Marathon season is in full swing, and many of my clients have come to me with nutrition questions for their big race. If you're running a marathon soon, you should already be practicing your fueling plan during long runs, but you may still have one of these common marathon nutrition questions.
Q: Should I carbohydrate load?
A: The goal with carbohydrate loading (also referred to as muscle glycogen supersaturation) is to increase glycogen stores to fuel your run (learn more about glycogen). Proper carbohydrate loading requires more than a big pasta dinner the night before a race. To maximize the amount of glycogen your muscles can store, you will need to increase carbohydrates while decreasing training volume in the days leading up to the event.
Q: What should I eat the week leading up to the event?
A: This is no time to be trying new foods! Your diet should remain fairly consistent during race week. Stick with the same well-tolerated carbohydrates that you have been eating while training. Each meal should be balanced with healthy carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy), lean protein and healthy fats.
Q: What should I eat the night before?
A: The night before the marathon should look similar to the night before your long training run (you were practicing fueling for your long runs, right?) Think "healthy, balanced meal." The most important thing is that you don't consume anything that might upset your gastrointestinal tract or cause you to wake up feeling yucky. Be sure to have a healthy carbohydrate source, moderate protein and low fat. A few of my favorite suggestions are chicken stir-fry over rice, chicken fajitas or pasta (but skip the garlic bread.) If you eat dinner early in the evening, you may want to add a bowl of cereal before bed. (Learn more about pre-activity nutrition.)
Q: What should I eat the morning of the marathon?
A: Be sure to eat breakfast. Although there's no "right" meal to eat, you should definitely stick with carbs you can digest quickly and food that you're sure you can tolerate before running. Avoiding high-fiber and high-fat foods is also a good idea (although many runners do great with oatmeal before long runs.) Some good pre-race breakfast options include English muffin with peanut butter and jelly, cereal with milk, fruit, rice cakes with peanut butter and energy bars.
Q: What's the best fuel during the marathon?
A: There is no "best" food for marathons. You just want to maintain steady fuel intake by consuming easy-to-digest carbohydrates such as sports drinks, fruits, dried fruits (pineapples, raisins and dates are good choices) and even candy like gummy bears or licorice. Sports gels, sports beans, chews and bloks also work.
The only way to figure out your own marathon nutrition plan is by experimenting on long training runs. By practicing your fueling plan, you'll be able to focus on having fun during the race instead of worrying about hitting the wall or experiencing GI discomfort.
If you're just starting your training, check out this 20-week foolproof marathon training plan.
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