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How to run your fastest marathon with the right fuel | Balance

The days leading up to a marathon are critical for fueling your body with the right nutrients. Your focus should be on consuming complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, provide long-lasting energy for the race. Healthy fats, such as avocado and nuts, are a great source of energy and are essential for hormone production. Protein, such as lean meat, fish, or plant-based sources like beans and lentils, helps with muscle repair and recovery.

Researchers recommend to consume anywhere 8-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day in the days leading up to the marathon.

For example, a person weighing 70 kg should consume between 490-840 grams of carbohydrates per day.

Some nutritious meals that would provide the necessary nutrients include:

  • Grilled chicken with brown rice and roasted vegetables

  • Whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce, spinach, and tofu

  • Quinoa salad with mixed greens, avocado, and chickpeas

  • Grilled fish with sweet potato and steamed broccoli

It is also important to stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. You should aim to drink at least 2-3 liters of water per day. You may also wish to consider adding in electrolytes to this to ensure your electrolyte levels are balanced.

Hours Before the Marathon

The morning of the marathon, you should aim to eat a meal that is easy to digest and provides a good source of carbohydrates. It is recommended to consume 1-4 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight 1-4 hours before the race. For example, a person weighing 70 kg should consume between 70-280 grams of carbohydrates.

Examples of meals that would provide the necessary nutrients include:

  • Oatmeal with banana and honey

  • Bagel with peanut butter and jelly

  • Toast with almond butter and sliced banana

  • Smoothie with banana, spinach, almond milk, and protein powder

You should also drink water to ensure that you are adequately hydrated. Sip on 300 - 600ml per hour with some electrolytes but be sure not to consume too much to avoid needing to go to the toilet during the marathon itself.

During the Marathon

During the marathon, it is essential to consume carbohydrates to maintain your energy levels.

It is recommended to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, depending on your body weight and the intensity of the race.

Personally, I aim for a source of carbohydrate every 30 - 40 minutes of work completed

Examples of foods that would provide the necessary carbohydrates include:

  • Energy gels (approximately 25 grams of carbohydrates per packet)

  • Sports drinks (approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates per 8-ounce serving)

  • Banana (approximately 27 grams of carbohydrates per medium-sized banana)

  • Energy bars (approximately 25-30 grams of carbohydrates per bar)

Hydration is also critical during the marathon.

Athletes can lose anywhere between 500ml to 2 litres of fluid through sweat per hour. Therefore, you should aim to drink 400-800 ml of fluid every hour, which can be water, sports drinks, or other electrolyte-replacing fluids. Aiming for anything beyond that may be impractical.

It is also important to listen to your body during the marathon. If you start feeling lightheaded or dizzy, it could be a sign of dehydration or low blood sugar. In this case, you should stop running and seek medical attention.

After the Marathon

After the marathon, it is essential to replenish your body with nutrients and fluids. You should consume a meal rich in carbohydrates and protein, such as a turkey sandwich or a protein shake. It is also important to drink water and electrolyte-replacing fluids to help rehydrate your body.

In conclusion, fueling yourself for a marathon requires careful planning and preparation. By consuming a well-rounded diet in the days leading up to the race, eating a nutritious meal before the race, and consuming carbohydrates and protein post, you'll perform at your best and optimise your recovery!

Balance is Northern Ireland's leading nutritionist and dietician coaching team. We work with everyone from Olympians to office workers to help them achieve their nutrition and diet related goals.

Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you;

  • Live a life free of binge eating

  • Achieve your athletic potential and become the healthiest and happiest you can in and out of sport

  • Lose weight in a healthy way and learn to keep it off for life with no more fad diets

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