Marathon Nutrition and Training
Since 2005, the number of runners increased by more than 25%. Fitness experts estimate that at least 2 million people run for 30 minutes daily not just to stay in shape but also to use it as a time to savour some “Me time.” Unfortunately, many runners think that staying in shape can be achieved with daily exercise failing to understand the impact good and specific nutrition has on the performance of a runner. The nutritional needs of a runner are different from that of a person on a regular weight-loss diet because some diets eliminate or decrease one or more of the key nutrients necessary for the kind of stamina needed by a marathon runner.
The Key Nutrients
Nutrition is about getting the right mix of nutrients in the body for peak performance. The key nutrients are carbohydrates, minerals, fat, vitamins, and protein. Through these nutrients, a person grows and is able to replace body tissues naturally. He is also able to push his body and tap into the energy sources the nutrients provide.
A marathon runner’s main nutrients especially on race day should be carbohydrates, protein, and fats. The other key nutrients should be taken in regular, daily amounts on training days otherwise a nutrient disorder will occur and could lead to health problems.
Preparing for a Marathon
When planning your nutrition for a marathon, start months before the event so your body becomes accustomed to the changes in your intake. Focus on all key nutrients starting with carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates – your daily diet should be 60% carbs but you have to be very picky about the kind of carbohydrates you eat. For example, white bread and carbohydrate drinks are not a good idea because of the glucose content which is like getting a sugar rush that will soon cause a sudden drop in energy levels. Thus, you become hungry again. The carbohydrates to target in your diet are complex high carbs because they do not cause the sugar spike. These are:
- Oats, quinoa, brown rice
- Apples, cooked spinach, sweet potatoes
- Chick peas, kidney beans
- Unrefined pasta
During training, your diet should be 55% carb unless you are planning to join an endurance race in which case, increase it to 65%. And as your training progresses, slowly start increasing your carbohydrate calories. You can measure the amount of carb calories you need by getting your body weight and eating 7 to 10 grams/kilogram of your body weight.
Understand also that your training time should factor into the amount carbohydrates you take daily. For example, if you train for 45 minutes a day, your carb intake should be 3 to 4 grams/kg but if you train for 90 minutes, the ratio increases to 7 to 8 grams for every kilogram.
When the marathon event is a week away, you should start slowing down on your complex carb intake and then 2 days before, pick up the pace again or even exceed your normal daily intake. The reason for the increase in complex carbs 24 to 48 hours before a marathon is to protect the muscles with glycogen.
What is Glycogen and Why is it Important?
Glycogen is your energy reserve and different from the triglycerides energy reserve. Glycogen is also known as “animal starch” that undergoes a conversion process turning it into energy when the body needs it making it extremely useful for athletes and runners.
Proteins – Protein is the nutrient you need to protect and repair muscles and tendon. It also helps regulate your hormones, boosts and maintain your high performance level during training runs and at the marathon. The ideal amount of protein is 30 grams in every meal but this has to be lean meat. You can also compute based on 1.2 grams/ kg of body weight. The recommended protein sources are:
- Eggs, rice, soy, or protein powder
- Skinless chicken, fish, tofu, or lean ground beef
- Greek or low fat yoghurt, cottage cheese
Fats – There are bad and good fats so you need to know the difference. Good fat is necessary to improve your performance but you should limit your intake of good fat to less than 30% of your daily diet (not meal).Examples of good fat are:
- Avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, almond butter
- Canola oil, flax seed oil
Avoid pork, cheese, butter, fatty beef cuts, and fried foods. In addition, 10 days before the marathon, start on a fat load then shift to a carb load. This helps your body burn fat more efficiently during the race.
Finally, runners in training need to careful watch out for the build-up of free radicals which comes from the additional oxygen intake during exercise and practice runs. The top choices in antioxidant sources which are also mineral-rich are:
- Green leafy vegetables, carrots
- Citrus fruits
- Whole grains
- Fortified breakfast cereals
After A Run or Marathon Event
Whether in practice runs or the actual marathon event, there is a need to replenish lost nutrients however, never take anything immediately after finishing. Wait at least 10 minutes and keep walking to warm down your muscles. After this, try taking some water. If you can hold it down, proceed to replenishing your carb and protein starting with milk and eat what your body is craving for except for extreme cuisine – and always in small doses! You will experience a little bloating from water retention but this will only be for 1 to 2 days after the marathon run. Within a week, you should be back to your training diet and pumped up for the next racing goal.