Marathon Training Hydration and Fuel Tips

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Have you mustered up the courage to start training for your first marathon? Getting ready will be challenging but fun. Finishing will be one of the most satisfying experiences because only 0.5 percent of Americans have done it. You are going to be in a very elite group.

But you’re not going to get there without proper preparation regimen and race strategy. Regardless of whether you run long distances on regular basis or running is new for you, the following tips by Josh Cox, U.S. 50k Record Holder, and Desiree Linden, Olympic qualifier and the top American woman at the 2014 New York City Marathon and 2015 Boston Marathon, apply to everyone.  

Q: How much water should you drink during runs? Is there any kind of rule regarding mileage and ounces?

Josh: It depends on the weather and conditions. On warmer, more humid days an athlete's hydration needs will be greater. Typically, we drink 5-8 oz. of electrolytes every 5k during training runs and races.

Q: Are there any early indicators that you are low on water or dehydrated?

Desi: A general rule is to drink early and often. If you wait until you're thirsty, it's too late. It's important not to just consume water but to have electrolytes as well.

Q: How much water during training and racing?

Josh: Hydration is key, not only during exercise, but all the time. Being even slightly dehydrated has a profound negative effect on our ability to perform at our best. How much one should drink during the race is predicated by sweat rates and the weather, if heat and humidity are playing a role then fluid intake needs to rise accordingly. It’s important to remember to not only drink water but to have an electrolyte drink as well. During a race I’m taking in calories every 15-20 minutes. The body is losing key nutrients, it’s important to replace them. Generally speaking, we should all always have a bottle of water nearby. It’s best to sip water or electrolytes all day.

Q: How many calories do you need to replace while you’re running?

Josh: In order to optimize performance, we suggest athletes try to consume 60-80 grams of CHO (Carbohydrate) an hour. This amount of fueling takes practice in training but will pay big dividends in longer races like the marathon.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for pre-race and post-race meals?

What to eat the night before:

Josh: This brings us to the cardinal rule of the marathon: “Don’t do anything new on race day.” This applies to the night before and morning of the race as well. You want race weekend to be turnkey. A way to facilitate this is to practice all aspects of the marathon in training, including your meals.

Josh: I like to eat an early dinner at 5 or 6 p.m. This gives the food plenty of time to digest. There are always fun, exciting meal options in town before a race but this isn’t the time to try the Indian, Chinese or Mexican food you’ve always wanted – unless that’s part of your usual routine. My personal meal of choice: a hefty serving of white rice with some grilled fish... if I’m still hungry I’ll have some more rice. Generally speaking brown rice is better but the night before a marathon you want everything out when you step to the line. White rice is easy on the system and works perfectly for me. “Food for function, not food for fun” on race weekend, go with what you know.

Desi: My pre-race routine: I wake up 3.5 hours before the start, have a coffee, eat a cup of white rice, half a bar, sip some water or electrolyte drink and just before the start I have a caffeinated gel.

What to eat after a marathon:

Josh: Immediately after finishing I suggest getting some calories in as soon as possible – typically, I’m not ready for a big meal so I’ll grab a banana and have a protein shake with some fruit. Once I’m ready to really eat I celebrate with my favorites: nachos, burgers, fries... pretty much anything I can get my hands on. Have a celebratory meal, you’ve earned it!

Josh Cox is a 4-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, 3-time National Team Member, and the American Record Holder in the 50k. In 2009 and 2011, his 50k were the fastest in the world.

Find Josh at Twitter @JoshCox, Instagram @joshcox, and www.joshcox.com

Desiree Linden is a US Olympian, 2:22 marathoner, and was the top American woman at the 2014 New York City Marathon and 2015 Boston Marathon. This summer she earned the Silver Medal in the Pan-Am Games 10,000 in Toronto.

Find Desiree at Twitter @des_linden and Instagram @des_linden

More readings: 

What a Pro Marathoner Eats in a Day

The Runner’s Ultimate Guide to Marathon Training Nutrition

The World's 10 Best Half Marathons

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