Entering a marathon can take some guts, but can turn out to be an extremely rewarding experience. The 26 mile run immediately sticks out as the daunting task to most individuals, with the extensive training required to be in a physical condition able to complete the course, often forgotten. Consuming the right diet when training for, and running a marathon, is absolutely vital for optimal performance. Meals throughout the day need to contain contrasting nutrients in order for the body to be able to fuel, rest and recover most efficiently at different times. Below a more detailed insight into the ideal nutrition schedule for marathon runners, is discussed..
Obviously when running for sustained periods of time, a high amount of energy will be used and hundreds, if not thousands of calories will be burnt. To provide fuel for the body, carbohydrates are vital and their intake should be increased from your usual diet. Slow releasing carbohydrates such as brown rice, oatmeal and sweet potato are an excellent source of energy for runners.
They have a low Glycaemic Index, which in layman's terms means that they cause a steady increase in blood sugar levels, as opposed to an immediate spike caused by simple carbs such as white bread. Proteins are essential for growth and repair of the body, and they help maintain muscle mass. Fish, meat, beans and eggs should be the main source of protein. Most meals should also include vegetables, in particular green vegetables which are full of essential vitamins and minerals to keep the body functioning smoothly.
Fat should not be avoided as it performs a number of functions such as maintaining cell membranes and helping vitamins to get digested. In essence, it is important to eat a varied diet, which is as clean and nutritious as possible.
When training, a light meal should be consumed around two hours prior to running. Anything too heavy can leave you feeling lethargic and will not be fully digested. At the other end of the spectrum, failure to consume enough food can result in poor training as the body has no energy stores on which to rely. As immediate energy is required when running and the primary function of carbohydrates are to provide quick release energy, the light meal should primarily contain something like brown rice, or quinoa etc. Protein should be minimised in the pre-workout meal as it can slow down the digestion process. However, rest days should be spent increasing protein and vegetable intake, although it is important not to neglect carbohydrates during this period.
Pre-Race Carb Loading
By the time the 26.2 mile run comes around, it is likely you will have undertaken hundreds of miles of training, but unlikely you will have completed the marathon distance in one go. Most marathons start in the morning and whilst a light snack or meal is advisable, nothing too heavy should be consumed. It is in the days leading up to the event that nutrition intake is vital. 'Carb Loading' is the process of increasing carbohydrate stores in the body to provide maximal energy on the big day.
For several days leading up until the event, high carbohydrate meals should be consumed. Foods which contain high amounts of carbohydrates cause the body to store glycogen in the cells in the muscles and liver. Glycogen is used for energy and therefore by having the cells as close to capacity as possible, maximal energy is available. Most individuals do not maximise the benefits of carb loading and do not consume enough. The rule of thumb to boost glycogen stores to the limit is to eat around 7 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight on the days running up to an event – that way you will have that extra reserve of energy when the going gets tough.
When training and even on rest days, staying hydrated is extremely important. Several litres of water a day should be consumed, helping replenish some of the fluid that is lost through sweat during the exercise. Training for a marathon is difficult, but can be made easier when following the above tips.