As you build your mileage through your training cycle, your body adapts to the stress by rebuilding muscle and strengthening bone – so each meal needs to take into account the additional protein, carbohydrates, electrolytes and vitamins that allow you to recover and rebuild. Protein can come in a variety of forms – it doesn’t require you to eat a lot of red meat. Ideally for vegetarians and vegans are legumes (beans) and seeds such as quinoa. Additionally, for maximum rebuilding/refueling, it’s important to consume your protein in combination with carbohydrates (for energy) and fruits/vegetables (for vitamins and electrolytes) so that each meal adds a quality building block to your marathon house. Another important element of your nutrition is calcium, which promotes bone adaptation and can aid in blood pressure regulation as well.
When it comes to fueling your long runs and the race itself, the most important thing to remember is that everybody is different! Trust that you will do the best by listening to your own body even if your Olympic-trials-qualifying friend swears by a certain combination of products and fueling strategies. And having said that, the most important thing you can do is experiment during your long run build ups to the marathon.
You’ve probably heard about the idea of “carbo loading” (eating a carbohydrate-dense meal) before the marathon itself, but it’s also helpful to do a mini carbo load prior to each of your long runs. Focus on having substantial dinner the night before that includes proteins, carbs, vegetables and some form of calcium (dairy or leafy greens such as spinach). When you wake up for your long run, ideally you won’t be too hungry and your muscles will be completely fueled with glycogen, your body’s initial energy source. This allows your body time to warm up thoroughly before you start taking in additional fuel for your muscles. This is also a good idea because it is giving you a chance to model your race day strategy.
For fueling during the run, there are quite a few options. Gel-type products such as Gu or Hammer Gel have been around a long time and many people find them easy to digest on the run. Newer products are chews, beans, waffles or energy blocks. These are less sticky and messy, but it can be challenging to chew while running! If eating in general seems unappealing, you can also try an energy or electrolyte fluid, such as Powerade or Nuun. Choosing specific products within these categories is largely a matter of personal preference, but one thing to look for is all natural or organic ingredients. Some products also contain caffeine, usually about 40mg or about half a cup of coffee per serving… if you take in 5 or more servings during your run that can add up to quite a lot of caffeine (2-3 cups)! If you’re sensitive to caffeine, consider alternating caffeine and non-caffeine during your run. Another thing to keep in mind are flavors. There are lots of them: fruit, chocolate, caramel, coffee… I’m still waiting for the wasabi soy. Kidding! But DO try them out at home before you take them with you on a long run. If a flavor makes you want to toss your cookies while standing in your kitchen, it’s not going to taste any better 15 miles into your run.
If you haven’t tried fueling while running before, the safest approach as a starting point is to follow the recommendations of the product manufacturer. Most recommend consuming one serving (approximately 30 grams) about every 45 minutes during your run. Always drink extra water when you take your nutrition because it’s needed for quick absorption and transport to your muscles. Another question to answer is, how will you carry your stash of nutrition? There are many options from pockets in your tights or shorts to fuel belts to handheld carriers so experiment with this as well. If you don’t own anything like a belt or handheld carrier, see if you can borrow one from a friend or stop by a Marathon Sports store to try one on.
As you progress through your training, ask friends for their suggestions and feedback based on how things are going, or talk to an associate at Marathon Sports for advice or answers to specific questions. That’s what makes a running community so wonderful! And the good thing is, you have many long runs to try out the various items that look the most promising to you and ensure that you’re ready to be your best on race day!
Author: Susan Mix