Importance of Nutrition for Marathon Running
A well-planned marathon training diet to go alongside your regular training is absolutely essential if you want to achieve success in your race. Whether you are running your first marathon or have run many before and are looking to beat your PB, getting your nutrition right can be the difference between crossing the finish line or hitting the wall and not making it. It can be confusing with all the conflicting information available and it is important to understand that you should do what works for your body not what someone tells you worked for them. So what should you be doing to prepare for your big day?
1. Plan, Plan, Plan!
This may seem like a common sense thing to say, however so many people get this wrong and is probably the most important point I am will make in this article. Planning ahead will ensure you are able to get the required nutrients in every day, from macronutrients down to vitamins and minerals which all serve an important purpose within the body. The best plan of action is to write down all the meals and snacks you are going to have each day for the week, taking into account when you are going to be training, working, sleeping etc so you are able to plan appropriate times for eating and preparing food etc. There is no point in picking something to make for dinner that is going to take you 2 hours to prepare when you only have 30minutes available. I have often seen people doing this then when they realise they don’t have time to make it they will just get a takeaway which is not what you are wanting. By planning like this it will also ensure you are cutting down on food waste as you can create a shopping list based on the planned meals and only buy what you are needing.
The more things you plan for the better and more relaxed you will be when it comes to race day. Every week you should create a new plan according to your training, taking into account the increase in mileage as you get closer to the big day.
I find having a diary or notebook purely devoted to your marathon training diet will help keep you on track. In this, you can keep notes of meals/foods that work well for you, how you are feeling, timings, training logs etc to help keep you as organised as possible.
2. Remember, You Are Running a Marathon Runner
This might sound like a bit of a strange point to make but it is something that a lot of people forget about when it comes to nutrition. The
government puts out a lot of information regarding healthy eating and nutrition, which is good. However, this information is generalised and targeted at the general population, not marathon runners. So when you see things such as avoid salt just have a think about how this may impact on your performance. Remember salt contains sodium which is essential for a number of functions including fluid balance and muscle
contraction. So by avoiding it, you may find you are lacking a valuable requirement for your performance. It is worth noting, however when I say sodium is important this does not mean it is an excuse to be adding loads to your meals and eating high salt foods.
3. Train Nutritionally For Race Day
Your training period is not just the time to get your mileage up, it is also essential that you train nutritionally as well. Everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods and timings so it is absolutely vital that you are familiar with what works for you. This is especially true for sports products such as gels which are given out for free in most races. There are so many of them on the market and a lot of people will be tempted to take the free ones on race day so they don’t need to buy and carry some. However, if you train with a different brand that is given out for free, you may not be aware that it could result in stomach issues which is the last thing you want to discover after months of hard work put in training. Make sure you familiarise yourself with everything you are going to be consuming on race day, from breakfast to fluids and anything you will be consuming during the race (if you want to use the free gels provided, buy them and use them during training runs to ensure they react ok with your body). It is much better having to stop a training session part way in due to stomach issues than having to pull out of the actual race.
You should aim to do at least one trial run of the race, where you will try and match everything as closely as possible. This will also help if you suffer from pre-race nerves as it takes away some of the uncertainty.
- Get up at the same time you will on race day
- Have the same breakfast at the same time as you will on race day
- Set off on your run at the same time as race day (If possible train on part of the route you will be racing)
- Wear the same clothes as you will on race day
- Eat and drink the same things as race day
4. Remember Your Energy
Carbohydrate is a widely discussed topic at the moment and is something that people have so many different views on. Just to clear this up, there is nothing wrong with carbohydrate! I will repeat that again… There is nothing wrong with carbohydrate. The issue many people seem to have with it is that it “makes you fat”. Again, this is not true, the truth is eating too much of anything makes you fat, not carbohydrate.
For those of you who are not familiar with what it actually is here is a brief explanation: Carbohydrate is the bodies main energy source and is stored in the muscle & liver as a thing called glycogen. When you run a marathon it is absolutely vital that you begin the race with your glycogen stores full. Failure to do this could result in you ‘hitting the wall’.
I have had clients in the past who are under the impression that carbohydrate is bad and will make them fat so they avoid it. Doing this will only lead to failure in the race and also an increased risk of injury.
It is also worth noting that you might experience weight gain when you are training due to your increased carbohydrate intake. This is perfectly normal and is NOT fat. It is water associated with the storage of glycogen. For every 1g of glycogen you store, there will be around 3-4g of associated water. So don’t worry if you are gaining weight, this will go away after the race.
5. Don’t Forget to Recover
Recovery is so important when it comes to training and getting the most out of it. After a long training session, a lot of people just want to go home and curl up on the sofa, often forgetting to
eat, this is a big no-no! When you have done a lot of exercise, your muscles are damaged, your energy stores are depleted and you have lost a lot of electrolytes through sweat, so it is essential that these are addressed.
Ideally, you will consume a meal/snack which is rich in both carbohydrate and protein within 20 minutes to aid the repair of muscles and help to refill energy stores for the next session. The optimum requirement for each is approximately 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight and at a ratio of 4:1 Carbohydrate: Protein. So if you weigh 75kg, you should be aiming for around 75g carbohydrate and 19g protein within 20 minutes of finishing training.
If you require assistance with your marathon training diet, check out my consultancy packages that offer everything you need to achieve success on your big day or get in touch now if you have any questions.