What To Eat Before Marathon
Eat a banana before and after a run. It's full of carbs, antioxidants, vitamin B6, and potassium. Before and as you run, munch on a whole grain, nutty energy bar or just pop in a handful of potassium- and iron-rich raisins. Mix 2 tbsps cereals with 1/2 cup yogurt and 1 tsp honey before a run. Or eat a whole baked beetroot. Drink enough water, about 5–12 ounces every 15 mins during the run. But don't overhydrate yourself.
Running is getting popular by the day as a serious fitness regime. Endurance athletes apart, it is being taken up as a leisure sports activity by people who have developed a passion for running and participate enthusiastically in marathons.
There is a lot of planning that goes into training for a marathon, from cardio and strength training to shopping for appropriate running gear. However, the most important of all, nutrition, does not get the focus it deserves. It’s very important to know what to eat and drink and how long before running a marathon.
So here is your guide to eating right.
Runners Need Carbohydrates
Running is good for health all right, but it is physically exacting and it tests your endurance. A study reported that in a marathon, more than two in five runners report “hitting the wall”— slang for the rapid onset of severe fatigue followed by the inability to maintain a high speed. This happens when the carbohydrate stores in their legs are nearly depleted.1
Naturally, eating carbs before a marathon drives performance as it gives the runner the energy to run at greater speed without hitting the wall. The study also noted that an even better way is to eat more carbs midway through the race. It will contribute to better performance without any exhaustion setting in.2
Sports nutritionists, too, suggest that runners should get 60 percent of their daily calories from carbs because while running, those are what fuel muscles.
But not just any carbs, the right kind of carbs at the right time—right before running, during running, and after running. High-glycemic carbs like potatoes, ripe bananas, white rice, or honey, which break down into glucose rapidly, are recommended during this time.
But at all other times, the carbs we eat should come from low-glycemic foods like brown rice, sweet potatoes, and whole grain cereals that provide longer-lasting energy and are packed with other nutrients.
The ideal pre-marathon food should have 50 to 75 g of carbs, depending on the distance and your weight. Eat at least 300 calories an hour before the race starts. Test out your food choices during your training and try different food combinations so you know which one helps fuel your body for a long run.3
Let’s Name Those Carbs For You
Some of the best sources of carbohydrates and protein for runners are:
You can’t miss the stacks of bananas kept at food-fueling stations at most sport events, including marathons. Why? Because they are easy to digest and are loaded with fast-acting carbs—one large banana has 31 g of carbs—making it a perfect pre-and post-run snack.
A 2012 study found banana as beneficial as sports drinks, if not more, for athletes. This humble fruit has antioxidants that are not found in sports drinks. Plus, banana gives a nutritional boost with its high potassium and vitamin B6 content, that too minus the artificial sugar found in sports drinks.4
Sports bars high in carbs, moderate in protein, and low in sugar and fiber are good for pre-run and during-the-marathon snacking.
Remember to pick energy bars rich in carbs—not the diet ones—made with cereals like whole wheat, quinoa, or brown rice and nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and peanuts.
Also check the fiber content and avoid those with too much fiber, or you may have to interrupt your run for a toilet break as high-fiber builds pressure in the gut.
A natural alternative to energy bars is a handful of raisins. These dried grapes, rich in potassium and iron, help power the body before a vigorous exercise like running just as well as sports nutrients bars, says a study published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
The researchers studied people running 3 miles and gave these three groups either raisins, energy bars, or plain water. The results showed that runners who ate raisins or the nutrients bars ran the distance a whole minute faster on average than those who ran after having just plain water.5
And that 1 minute is the difference between a medal and a certificate for participation.
Cereal With Yogurt
While milk may not agree with every runner’s stomach, yogurt, with its supply of good carbs, calcium, proteins, vitamin A, riboflavin, phosphorous, and potassium, is an easily digestible pre-marathon food. One serving of yogurt contains about as much potassium as a banana, which is around 400 mg.6
Researchers have found that yogurt and lactic acid bacteria, commonly used in the production of yogurt, are therapeutic for people suffering from diseases such as cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and asthma. The immune system is the main contributor in these diseases, and yogurt’s immune-healing properties help heal patients’ gut.7 Runners suffering from any of these conditions may also benefit by including it in their pre-run food.
