Nutrition for marathon runners – everything you need to know
Fitness is another of my passions and there is no one fitter than a marathon runner. Keeping up enough energy during the event relies heavily on nutrition and so I thought I would discuss what the right nutrition for marathon runners means in this article.
Just like training for a marathon, correct nutrition for marathon runners starts many weeks in advance. Most runners spend many hours per week training, planning, and preparing their training sessions… but how much time is spent on nutrition? Often, nutrition is neglected and this can compromise all the hours and days of hard training.
The first step is to figure out what nutrition works best for you. This includes not only products, but timing as well. Start doing this about ten weeks before the race; pay attention to what you eat and how much that affects your performance.
In the the days before the race you should make sure your fuel stores (muscle glycogen) are full. Muscle glycogen is a form of carbohydrate that’s stored in your muscles and liver and is the primary source of fuel during exercise, and low glycogen levels decreases your ability to gain strength and muscle. The best way to maintain high levels of muscle glycogen is to eat a high-carb diet.
In the old days, extreme carbo-loading regimes were followed with days of no carbohydrate, days of extreme carbohydrate, a depletion run a week before, etc. This practice isn’t really needed any more nowadays and very high muscle glycogen levels can be achieved by just eating more carbohydrates.
Eating more carbohydrate does not mean overeating though! It just means making sure more of your daily calories are coming from carbohydrate at the cost of some fat. It is a good idea to have the last large meal at lunchtime the day before and to have a lighter meal in the evening. This is also something you should practice in the weeks before or when you have a smaller race coming up.
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but this goes double when looking at nutrition for marathon runners. Breakfast is important because it replenishes your liver glycogen. Carbohydrate is stored in the liver but during the night the brain uses this carbohydrate so when you wake up there is not much left. It is important to start your marathon day with a carbohydrate rich breakfast, with a minimum of 100g of carbs.
It’s also important to remember to hydrate – so make sure to drink lots of water the night before a race. The farther you run, the more important it is to drink. The International Marathon Medical Directors Association now recommends runners drink according to their thirst during marathons. In other words, don’t over do it. If you feel thirsty when you reach an aid station along the course, take a cup or two from a volunteer and drink. If you don’t feel thirsty, pass the aid station and wait for the next one. Pay close attention to your thirst when running a marathon and respond to it quickly. Don’t allow your thirst to build for a long time before you take your next drink.
I really hope this helps all of you amazing runners out there prepare for your next big race and I would love to hear from you on how you get through a marathon. Best of luck and fond wishes for your next marathon.