If you take nothing else from this blog, please remember one thing – don’t try anything new on race day. You’ve had months of preparation and planning. Don’t try something new that could potentially sabotage your hard work and hinder your success. Here’s some basic, straight-to-the-point nutrition advise that I hope will help you get you over the finish line and recovering as planned.
Glycogen is a term that’s mentioned often in the sporting arena. Do you know what glycogen is? Are you afraid to ask because you feel you are the only one who doesn’t know what this mystical word actually means?
Glycogen is a storage form of energy in the body, stored specially in the liver and muscles. Typically, the body can run for 60-90 minutes using one’s glycogen stores. However, the likelihood of you doing the marathon in this time is slim. Therefore, despite personal preference to run on an empty stomach, it is advisable to have your last pre-race meal (typically breakfast) three hours before you start. Oats with milk and fruit or banana and nut butter on toast are two options I would recommend as they are good sources of carbohydrates which, along with your glycogen stores, will provide most of your energy while you run. Have a look at my Overnight Oats if you fancy a breakfast option that can be made the eve of the race. Whatever you decide to have for breakfast, make sure it’s something you know that your running body tolerates.
If you’re carb loading, remember that this technique needs to have started 24 hours before the race and goes hand-in-hand with reducing your training load. Carb loading is more than just a big, starchy breakfast. Carb loading involves filling up the glycogen stores to ensure they’re well stocked for the race. In the 24 hours before your race, add an extra portion of carbohydrates to each meal, e.g. add jam and/or dried fruit to your porridge or have a yogurt alongside your usual lunch. Pasta is a common dinner option for many runners the night before a big race – maybe you’d like to try my Chickpea and Courgette Spaghetti for your carb loading meal? Again, don’t try anything new on (pre)race day.
Gels are almost trendy along the running route but what are they and do I really need them? Gels are quick-release energy sources in the form of liquid pouches or sweets. Current guidelines advise to start taking your gel after one hour of running. This is when your glycogen stores are likely to be going down. Gels typically contain 25-30g carbohydrates per portion and our bodies can digest a maximum of 60g carbohydrates per hour. Therefore, aim for 2 gels per hour after your first hour of running. I would neither force someone to use gels nor would I discourage them. I would however recommend your training programme includes runs in which you’re using gels to ensure your body tolerates them. The quick release of those carbohydrates into the body can be a shock and some runners have experienced sudden urges to use the bathroom – nobody needs that mid-run 💩
Similar to the situation with gels, if you’ve not trained with caffeine don’t try it on race day. Caffeine is a stimulant, propelling the body further, reducing the perception of fatigue and stimulating bodily functions such as the bladder and the bowels. The latter is worth remembering if you do decide to experiment with the potential benefits of caffeine. The effect of caffeine is believed to peak 40 minutes after intake and may be something worth thinking about in terms of your pre-race plans. I personally am a big fan of caffeine pre-race. Although I am willing to admit that it may be the placebo effect as much as anything else. The main message here is to get to know your body and what works for you, regardless of it being placebo or not.
“The Power Hour” or “The Window of Opportunity” refers to the hour immediately after you finish the race. To aid optimal recovery, it is advised that you refuel within this 60 minute period. That said, don’t get hung up if you’re refueling within 70 or 80 minutes, the aim is to be in or around the 60 minute mark.
It is normal that your main recovery meal will be a few hours after the run, you’ll want to get showered before dinner I’m sure? A smoothie is one of the best refuel options in my opinion. They are quick to prepare and provide a balance of micro- and macronutrients, as well as fluids and electrolytes for rehydration. If you don’t have a post-race snack prepared, make use of the free bananas and apples at the finish line. They’re the least you deserve.
The fruits and vegetables included will provide antioxidants to help stabilize the free radicles that will have been generated while you were running. The protein source may be in the form of milk, yogurt or protein powder and you may chose to add some heart healthy fats with nuts or nut butter, seeds and/or avocado. These will provide protein too. Here are some smoothie ideas to get you started – smoothie recipes.
I wish you every success with your running. I hope it brings you to the places you want to go and see, both physically and mentally. If you have any nutritional queries in terms of your running plan, fill in a comments form and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
You may also find this article on the KBC Dublin City Marathon website.