As we are now only a few short weeks away from the New York City Marathon, many of you are nearing the end of your long training season, and long runs! At Nutrition Energy, we Sports Dietitians spend a lot of time during Sept and Oct speaking to marathon and running groups and teams, and continually field the same questions about fueling and hydrating for 26.2. Do you still have questions regarding what to eat before, during, and after the race? We are here to help!. Here is our
marathon nutrition and hydration survival guide.
Of course, before we start, is important to note that the ideal training and the nutrition plan do not start a week or two before the marathon, but rather a few months in advance. Smart training and optimal
and hydration are 2 of the most important factors in determining your performance on race day. Most runners spend many hours per week training, planning, and preparing their training sessions but their nutrition plan is sadly often overlooked. All too often we meet runners in our office close to race day when they finally realize they should have been creating and following a nutrition and hydration plan all along.
The Early Preparation
long before race/event day. You will want to know some of the basics of the race, including course profile, what nutrition will be provided on course, where the feed and hydration
will be, and what the (range of) weather conditions is likely to be. You may not be able to influence the weather, but you can prepare for the anticipated conditions. Finding out what nutrition is going to be available is critical, as you want to practice with this nutrition to ensure you are used to and tolerate what you will take in on race day.
Train Your Race Plan
You need to practice in order to figure out what nutrition works best for you. This includes not only products, but timing as well. Ideally, we recommend that athletes start doing this 10-12 weeks before the event during long training runs. As mentioned above, first try using the products that will be available on the course. If those do not agree with you, start experimenting with other products.
In the days before the race you should make sure your fuel stores (muscle glycogen) are full. In the old days, extreme carbo-loading regimes were followed with days of no carbohydrate, days of extreme carbohydrate, a depletion run a week before, etc. This practice is not necessary. Very high muscle glycogen levels can be achieved by simply following a good taper and eating more carbohydrates.
Eating more carbohydrate does not mean overeating or eating as much as possible until you can't possible eat any more! It does mean making sure more of your daily calories are coming from carbohydrate at the cost of some fat/protein and fiber during the few days before your event. Plan your last "large" meal either at lunch time the day before or as an early dinner, so that you have time to digest it before going to bed. Everyone should decrease total fiber intake that last 24-48 hours, but many runners (you know who you are!), need to be extra diligent about decreasing usual fiber intake to avoid
on race day. From a purely practical point of view, you also need to plan in advance, especially if you are traveling. If you will be eating out, make a reservation at a place where you know though have eaten before, or with food as similar to your usual pre-race meal as possible. Don't wait and make it up on the go and end up at fast food place or standing in line for dinner for hours. Your legs need to work hard enough the next day and need to be fueled then rest.
Breakfast is important because it replenishes your liver glycogen and will give you energy to RUN. Carbohydrate is stored in the liver, but during the night the brain uses this carbohydrate (yes, even while you sleep your brain is working hard!), so when you wake up there is not much left. Eat a carbohydrate rich breakfast such as bagel with nut butter or pancakes...or even leftover rice or pasta. Again for everyone, but especially if you suffer from gastro-intestinal problems, reduce your fiber intake.
Exactly what the breakfast should consist of depends on personal preferences. Some people run really well on a bagel and a coffee, others prefer oatmeal, waffles with syrup, an energy bar or a small bowl of rice. Whatever you select, I would recommend that it has at least 300-500 calories of mostly carbohydrate, and that you have practiced this breakfast with the same timing before hard training and smaller races.
The best timing is generally 3 to 4 hours before the start. You will also want another high-carb snack 1-2 hours before the start, since you will be up EARLY.
For hydration status, aim to drink 2-4 milliliter of water or sports drink during the 2-4 hours prior to your race start time. Remember to check your urine color. If it is pale/light you are ok, if it is dark, keep drinking water or sport drink.
The Hour Before the Start
The hour before is usually spent excitedly (anxiously) waiting. Make sure you bring a bottle of
or sports drinks, and drink 7-10 oz in the 15 minutes before the race starts. Practice this several times in training. Whatever you consume in the minutes before the start will become available during the run because it takes only a few minutes to absorb.
During the Race
During the race there are THREE main things will be important to continually take in: Fluids, sodium and carbohydrate. For all three, it is important to take enough, but not too much. Inadequate amounts lead to low energy, dehydration, poor performance...or worse. Too much fluid or carbohydrate can cause an upset stomach-but I will say that in my 15 years as a Sport Dietitian I see that much less often than under-fueling/under-hydration. . many of you are aware that drinking large amounts of fluid that leads to weight gain during the event itself is certainly not recommended and may even cause hyponatremia- a potentially life threatening condition. Avoid this by knowing your sweat rate, creating a fluid replacement plan that meets YOUR needs, and including sports drink/salt replacement in your hydration plan.
