top 3 nutrition issues that are commonly experienced by marathon runners.
Hitting the wall
Hitting the wall (or bonking for those in America) is a common issue in marathon runners who neglect their nutrition or don’t put much thought/planning into it. Hitting the wall is a pretty awful experience and one that you would not like to experience during your run. It is said to feel like you have just ran face first into a wall, your legs feel very heavy with each step being extremely difficult and at this point you will be seriously doubting whether or not you will be finishing the race.
If you are not familiar with the science behind it, ‘hitting the wall’ refers to the depletion of your stored glycogen and the negativity and fatigue that goes along with it. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate which is the body’s main fuel source for endurance exercise and is stored in the muscles and liver.
When the body runs low on glycogen, your body is essentially running on empty so your brain will be doing everything to try and get you to stop exercising in order to preserve what little energy you have left, which is what leads to the negative thinking.
On average, runners will hit the wall around mile 18-20. This is due to the fact the body can store about 1800-2000kcals worth of glycogen and on average, we use about 100 kcals per mile while running (this varies depending on a few factors, e.g. running pace and body mass), but you can see from this what is going on with the glycogen stores and why people tend to hit the wall around that time.
I have seen time and time again, people training for endurance events and only paying attention to carbohydrate intake the evening before the event. The issue with this, is that it does not provide sufficient time or ability to consume enough carbohydrate completely fill glycogen stores. You should be aiming to have a high carbohydrate intake around 4 days prior to the event and consume regularly during it, with the general guidelines being to consume around 25-60g of carbohydrate per hour after the first hour of the race. It is so important to train nutritionally and practice timings and types of fuel you are going to consume during the race. Everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods/timings so what works for one person might result in stomach issues for another. Make sure you know what you are going to be doing on race day.
Getting home from a training run then passing out on the sofa due to you being so tired is something that may likely be as a result of poor nutrition. As mentioned in the previous point, running uses on average 100kcals a mile, as well as losing a lot of fluid through sweat and water vapour in the air you breathe out. These requirements combined with everyday lifestyle and any other training that will be accompanying running training (resistance training etc), marathon runners require a much greater amount of energy and fluids to sustain them.
If these nutrition demands are not reached, it can have a severe impact on energy levels, cause feelings of tiredness and mental fatigue which may also spill over and affect a person’s everyday functioning.
I regularly hear people worrying about gaining weight during marathon training or actively try and lose weight during it by creating a large calorie deficit. This can be a big issue as it will result in the person not consuming sufficient energy and carbohydrate to support their training and will likely see them slumping on the sofa after a workout or ‘hitting the wall’ during the all-important event.
My advice for people who enter a marathon, is to focus solely on the marathon and ensure you are supplying your body with everything it needs to ensure the event is as enjoyable as possible. The last thing you want is to run out of energy mid run and have to endure 6 miles of hell because you were trying to lose weight. They are 2 different goals, focus on 1 or the other, not both at the same time.
Recovery is another aspect of marathon training, and general fitness training that a lot of people neglect, yet it is extremely important. When you run 26.2 miles, it puts enormous strain on your body, regardless of if it is your first or 20th marathon, so it is very important to start your recovery as soon as possible.
When you have just ran that distance or had a tough training session, you might just want to lie down in a head on the floor, stuff your face with some fast food and have a celebratory pint. While this does sound very inviting, what you eat afterwards, has a big bearing on how your body recovers. If you don’t eat the right things, you will likely feel exhausted (as discussed in point 2) and also increase your risk of suffering an injury when you train next.
For an effective recovery, your main nutritional goals are: 1. replenish your muscle glycogen stores, 2. Restore fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat and 3. Provide important nutrients that are required to repair damaged muscles.
A good way to ensure optimum recovery is to aim to consume something containing protein and carbohydrate as soon as possible after exercise, ideally within 20minutes. The general guidelines for recovery are 1g/kg body weight of carbohydrate and 0.25g/kg body weight of protein and ensure to drink plenty of water to allow for rehydration.
When it comes to marathon running and sport in general, nutrition is not something that you want to overlook. Doing it right and wrong can make the difference between you finishing a race or getting carried off the course by the medical staff.
Don’t forget, I am also a fully qualified personal trainer. If you are looking for guidance with your marathon training or nutrition please get in touch now to find out how I can help you smash your goals!
I offer a range of personal training and nutrition consultancy packages including a fantastic performance nutrition/online PT hybrid package which is a fantastic, unique option for anyone looking to have a professional sports nutritionist AND personal trainer with you all the time allowing you to work out and optimise your nutrition at your own convenience