Lots of us are out pounding the pavements and trails in preparation for a marathon. There are lots of valuable resources available with nutrition plans abounding, Runners World (runnersworld.co.uk) has some really good articles and the nutritionist Anita Bean has previously written an excellent article to help you focus on the amount of carbohydrate and protein you need. This is the link to that article – http://anitabean.co.uk/marathon-nutrition-fuelling-marathon-training/
There are some important things to add:
Carbohydrates doesn’t just mean wheat, oats and potatoes. There are more carbohydrate sources out these. Don’t get me wrong, porridge is a fantastic fuel and a peanut butter bagel can hit the spot as a post work out snack if you don’t have an issue with gluten but vegetables and fruit provide carbohydrates packed in with their vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – the natural chemicals that give plants their colour and have lots of health benefits.
- Swap white potatoes for sweet potatoes for more vitamin A, vitamin C and fibre
- Eat a wide variety of colourful vegetables – use salads, soups and stir-fries to increase your intake.
- Try some of the new pastas that are made with beans and lentils rather than wheat. The Really Healthy Pasta company make some good ones but they are starting to appear in the supermarkets as well.
- Carb loading doesn’t have to mean lots of stodge – make sure you eat lots of different healthy foods.
Don’t be afraid of fat in your diet. Fat is essential for our bodies to function and if you’re challenging it by running for 26.2 miles it needs to be working and recovering well.
- The Omega 3 fats have anti-inflammatory properties, helping repair. Good sources are oily fish like salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna, sardines and pilchards. Prawns have a decent level of omega 3 fats and are easy to add to a salad, stir-fry or just nibble on.
- Vegetarian sources of the Omega 3 fats include flaxseeds and chia seeds – use them ground for best effect – and walnuts. Green leafy vegetables also contain some of these fats.
- Nut butters are a good source of healthy fats and protein – peanut butter isn’t the only one out there anymore most supermarket stock different nut and seed butters.
- If you’re using protein powder for smoothies add a handful of ground pumpkin/sunflower seeds to boost the protein content and add some healthy fats
- Use extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings – you need a little fat with salad to help absorb all of the vitamins and minerals.
- Avocados have lots of healthy fat along with a good kick of protein
Hydration is really important but don’t over-do it. Some research shows that drinking by thirst leads to better performance than drinking to a schedule.
- Do experiment with different drinks in your training runs. It’s easy to forget and use something that’s easily available on race day but you don’t know how your body will respond to it.
- Coconut Water is good for restoring the electrolyte balance and as a quick refuelling option after a run. Good brands are VitaCoco or Zico
- See Anita’s article for details of the recommended amounts to drink but the best way to check your hydration is to look at the colour of your urine. If it’s darker than a pale straw colour then it suggests you need to drink more.
- Montmorency cherry juice has been shown to help recovery (and can help sleep) and there are studies that show that beetroot juice has been shown to help performance if taken two to three hours before racing (actual running not just being at the start line). Cherry Active (www.cherryactive.co.uk) make both and also has some good ideas of how to use the products in foods – see here for a good post workout snack www.cherryactive.co.uk/blogs/recipes/cherryactive-post-workout-bars
Get the most health value for the food you eat and avoid poor quality food that drains your body. This includes refined grains, fatty meats, sweets and fried foods and top up your fuel tank with foods that boost recovery and well-being.
- Focus on fish, poultry and eggs as animal sources of protein using nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and avocados as good vegetarian sources.
- Eat lots of dark, green leafy vegetables which help recovery be restoring the pH balance
- Eat lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables to keep your body as healthy as possible
It’s easy to get too focused on the protein, carbohydrate and fat content of the food you eat and miss out on some of the important nutrients. Magnesium is incredibly important, especially when you’re putting your body under a lot of stress. It’s involved in virtually every process in the body and it helps calm inflammation, is involved in energy production and can improve blood sugar control.
- Good sources include nuts and seeds, avocados, kale, spinach, quinoa, kale and spinach
- Use an Epsom salts bath – this can be relaxing and help your body absorb the magnesium from the salts.
Don’t get obsessed with what a meal should look like – if you find a certain meal works well for you before an evening run and your run is in the morning then have it for breakfast. Alternatively, if the best pre-run meal for you is porridge and a banana then have that – whenever your run is.
You need to refuel during a marathon. Rather than use synthetic energy gels try experimenting with making your own energy snacks using dates – an example recipe for citrus energy balls is:
- 6 medjool dates, pitted
- 125ml agave nectar or honey
- 2 tbsp. chia seeds
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- Zest of 1 lemon and lime
- Juice of 1 orange
Blitz all of the ingredients in a blender, split into 5 portions and bag. Use one every 45 minutes or so. They keep well in the fridge and you could swap the lemon and lime for a tablespoon of cocoa powder to make a chocolate version.
Your performance isn’t just about the fuel in your tank. Manage your stress, when it comes to the race your nerves can affect how your digestion works and that will affect your performance in addition if you’re burning too much energy with stress that can be exhausting.
- Control what you can. Make sure you plan your route to the event, think about your race fuelling strategy, etc.
- As stress often has a negative impact on our digestion make sure the night before the night before you eat well and get as much rest as possible so if on the actual night before the nerves kick in you’ve already done what you can.
- Don’t try and eat a really big meal the night before – eat little and often on the day before – something every three to four hours.
- Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing to stay in control of your nerves.