The only way to really understand your sweat rate and how much drinking is required is by weighing yourself before and after training in the weeks leading up to the marathon. This way, your sweat rate can be calculated by subtracting the weight after from the weight before and adding the volume of fluids consumed. (Link to our sweat sheet worksheet here)
The cups you receive during a marathon may contain anywhere from 60 ml (2 oz) to 150 ml (5 oz.) and if you are not carefully walking and drinking, you might actually consume only 40-100 ml of that (1-3 oz.)...while the rest ends up on your shoes, the road or the person near you!?! To prevent dehydration, you will have to drink amounts that are similar to your sweat rate. If you are unsure of your sweat rate, general place to start is to drink about 6 to 7 ounces (180 to 210 ml) of fluid every 15 minutes during running, representing about 24 to 28 ounces (720 to 840 ml) per hour.
Carbohydrate requirements are slightly more straightforward. Studies show that we can absorb 30- 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour from most carbohydrate sources. Athletes should target at least 30 to 60 grams per hour. Recent studies also show an ability to absorb up to 90 grams of carbs/hr when taken from mixed carb sources, and since more carb absorption yields more energy and better performance, athletes should experiment with this higher range in training. Of course too much carbohydrate intake without practice can lead to
, so it is important to practice during long runs. Fueling is a delicate balancing act between optimal fueling and "keeping your gut happy".
- 1 Banana 24-30 g
- Sports Drink such sad Gatorade Enhance Formula (14 grams/8oz)
- Gel 21-27 g
- Energy bar 20-45 g
- 4-5 Chews 16-25 g
- 10 Jelly beans 11 g
The good news is that your gut is extremely trainable and you CAN actually train it to tolerate adequate carbs/cals from sports drinks, gels, bars, etc. which again means practice.
Many athletes use caffeine
before or during a marathon to boost their performance. This practice is indeed supported by scientific evidence although there are certainly individual differences in tolerance and perception. It works for most but may cause negative effects for some. Studies have demonstrated that relatively small amounts of caffeine are required to give optimal effects (3mg per kilogram body weight; 200mg for a 70kg person) and a general recommendation is not to exceed a daily intake of 400 mg caffeine from all sources. Caffeinated gels usually contain between 25 and 50mg of caffeine and an espresso 80 to 100 mg. If using caffeinated gels/sports products, do tally up the total caffeine content and do not over-do it.
After the Marathon
You may think, does it really matter that much? I will be sore anyway, and won't run another marathon the for a while...so can't I eat whatever I want? . While we are certainly advocates of enjoying your accomplishment with both your feet up, (or a good gentle massage), and some food and beverage treats, please be sure to get in what your body needs first. Aim for 1/2 your body weight in grams of carbs plus about 15-20 grams of protein within the fist 30-60. Min after crossing the finishline. If you are not hungry or do not feel like taking in anything, then try to get in small sips of a sports drink or recovery drink with sodium as you are likely behind in sodium and fluids, and getting those in together will help.
Then simply enjoy your achievement and indulge in moderation!
A Helpful Checklist
- Study the course, the nutrition on course and develop a plan.
- Practice practice practice: Train with your race nutrition plan, train with the drinks on course, train with gels or whatever you plan to use.
- Practice your breakfast plan and also the meal plan the night before. Find out what works best for you.
- Make a reservation for dinner the night before at a place that you know your stomach will enjoy as much as your taste buds.
- Buy your race nutrition.
- Increase your carbohydrate intake by replacing some of your usual protein/fat and fiber intake with more carbohydrate rich food.
- Reduce fiber intake 1 to 2 days before
- PRE-RACE BREAKFAST
- Have your standard race breakfast that you have trained with 2.5-4 hours before.
- Avoid high fiber, high fat and high protein foods.
- Aim for at least 300-500 calories, mostly from carbohydrate.
- Drink enough fluid and check that your urine color is light.
THE HOUR BEFORE
- Start your race fueling 5-15 min before the start (a sports drink...or gel with a few oz of water should do it).
DURING YOUR MARATHON
- Stick to your nutrition plan, but don't stick to it at all cost.
- Don't experiment with anything new. Stick to what you have practiced.
- Aim for 30-60 (to 90) grams of carbohydrate per hour.
- Use sports drinks gels, chews, bars, depending on your personal preference. You can mix and match to achieve your carbohydrate goals.
- Avoid high fiber fat and protein intake during the run.
- Match our sweat loss or get close to it, with a goal of < 2% weight loss (from sweat) by the finishline
- Use salt or electrolyte supplements as planned; generally at least 2x during a marathon...or more if you know you have needed it in training.