Marathon nutrition is tricky at the best of times. Now with a few days to go until the the big event the anticipation is probably enormous. Unless you have personalised nutrition support, it’s easy to be swayed by last-minute changes to your plan. Should you?
No one is perfect. Especially if it’s your first time doing a marathon.
You’ve probably been thinking…
Should you be ‘carb-loading’?
‘Going low carb’?
Let me give you some last minute marathon clarity…
Here’s my ‘Last Minute’ London Marathon advice:
1. Don’t be tempted by FOMO
That’s an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out (for those of us born way before 2000…)
Crazy as it may sound, I see this all the time.
It goes something like this.
Someone’s training nicely up to the race, nutrition is going well.
Then someone in the running club or local gym or a ‘helpful’ friend suggests something that works ‘amazing’ for their running performance (emphasis on their).
The self-doubt starts to kick in…
The FOMO takes over… ‘If I don’t try this I might miss out on a edge to improve my time!’
So you try it and guess what? Stomach upset.
Don’t fall prey to FOMO.
If your strategy has been working up until now and you have less than a few days to go (which is right now for the London Marathon).
Don’t try any different supplements, gels, feeding strategies or different foods.
2. You don’t need a week to carb-load
For a race like the Marathon (lasting longer than 90 minutes) my personal recommendation is to increase your carbohydrate stores or ‘carb-load’ before a race, the research that supports this is good to support consistency of pace.
But it’s not the 1960s anymore.
You definitely don’t need to eat a ton of pasta for a week before the race.
This was the old principle during the time.
So here’s the plan:
‘Taper’ in the final 3 days before the race (reduce the volume of your training – e.g. do a 30 minute run instead of 60 minutes for your final three sessions).
As you reduce the volume, increase the amount of carbohydrate in your diet to about 60-80% of your total energy (calorie) needs, whilst not dramatically eating over your total calorie needs. This will increase your stores of glycogen preferentially, not fat stores.
A simple solution is to substitute some of your protein and vegetables on the plate, or eat an extra serving of carbohydrates with your meal (a couple of dinner rolls, a bit more rice/pasta, a smoothie, some fruits).
You can use any type of carbohydrate you wish, so strike a healthy balance between what you can easily consume and perhaps a few treats here and there if it helps boost your carbohydrate intake. There are no prizes for doing your carb load in whole grain pasta or putting a few jelly babies in there.
NB. In women, this process doesn’t seem to work as well due to the differences in carbohydrate versus fat burning. So carbohydrates may have to go to the higher range.
3. Drink (water) but not like a fish.
Seriously this is incredibly important if you do not sweat much during exercise and plan to jog/take it steady throughout the marathon.
Well other than needing to urinate (a lot).
Over-drinking is as bad as not drinking enough during long distance exercise events. It can cause a condition called hyponatraemia, a reduction in sodium in the blood stream.
The reduction in sodium in the blood allows water to move into brain cells and cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and in the worst scenario it can cause death. Thankfully, it tends to happen in novice runners, who are going at a slow pace and not sweating much. Therefore it is often avoidable entirely, if you don’t drink constantly and have a hydration strategy.
This is covered in a lot of detail in Professor Tim Noakes’ excellent book ‘waterlogged’. The health effects can be pretty devastating. This is highly recommended read if you are looking to take your hydration strategy up a notch.
So what’s the answer?
If you don’t sweat much and plan on walking/going slowly, just drink to thirst.
If you’re going to run or are already an avid runner, work out your sweat rate and have a drinking protocol (and stick to it).
It’s very easy:
Weight yourself before training in minimal clothing ( in kilograms)
Do your training
Towel off the sweat and remove any sweaty clothing. Weigh yourself again (also in kilograms)
Minus anything you drank (e.g. 500mls of water —> this weighs 500g)
Multiply the final result by 1.5
That is the amount (in litres) you need to drink to remain hydrated in training.
How should you spread this out?
‘Sipping’ (not gulping) every 15-20 minutes is good practice if you don’t have a hydration plan.
4. If you’ve not practiced carbs on a run, go light.
If you haven’t even tried that fancy carbohydrate ‘goo’ during a session before.
Chances are it will mess things up dramatically.
Your small intestine has carbohydrate transporters for any sugars you present to it, so if you stick in masses of simple sugar to the small intestine (that isn’t prepared for it)…
You get runners’ trot.
This is even worse if you have existing gut sensitivity problems such as IBS, SIBO or food intolerances…
So, much like your muscles, you need to ‘train your’ gut prior to a marathon.
Based on previous research, for a marathon-duration race is to consume ~30-60g of carbohydrate during. The more liquid the solution is, generally speaking the better.
However, trust your gut with this (no pun intended).
If you’ve never used a specialist carbohydrate drink and are worried, choose foods you know don’t cause gut upset.
Some home-made sticky rice balls (recipe below) a ripe banana with some water or even a packet of jelly! with some sips of water can all be used to good effect.
When it come to any sports competition, it’s the many months of small changes and personalised preparation that make the difference to your time, last minute fixes very rarely work. If you’ve been diligently preparing for some time now, trust your feet and your gut to take you to the finish line.