Stick to plain yogurt and avoid the sweetened variety because sugar is not an athlete’s best friend. Yogurt is basically a protein snack, so combine it with simple and complex carbs for energy and satiety. Munch two tablespoons of cereal or granola with half a cup of yogurt, sweetened with one teaspoon of honey before you run.
Usually, a vegetable is not a great pre-marathon food, but beetroot has proved otherwise. A 2012 study showed that marathoners who ate a single beet 75 minutes before racing finished 5 percent faster than those who did not have beetroot.
The purpose of this study was to find whether eating a whole beetroot, as a means for increasing nitrate intake, improves endurance exercise performance. Nitrates are converted naturally in the body to nitric oxide, which relaxes and widens blood vessels and influences how efficiently cells use oxygen. The results showed that eating a nitrate-rich, whole beetroot does improve running performance in healthy adults.8
Bake a whole beetroot. Spice it up with a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of pepper and salt. And savor the taste and health benefits of this power vegetable before you tie up your shoelaces and head for the run.
Last but not the least, stay hydrated with adequate water before and during the run. Make an effort to stay hydrated 48 hours before the start of your race day. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 5 to 12 ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes during a marathon. Drink 2-ounce glasses of water two hours before a marathon so that it gets enough time to get absorbed in your system.9
Just Enough, Not Too Much
But just because we said so, don’t go overboard with this good old drink either. If you drink too much fluid, the ratio of sodium in the blood goes down, and the cells swell with too much water. Imagine what that does to the tightly packed brain cells. This fatal condition is known as exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH).
A study on the hydration strategies of marathon runners, their sources of information and knowledge about fluid intake in the marathon, and their understanding of EAH found that they lack knowledge about appropriate fluid intake to prevent EAH on race day. In fact, 12 percent of them had drinking strategies that put them at risk of EAH.10
Find out your individual hydration need, on the basis of your weight and the miles you have to run, so that you don’t end up being overhydrated. How? Either speak to your nutritionist or sports doctor about it and plan your water intake. Or take a simple urine test: if it is straw colored, you are doing fine; but if it is light or dark yellow, you need to up your water intake.
Now that you know how to prepare well for a marathon, just go ahead and enroll yourself for the next big marathon event.
References [ + ]
|1, 2.||↑||Rapoport, Benjamin I. “Metabolic factors limiting performance in marathon runners.” PLoS Comput Biol 6, no. 10 (2010): e1000960.|
|3.||↑||University of California San Francisco. Running a marathon: race day success.|
|4.||↑||Nieman, David C., Nicholas D. Gillitt, Dru A. Henson, Wei Sha, R. Andrew Shanely, Amy M. Knab, Lynn Cialdella-Kam, and Fuxia Jin. “Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach.” PLoS One 7, no. 5 (2012): e37479.|
|5.||↑||Too, Brandon W., Sarah Cicai, Kali R. Hockett, Elizabeth Applegate, Brian A. Davis, and Gretchen A. Casazza. “Natural versus commercial carbohydrate supplementation and endurance running performance.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 9, no. 1 (2012): 1.|
|6.||↑||Health Benefits of Yogurt. Dairy Council of California.|
|7.||↑||Meydani, Simin Nikbin, and Woel-Kyu Ha. “Immunologic effects of yogurt.”The American journal of clinical nutrition 71, no. 4 (2000): 861-872.|
|8.||↑||Murphy, Margaret, Katie Eliot, Rita M. Heuertz, and Edward Weiss. “Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112, no. 4 (2012): 548-552.|
|9.||↑||Running a Marathon: Race Day Success|
|10.||↑||Williams, Jonathan, Victoria Tzortziou Brown, Peter Malliaras, Mark Perry, and Courtney Kipps. “Hydration strategies of runners in the London Marathon.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 22, no. 2 (2012): 152-156.|