There are 5ks, 10ks and then there are marathons. The big, bad 26.2-mile race is a serious undertaking and anyone who’s run one will attest to the fact that the real challenge is in training. Not simply logging the miles, per se, but scheduling your training, keeping your body healthy and fueling properly are all tough parts of the process.
Tara Martine knows that first-hand. She was the overall women’s winner of the 2014 Savannah Rock ‘N Roll Marathon, and is a registered dietitian and the owner/founder of Whole Impact Nutrition.
“Wise marathon preparation is a holistic endeavor—sleep, recovery, cross-training, and most of all, nutrition, all play essential roles,” Martine said. “Ask any experienced runner—the right foods, eaten in the right quantities and at the right times, can make all the difference when race day arrives.”
Martine’s nutrition knowledge has been crucial to her marathon success and she shared her top 10 nutrition tips for marathoners in training.
Winners plan ahead
Many marathoners wait until a week or two before the big event before thinking about their diet. But race nutrition is much more than five days of carb loading. Start thinking about what you’ll eat at least a couple months before the race. As you’ll see below, there’s a lot to do.
Stomachs need training too
About eight weeks before your race, figure out which brands and types of sports nutrition products settle best in your stomach. The only way to determine this is to experiment. Simulate your race-day nutrition plan during your long workouts. Aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates, 24-48 oz. of water, and 400-800 mg sodium per hour.
Plan your final meal
Within a month of the race you should have your race-day meal plan dialed in as well. General guidelines are 1-2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight 1-2 hours before the race, OR 3-4 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight 3-4 hours before. Practice eating a variety of breakfast foods before your long runs to see how they digest. Avoid high fat foods because fat takes a long time to digest. Good options are bananas, toast, oatmeal, bagels, fruit, cereal, potatoes or rice.
Be good to your body during race week
During taper week, the goal is to rest your body and full recover from all the hard work you’ve put in. Replenish with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Avoid processed foods. Shoot for 70% of your total calories from high carbohydrate foods.
Don’t worry about weight
Don’t be alarmed if you gain weight during taper week. For every gram of stored glycogen, the body stores three grams of water, which is used to help convert the stored carbs into energy once you begin racing. So drink plenty of water and relax.
Load up on nitrates
Everyone knows about carbs, but few realize how important nitrates are to performance. Nitrates, found in plant foods like beets, argula and swiss chard, are converted into nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator that increases blood flow to the heart and working muscles. A good idea is to drink eight daily ounces of a performance juice like Beet Performer for seven days prior to your race, and another eight ounces the morning of the race.
Eat your pre-race dinner early
Eat an early high-carbohydrate, low-fat meal to ensure that your body has enough time to fully digest and eliminate everything. Avoid foods that can trigger heartburn including spicy foods, high-fat foods deep-fried foods, highly acidic foods like tomatoes, chocolate or mint. Foods that are lower in fiber, like regular spaghetti, may help prevent diarrhea, intestinal cramping and bloating.
Don’t try anything new on race day
The biggest rule of thumb for race-day nutrition is don’t try anything new. Eat the breakfast that you have perfected over the last month at the time that works best for you.
If you normally consume coffee in the mornings, then do so on race day. Hot tea or coffee often helps clear out your bowels before the gun goes off. Hydrate yourself with 1.5-2.5 cups of fluid 2-3 hours before the race. This will ensure you are fully hydrated and allow enough time to void excess fluid before the race starts.
Add carbs a half-hour before the gun
To top off your energy stores, you might want to consume 15-30 grams of carbs within 30 minutes of the event start in the form of a gel, chews, or sports drink.
Following a thoughtful nutrition program will give you confidence once your race starts. So plan early, follow the plan, then get out there and enjoy your day. You’ve worked hard for it!