What do elites drink in a marathon?
Some say you don't need anything other than water in a marathon, others that sports drinks/gels are needed. I've always just stuck to drinking Lucozade Sport, but I'm sure this isn't enough in the latter stages of a marathon as I always slow down in the last 3 miles, but recover quickly after the event.
My question is how much energy drink should I take on during the marathon to prevent that drop in pace in the last few miles?
I don't think it's my endurance as in all five of my marathons I've done loads of long runs over 20 miles.
What do the elite have in their drink bottles?
Mike Gratton Difficult one this. Technically you need to keep hydrated as a number one priority, but water does not absorb as quickly as isotonic drinks, so they are actually better. A 2% loss of body weight because of dehydration can decrease performance by 20%.
Elites will mostly be using their preferred brand of isotonic drinks, but for everyone else you have to use the sponsored supply. It's as well to find out what the race is using and practise with that. The additional carbohydrate in sports drinks will be a help in topping up energy levels, but it is insignificant really compared to the need, so carbo loading is of most importance. Science in Sport have an isotonic gel that can be used without the need to wash it down with water and gives 25g of carbohydrate, which will get you through 20 mins or so of running.
Marathon runners who take over five hours may consider taking on board solids as well. Ultra runners will eat bananas, jelly babies, raisins and rice pudding as after 5 hours or more just taking on liquid can be pretty unpleasant.
Finally, pace judgement comes into the equation...start too fast and you will use your glycogen stores too quickly and be reliant on fat which gives a much lower level of energy production, thus you're forced to slow down.
DavidB Mike, did you ever try the carbo-depletion, carbo-loading diet? I did a version for the London Marathon and found I did not require much extra energy in the form of isotonic drinks.
Mike Gratton I did it for all my marathons in its traditional form i.e. protein only Sunday to Wed/carbohydrate only Wed to Sat. in the week before the race. As I never did a marathon without doing the diet I can't really say if it was effective or not. I did have a few bad marathons, but I think they were mostly due to starting too fast or hot conditions.
Hilly Is that only used for really fast marathon runners?
Mike Gratton There is a debate as to whether it works any better than a well-trained person simply reducing training and increasing carbo intake in the last 3 or 4 days before a marathon, which seems to work just as well without the associated problems of feeling retched and opening yourself up to illness in the last week of the protein part of the diet. You have to consider the risks against any possible benefit.... if it was me I would do it!!
A Chimp Writes At the risk of sounding thick, how does a protein-only diet from Sunday to Wednesday in the week before a marathon help?
Mike Gratton In theory, the depletion of glycogen levels during the protein (low carbo) phase is super-compensated for when you switch back to carbohydrate eating, thus the normal level of around 1600 calories stored as blood sugar can be increased for a few days before the body corrects it. I used to simply eat lots of meat and salad and then switch to loads of potatoes, rice and pasta in portions as large as I could eat!
However, the latest thinking is that the body experiences the depletion/loading action every time you do a long run or hard session and will automatically grab extra carbos when you allow it to by easing down and eating extra carbohydrate in the two or three days before a marathon.
Urban Road Runner As far as I understand, current research basically confirms that you really don't need to do the six-day depletion/loading or three-day loading scheme. They argue that the six-days period is too long and can disrupt the training. Anyway, they say large amounts of carbohydrate are best consumed in liquid form (maltodextrose) and you can achieve maximum level of glycogen index combined with a taper/physical inactivity within 24hrs. Almost maximum glycogen accumulation can be achieved in this time, levels only increase slightly in the following two days after loading. However, they all mention that more experiments would be required to fully exploit the traditional approach (eg, varying the depletion/loading days etc.)
Mike Gratton That is the current thinking. It is also why it is necessary to boost carbo intake after runs over 90 mins to gain quick recovery. I'm personally dubious about the merits of achieving carbo-boosting simply from liquid/artificial means. I think carbo drinks should be used as a supplement to a normal diet, as high doses of carbo drinks can be upsetting to the digestive system - the body needs other nutrients and some fibre to maintain general health.