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marathon nutrition
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6 nutritional hacks to smash marathon season

Marathons are a great way to test your mettle for both the recreational runner and the more advanced ‘disciple of distance’. However, regardless of what level of athlete you are, one thing is for sure: You need to have a great grasp on your nutrition in order to maximise your performance and recovery afterwards. 

Remember, nutrition plays a key role in getting you to perform at your best and recover for your next adventure.

Don’t skimp on carbs

Going low-carb has become quite popular among the endurance crowd. This primarily stems from reports and media soundbytes of elite runners and cyclists talking about performing some aspect of their training in a lower-carbohydrate state. 

Because of this, we now have every runner out there wanting to train for a marathon but to do it as a low-carb athlete. 

The problem? 

Your training will suffer and your marathon performance will be non-existent. You’ll be able to race but you just won’t hit that higher gear.

Why? 

The primary energy system in marathon training tends to be based on carbohydrate. If we want to race with the intention of being competitive (either against oneself, or others), you will need to fuel with carbohydrates.

Simple recommendations
  • Consume carbohydrate at each meal, something more whole food-based initially
  • Don’t be afraid to utilise more simple sugar options around and during training sessions

Hydration is king, but electrolytes might be bae

Water is an absolute necessity for any athletic endeavour. However, if we’re solely relying on water to provide adequate hydration for training and an actual marathon, we’re missing a trick.

Remember, that when we sweat, we lose more than just water. Replenishing what we feel we believe is just water doesn’t help us rehydrate. 

Sodium is one of the key electrolytes lost during sporting activities, so it’s a chief concern of ours to replace it – and prevent massive losses. 

Simple recommendations
  • Seems intuitive but carry a water bottle at most times
  • If you generally struggle to drink water, consider more palatable drinks (no-added sugar squash etc)
  • Sounds gross but monitor your urine colour. It gives you a good idea of how hydrated you are
  • Remember, fruit and vegetables contain water and electrolytes too, so don’t skimp on them

Protein matters

Now, I know I’ve just finished singing the praises of carbohydrate but that’s only for the purpose of making sure that fuel considerations are looked after. 

Recovery, however, requires protein. Recreational runners often don’t put enough emphasis on protein intakes.

If you want to recover following a training session – be it tempo, interval etc you will need protein to repair the muscle tissue long-term and to better repeat performances.

Simple recommendations
  • Consume a portion of protein at each meal and even snacks
  • For convenience sake, have a whey protein shake containing (20g-30g) after your session
  • Following that, ensure that you get a high protein meal in the hours following a training session

Pre-race nutrition matters

Doing all the training leading up to the marathon itself is vitally important. 

Want to make the most of your weeks and months of effort? Then make sure that you take the time to fuel correctly for the big day.

What does that mean

Consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrate to ensure that your body is primed to perform at its best. You want to make sure that you don’t leave anything more that you could have done on the day.

The traditional carbohydrate load is the loading strategy of choice here. Ideally, enough time means starting to load up 48hrs out from the event, all the way up to the morning of.

Here’s some guidelines
  • Start with more whole food sources in the 48-24 hours from race window
  • In the 1-4 hours before a race or training, consider carbohydrate sources that are low fibre and low fat. This helps avoid potential stomach discomfort.
  • Utilise some simple carbohydrate sources during a lengthy training session or the marathon itself. Try to use something that’s a mix of both glucose and fructose

Train your race nutrition

 This follows on from the previous point. Due to the large volumes of carbohydrate that needs to be consumed, it would be wise to do what is known as ‘training your race nutrition’ 

What that means is testing out what you plan to do for the race on some of your higher volume or higher intensity training days. 

This helps to do a few things

Gets you to know how much carbohydrate you can cope with before you run. Nobody wants to experience gastro-intestinal distress during a marathon and this is how you can mitigate part of that. 

Helps you to figure out if you need more or less carbohydrate to help you push your performance to a higher level.

Simple recommendations
  • Attempt a couple of training sessions with different intakes of carbohydrate.
  • Never use a new supplement on the day of the marathon; test them out in training to see how they affect performance, positively or negatively

Sneak a supplement or two

There are some supplements that may provide an edge for marathons, or at least help improve training quality leading up to a marathon. While the caveat of working anything new into your training cycle before using them in the actual race still stands, they do warrant consideration. 

Caffeine

There’s more to your morning coffee than meets the eye. 

The caffeine present can have a profound effect on endurance performance. Caffeine acts by ‘masking’ fatigue so that we can push through pain barriers a little more. It also improves alertness and decision making.

Specifics  
  • Dosage recommendations start at 2mg per kg of bodyweight (remember to start on the lower end and assess tolerance)
  • Take it 60 minutes prior to competition or before important training sessions
Creatine

First of all. It’s safe. It’s been safe for the last 50 years and it’s one of the premier supplements that actually has a positive effect on training, potentially contributing to better performance. Creatine has been shown to extend endurance capacity, something highly worthwhile in your pursuit of a successful marathon.

Specifics
  • Ideally take it with a meal or with carbohydrates
  • Traditional protocols call for a loading phase of 5-7 days, with 20g per day being the dose recommended (split into 4 doses)
  • Alternatively, you could routinely supplement with 5g per day
Sodium bicarbonate

The secret performance enhancer hidden in your cupboard! 

Baking soda does have very promising effects particularly on anaerobic performance (so think about those tough sprints that could do with feeling a bit easier!)

Specifics
  • Consume with carbohydrates as it is tolerated better
  • Take it around 60-90 minutes prior to competition.
  • Do assess your tolerance though and side effects are common. The current recommendations sit at 300mg per kg of bodyweight.

 

Rabin Das is an MNU Certified Nutritionist and holds an MSc in nutrition and metabolism. Passionate about all things nutrition related, he hopes to make a difference with the spread of honest, trustworthy and actionable nutrition information. Check him out on Instagram or at dasnutritionconsultancy.com