Some people may call you crazy, some may call you dedicated either way within the next few months you’ll laugh, cry, and do a fair bit of walking, as you prepare for the final stages of your marathon training. Whether this is your very first, last or one of many times participating in a marathon Myprotein are here to make sure you smash your goals and fuel your ambition. This doesn’t just mean providing you with a fantastic range of supplements to enhance performance and recovery, but also giving you the need-to-know knowledge on pre, during and post marathon nutrition, so you can continue to aim high!
If you’ve already done some research or heard some stories from experience marathon runners, you may have already heard of the term “carb-loading”, if not… then “carb-loading” refers to a commonly used nutritional strategy, which over the past 5 years, has been continuously studied and developed in order to enhance a range of endurance sports.
Pre Marathon Nutrition
During periods of strenuous exercise, exceeding time periods of 90 minutes, our body’s performance is highly dependent on how much fuel we have left in the tank. The body’s main and fastest source of energy in body is glycogen, a substance which can be obtained from the consumption of carbohydrates in the diet, whereby currently tons and tons of studies exist highlighting the effectiveness of plasma glycogen levels and physical performance. It therefore stands, that for long distance runners in particular, carbohydrates play a detrimental role within marathon training and performance, whereby a lack of attention to nutritional detail could make or break you on race day!
So what is Carbohydrate Loading?
Glycogen depletion is a primarily cause of fatigue that will most likely result in a severe energy crash and painful face plant into that metaphorical marathon wall! Carbohydrate loading is a concept which involves consuming a large amount of carbs prior to long periods of demanding exercise. This revolves around the concept that carbohydrates provide us with glycogen, whereby an excess consumption can super compensate muscles and maximise glycogen stores. However, despite shovelling in bowls of pasta the night before, it’s amazing how many people don’t know how to carb-load properly, meaning all those months of hard training are pretty much washed down the can!
Proper carbohydrate ‘loading’ however can enhance marathon performance allowing you to run at an optimal pace for a much longer period of time. Principally, carb-loading is a strategy that begins within training months and especially in the final 72 hours, 3 days, of marathon preparation, whereby an individual’s carbohydrate intake is recommended to be increased to 10-12g per kg of bodyweight per day. Prior to a marathon, this increase is combined with a reduction in training in order to super compensate muscles and maximise glycogen stores, whereby scientific studies such as those by Jeukendrup (2011) and Burke (2007), have successfully demonstrated that super compensated glycogen levels can drastically improve exercise performance, especially when compared with low to normal glycogen blood levels.
But why not the night before? or just before the race?
So we’ve all heard that a high carbohydrate meal before exercise can enhance performance, however, for activities exceeding a time period of 90 minutes, consuming carbohydrates up to an hour before hand may actually adversely affect performance, through causing a sharp increase in blood glucose and insulin levels, shortly followed by rapid plunge in blood sugar, around just 30 minutes into the run.
So it’s your diet in the last few days before the marathon that matter most! This is solely due to your long term storage of glycogen, whereby if inadequate, after glycogen and glucose stores are all used up the body turns to its fat stores for energy, a process termed as fat oxidation. It’s at this point where you’ll hit “the wall” as your body has to slow down, working harder to turn fat into energy. Marathon runners tend to have an already high capacity for fat oxidation, whereby this performance inhibiting process, can be easily increased by the consumption of low, carb-deficient diets prior to a marathon. A severe reduction in glycogen therefore means the body has no option but to use fat for energy. Consequently, it’s vital you focus on your diet around a week before the event, rather than the night before, making sure to consume plenty of slow energy-releasing, complex carbohydrates with a low glyceamic index such as pasta, rice and oatmeal.
If you struggle to eat the mass of food that is required to prepare for a marathon, in order to avoid injury and poor performance, it may be a good suggestion to stock up on food supplements from the Myprotein carbohydrate range, includingPalatinose and CarBarley™. Not only this, but findings in a study by Swart et al. (1997) also suggest that L-carnitine supplementation can positively influence aerobic capacity and other important nutrients to concentrate on in your long term prior diet include iron, responsible for the transport of oxygen, calcium and antioxidants found in fruit and vege, all of which can help prevent muscle damage from heavy training.
Other than glycogen levels, hydration prior, during and post marathon is critical whereby it is suggested you should slowly drink water at least 4 hours before running and drinking about 8 to 16 ounces of fluid to remain hydrated. However, I advise you to stop drinking as much water around an hour before the marathon, whereby although excess hydration may improve thermoregulation properties, it may also dilute the concentration of sodium in the blood, leading to muscle cramping, not to mention lengthy pit stops and loo breaks during the run! There are also things to avoid prior to running a marathon including alcohol and foods high in fibre, whereby peeling fruit before you eat it can reduce the fibre content.
During The Marathon.
In terms of hydration, I strongly suggest you stay away from sugary sports drinks and make sure you are drinking around 5 ounces of water every 15 minutes as a general guideline.
You may have heard of many people taking gels and sources of sugar in order to keep them going during a marathon, whereby several studies have concluded that carbohydrate ingestion during an activity can increase exercise capacity and performance. However, the actual bodily mechanism for this increase in performance is still under debate and it is thought that the active consumption of carbohydrates may directly affect the central nervous system rather than our metabolic processes. For example, prior to exercise ‘rinsing’ the mouths of individuals with carbohydrates has been associated with an increase in performance.
Although the mechanism is currently unclear, high carb products such as Myprotein gels have been scientifically confirmed to increase performance- just make sure if you take gels you consume enough water.
Post Marathon Nutrition
YES! You’ve done it! You’ve just completed a goal that some people can only dream of reaching. But the importance of nutrition doesn’t just stop there! Think about it… you’ve just ran 26.2 miles… now that it’s over you may be wondering what the big hype was, but after putting your body through well over 3 hours of continuous stress, it’s only fair your reward it with some recovery essentials!
After running a marathon, when it comes to recovery, we can think of the four R’s: Rest, rehydrate, repair and refuel. This meanseven if you’re a regular fitness fanatic, muscle soreness and fatigue can come to haunt you, offering a primary cause of muscle and cellular damage. Therefore it is suggested you get a good night’s sleep and rest completely for 2-3 days, spending 7-10 days completely recovering and restoring your normal physiological functioning.
In terms of nutrition, you must make sure you drink plenty of water and it’s important to remember there is a vital “recovery window” after exercise, whereby a “sooner the better” rule usually applies! After long periods of physical activity your muscle become in a state whereby they can absorb up to 50% more glycogen , therefore, by consuming a small post meal high in carbohydrates with some protein around 30 minutes after running you can replenish your depleted glycogen stores and help to launch the growth and repair process. Not only this, but colourful fruits and vegetables after a marathon can help restore glycogen levels and depleted electrolyte levels, helping you to recover and remain hydrated.
Marathon nutrition is predominantly dependent on hydration and the consumption of carbohydrates prior to the event, however, running a marathon is an incredible achievement that requires a great deal of dedication, determination and preparation. So in order to ensure optimum performance on the day, aswell as good health, safety and recovery, make sure you pay close attention to your pre, during and post marathon nutrition! Here at Myprotein we wish you the best of luck!
Fuel your ambition.
Burke, L. M. (2007). Nutrition strategies for the marathon. Sports Medicine,37(4-5), 344-347.
Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011). Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling. Journal of sports sciences, 29(sup1), S91-S99.
Swart, I., Rossouw, J., Loots, J. M., & Kruger, M. C. (1997). The effect of L-carnitine supplementation on plasma carnitine levels and various performance parameters of male marathon athletes. Nutrition Research, 17(3), 405-414.
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