Running a marathon requires some nutritional preparation. Here are nine tips that help you avoid the worst mistakes.
This Is Not For Your Average 5K
People make a lot of upheaval about what you should right before and after a run, no matter if it’s a 5k, 10k or a full-blown marathon.
If your aim is at shorter distances, a balanced nutrition with ample carbohydrates and not eating a heavy meal within two hours before you run will be enough for you to do fine. Because on those distances you are unlikely to burn through your entire stack of carbohydrates. Seasoned runners report “hitting the wall” (the point where you have gone through your glucose / glycogen reserves) at around 30 km (20 mi).
Really, there is a big difference between “hitting the wall” and feeling exhausted after a 5K. Therefore the below tips are only for those who want to do at least a half-marathon or the full distance. If that isn’t your aim, then don’t overcomplicate things.
If you contemplate the thought of a (half-) marathon, you familiarized yourself with the idea of “carb-loading”. At least I hope you have – not having done so doesn’t bode well for your preparation to run the big one.
There is some conflicting information about the usefulness of this practice, but in my opinion the scientific evidence points in its favor.
2. Easy Before The Race
It’s not a good idea to eat heavy right before a race, because your body needs time to digest food. A fatty meal can sit in your stomach for 7 -8 hours and during a run, your digestive tract is more or less shut down – that bacon will do its best to remind you of its presence.
Instead go for something light, based on carbs and a helping of protein. Examples are cereal with milk or a protein bar and a banana.
3. Don’t Ape The Natives
If at all possible, don’t introduce new foods into your nutrition. Coming to the point where you consider yourself able to run a marathon probably took years – years in which you found out what foods work for you and what don’t. Make sure those are available where the race takes place or take some of your favorite foods along with you.
4. Don’t Try Unknown Supplements
Leading over from #3, say no to those free samples given out before a race. Even go for a “no, thank you” when your friend wants to introduce you to his newly discovered „Marathon Man Uber Power“ gel pack. Like with regular food, trying out a new supplement right before a race is never a good idea. You don’t know how your body will react to it and may end up in the ditch, puking your heart out.
5. Don’t Save The Best For Last
As hinted above, at around 30 km there is the point where your glucose and glycogen tanks can hover on empty. This is where gel packs, sports drinks etc. shine and you should have those you are familiar with around.
But do not save them for the final lag of the race or when you feel the “wall” approaching! Instead go for five to six ounces every two miles, right after the beginning. Even though they are available as energy quite fast, they still do need some time to make their way to your muscles.
6. Avoid Gaseousness
Yes, you should have some protein to go with all those carbs, because your muscles will need them. But say no to gas-forming sources like beans. It is not nice to have an upset digestive tract during a run. Not to mention the poor guy gasping for air behind you.
7. Put A Halt On Salt
Eh, no, salted sardines, despite coming with protein, aren’t a good idea either. Or salted potato chips, despite coming with carbs. Foods with plenty of salt lead to you dehydrating faster.
8. Rehydrate When It’s Over
Even though in the first 30 minutes after the race is over you may not feel thirsty, the big whammo hammer of dehydration can hit you.
Therefore drink. A rule of thumb for how much is weighing yourself before and after the race and replacing the difference in liquid. Many runners go for 16 fl oz. per lb lost (or 1 L per kg lost).
9. Be A Pig
After the race is also a good time to replenish your carbs. Immediately have one or two of those gel packs and within the next two hours eat a carb-based meal of your choice. Not only should you be hungry, but your body at this point is also willing to store more glycogen than usual.
Have A Tenth Tip?
Let’s hear it: what helped you through a marathon? Share your tip #10!