Heading into a marathon or half marathon and need a helping hand with nutrition? These 5 points will set you on the right path to nail your race day fuelling needs.
1. Plan ahead
Nothing new should happen on race day (apart from that new PB of course!). Plan your race nutrition weeks ahead and practice this during your runs leading up. This will help you become familiar with your strategy and help to check the foods you are consuming are unlikely to leave you with dreaded gastrointestinal distress.
It can also be a good idea to check what nutrition is provided on course and trial this before race day too. This can normally be found in the athlete’s guide.
2. Think outside the square
During an endurance event such as a marathon or half-marathon, most people will require between 30g-90g of carbohydrates per hour (more to come on this). A lot of people will get this from sports drink and food sources or sports nutrition. Some people will also choose to use gels however a high number of people experience gastrointestinal distress due to the concentration and types of energy sources in these products. If you are going to use gels, you MUST trial these first.
Everyone is different however below are some fuelling sources you may wish to try on your run:
- Dried fruit (check out the Earth’s Bounty range here and MyOrganics range here)
- Dried apricot (15 halves) – average of 120cal, 30g carbs
- ¼ cup seedless raisins – average of 120cal, 30g carbs
- 1 large banana – average of 120cal, 30g carbs
- 30g pretzels – average of 100cal, 25g carbs
- Clif shot blocks (1 sleeve) – average of 100cal, 23g carbs
- GU chomps (1 packet) – average of 90cal, 24g carbs
- Fruit puree such as apple sauce– dependent on ingredients
- Sports drink – on average 25g carbs per 250ml
3. Hydration is important
Your hydration is a crucial factor of your performance and overall health. Set an alarm on your watch or remember to drink every 15-20mins. The amount you drink will depend on your thirst and the rate of fluid you are losing. Remember, it is important to not over hydrate too. Drink to your thirst and do not force down excess fluids.
Electrolytes are elements that play a crucial role in the body and help with muscle function and digestion. Some electrolytes are lost through sweat and it is important to be conscious of replacing these.
Sports supplements such as sports drinks, gels, and chews will often contain added electrolytes and help replenish your levels. You can also replenish these through food such as salty pretzels, vegemite or salt tablets (suggested only for long distance runners with a high sweat loss).
5.Before, during, and after
Everyone is different and need to take their own circumstances into account, however there are some common guidelines when it comes to what to eat before, during and post your race.
In the days leading up to your race, you want to focus on a well-balanced diet, prioritising good carbohydrates. This does NOT mean to go crazy on the carb loading (you risk feeling heavy and bloated if you do this) but rather eating a good serve of carbohydrate rich foods at each meal while decreasing your training load. This will help make sure the glycogen levels in your muscles are topped up leading into your race. Also, it is important to focus on your hydration in the days prior, making sure you get adequate fluids.
The morning of the race, it is advised that you consume a normal breakfast you have trialled before. If you are eating up to 2 hours before the run, you may eat a meal made up of protein, fats and carbohydrates. If you are eating within 30 minutes of race start, it is advisable to eat a small snack containing mostly carbs to prevent digestive issues. Sip water or electrolytes in the lead up to the race but don’t overdo it.
As mentioned above, it is advisable to eat 30-60g of carbohydrates each hour, starting 30-45 mins into your run. You can rely off your stored energy up until this point, then you want to start fuelling before the onset of fatigue. If you are running for more than 3 hours, aim for 30-90g each hour after the 3-hr mark.
How can you achieve this? Try to aim for a mixture of sports drink, food and/or sports supplements. Neglecting this will lead to the dreaded “bonk” or “hitting the wall” which will mean race over. It is just as important to not ingest too many carbs as our bodies can only digest a certain amount. Too much nutrition could lead to “sloshy” stomach, bloating, cramping or more severe gastrointestinal distress (think LOTS of bathroom breaks).
Remember: Plan ahead, practice your nutrition and put it into place on race day to ensure you give yourself enough energy and fuel to get across the line is style!
The hard work is done and it is time to put your feet up. It is important that you aim to consume fuel within 30-45mins after your race to optimise your recovery. Aim for a serve of both carbohydrates and protein. A proven go-to is a simple chocolate milk however a sports drink, muesli bar, a PB&J sandwich, piece of fruit and a handful of nuts or whatever is on hand in the recovery tent will help! Why not chuck a piece of fruit, muesli bar and an Earth’s Bounty Snacks To Go Protein Mix pack in your post-race bag so you can rest assured you can meet your needs.
You should then aim to eat a complete meal within 2 hours of finishing the event. This should be a well-balanced meal consisting of fruit and vegetables (elements within these will help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness), healthy carbs, lean protein for muscle repair, and a good fat such as avocado, olive oil, seeds, salmon or nuts. These good fats will also assist with a reduction in inflammation.
Also, importantly – don’t forget your fluids! It may take a full day to rehydrate and you need to be vigilant you replenish your fluids during this time.
You now have the run-down (excuse the pun) on long distance running nutrition, so where to from here? Put pen to paper, work out how long you aim to be running for and find out your nutritional needs. Research your race, find out what will be on offer to you on course and then plan from there what you need to take with you. Practice your plan a few times to make sure it is a no brainer on race day and get out there and enjoy yourself.
Author: Carinda Gosling – Fuelled Nutrition and Results
Carinda is a certified nutritional counsellor (nutritionist) passionate and determined to support people to make sustainable lifestyle changes. As an enthusiastic amateur triathlete and runner, Carinda also takes a special interest in assisting athletes to fuel their best performance and understands the intricate lifestyles, schedules and needs of athletes of all kinds.
Carinda also enjoys down to earth recipe development and you can find her latest creations on her website (www.fuelyourbestself.com.au), Instagram page (@fuelyourbestself) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/fuellednutritionandresults).