This article was written by registered nutritionist, health writer, author, and athlete – Anita Bean.
With just days to go until the Virgin Money London Marathon, now is the time to ease up on your training and fuel up for the event.
Carbohydrate loading is a dietary technique to increase the body’s glycogen stores above normal that can be undertaken before endurance events lasting longer than 90 minutes, such as marathons. It may help delay fatigue, increase endurance potential and reduce your chances of ‘hitting the wall’ during the latter stages of your marathon. There are number of ways to carb-load but the most popular method consists of a training taper for 2 – 3 weeks leading up to the race together with an increase in carbohydrate intake for the final 2 – 3 days.
2 – 3 days before the race
Increase your intake of high-carb foods but keep overall calories roughly the same by cutting high-fat foods. Good options include porridge, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes or bread. Eating little and often can be an easier strategy than eating heavy meals the day before the race so you don’t over-burden your stomach. As a rule, stick to familiar foods and don’t stray too far from your normal diet. If you are prone to GI problems, then you may wish to limit your intake of fibre during the 48 hours before the race.
1 day before the race
Your last big meal should be at lunchtime, not the night before the race. This should give your body enough time to digest your food, so you won’t feel bloated on the morning of the race. Good options include a simple pasta, noodle or rice dish, or a baked potato with hummus or tuna. Consume easy-to-digest foods such as bananas, energy bars or toast. Avoid any new or untried foods or food combinations in case they upset your stomach.
Race day: 4 hours before
You’ll need to get up early enough to have breakfast 3 – 4 hours before the race start time. This should include a good source of carbs. Suitable pre-marathon breakfasts include porridge or overnight oats with bananas, granola with fruit or toast with jam. Eat whatever you would normally have before a long run, nothing new. Drink plenty of fluid to rehydrate after the night’s sleep then sip as needed.
Race day: 1 hour before
If you feel hungry when you arrive at the start, have a carbohydrate-rich snack about 30 – 60 minutes before the race. This could be a banana, gel or energy bar. It isn’t essential but, if you had a particularly early start or long journey to the start, some last-minute fuelling may make you feel better.
During the race
Have a fuelling plan and stick with what you did on your long runs. Start fuelling early, about 45 – 60 minutes into the race – don’t wait until you are exhausted. Refuel regularly, aiming for 15-30g of carbs every 30 minutes depending on your pace and how you feel. Good options that serve up 30g of carbs include one 50g energy gel, 6 jelly babies or two Medjool dates. Have a drinking plan, based on your long runs, but be guided by your thirst and race conditions too.
After the race
Ensure you rehydrate over the next few hours by drinking water or sports drinks. Eat plenty of carbs and protein to aid muscle recovery but unless you’re planning on running another marathon the next day (!) you’re free to eat whatever you fancy!
If you want to hear more, Anita will be on the main stage at the Virgin Money London Marathon’s Running Show at London ExCel from 29th Sept – 2nd Oct. Its FREE entry!! See the London Marathon website for more info.