Like all athletes, runners train hard – especially as the actually competition gets closer and closer. Often, though, they tend to neglect their nutrition. To be fair, this might not be a complete oversight. Most of the time, runners genuinely try to eat properly in order to prepare their body for the upcoming race – they just don’t always know exactly what that means.
Let’s focus on marathons, for example. This challenging 26.2 mile race requires more than just physical and mental endurance. Your body has to have a variety of nutrients, in the proper proportions already stored up to carry you across the finish line. And this needs to be accomplished while training and fueling that training.
Clearly, some planning is necessary. So, to help you prepare for race day here is a basic outline of what to eat during the week leading up to your marathon and how your training should balance your nutrition strategy.
Seven Days Prior
One week before your marathon, you’re going to need to start making some changes. The primary adjustment, though, doesn’t directly affect your diet. Instead, you’re going to need to think about how your using the nutrients you’re taking in.
Up to this point, your training has been using up tons of glycogen – so much so that your body has likely never been able to fully replenish it’s stores of this vital fuel. To make sure that you have plenty of glycogen packed away for the race, you’re going to need to cut back on your training.
Really, according to most experts, this taper should start gradually 3 weeks before your race. By the time you’re one week out, though, you should be down to just one-third of your normal training volume.
To complement this decrease in your overall training volume, make sure that you’re getting at least 3g of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight. Well-designed meal replacements like Gnarly Feast and Vegan Feast provide high-quality protein, carbohydrates and fats in a convenient package that will help you fully recover during this period.
Four Days To Go
Now that you’re training volume is significantly lower than normal, you need to make a concentrated effort to increase your carbohydrate intake as the race gets closer. Your goal should be about 3.5-4g per pound of bodyweight each day.
Granted, that’s a lot of carbs – which amount to a lot of calories. A 150-pound runner, for example, would be gobbling down 600g of carbohydrates every day at this point, adding up to 2400 calories just from carbohydrates. That doesn’t leave a ton of room for fats and protein before weight control starts to be a concern.
As unnatural as it seems, you may need to cut back on your fat and protein intake to manage your weight and total calorie intake while keeping your carbohydrate levels where they should be.
It’s important to remember, though, that your carbohydrates should be coming from slow sources rather than quickly absorbed foods that have a massive impact on your blood sugar levels. This will help to control your both hunger and the amount of fat that your body accumulates.
Three Days Left
As the race gets closer, you’ll need to cut back on the amount of fiber you eat. A high-fiber diet, despite all of it’s benefits is not going to do your digestive system any favors come race time.
Not only will the combination of fiber and extreme physical exertion leave you feeling miserable and quite likely force you to detour for the bathrooms during the race, it could significantly reduce your overall performance.
That fiber takes a long time to make it’s way through your system and could add several pounds to your body weight, slowing you down.
Sadly, this last meal before the race is where most runners make a few fatal mistakes.
First, give your body ample time – at least 4 hours – to full digest the meal. Of course, this takes balance. Don’t lose sleep so that you can wake up early to eat a big meal.
As far as actual meal content, carbohydrates are still king and should account for the majority of your breakfast – totally about .5g-1g per pound of bodyweight. Since both fat and protein take your body a while to digest, keep them low – only about 15g each. Research from the University of Minnesota has found that marathoners who follow this basic guideline for breakfast run faster than those who don’t.
A point about hydration: Do not chug a gallon of water for breakfast. This will dilute your electrolytes, weaken your performance and put you at risk for a life-threatening condition called hyponatremia. Instead, hydrate as you normally would during the pre-race week and drink about 16oz of water 3 hours before the race, followed by another 8 to 16oz right before the race starts.