Nick Morgan is Lead Sport Scientist at Lucozade Sport.
Read the whole forum debate
Q. Is there any benefit in doing my long runs without taking on any products? Would they then have an 'extra-bonus' effect on race day? Maracuya
A. There is school of thought that by not using energy products in training you adapt better on the long runs but research hasn't yet proven any performance benefits on the day.
When you do your long, slow runs, you need energy to maintain your speed (albeit slower than race pace) so without taking on enough carbohydrate you could finish depleted and increase your susceptibility to risk of infection. For me, it's more important to complete a quality long run and maintain your health and energy stores for all the other training sessions you do.
Training with products also improves your tolerance and familiarity - you can train yourself to tolerate more carbohydrate by using it in practice.
Q. When I do a long, slow run on a seven-mile circular route, I hide a bottle at the start, drink half after the first lap and then finish it at the end of the second lap. Would it be better to take on smaller amounts more regularly? Needforspeed
A. If you can practice running with a bottle (it doesn't have to be all the time) I would recommend it - then if you can run with it on the big day, you've more chance of getting in more carbohydrate. In terms of small sips versus one big gulp - there is no difference in performance, but how you feel might be a very different story.
Q. Do you have any tips for simple meals that can be eaten the night before and then after a long run? NorwichRunner
A. The most important aspect of the meal you eat the night before is that you have practised it in training. A key element is that the meals are 'small' (although your total carbohydrate intake for the day still needs to be high) so they are easier to tolerate and don't induce lethargy. Centre your meals around carbohydrate - for example, pasta, rice, potatoes or bread - but try to avoid spicy food.
Creativity is important - when working with athletes I always try and find three to five winning formulas. Think of the meal not just as pasta - break it down into a starter, main meal and pudding (bruschetta, pasta then yoghurt or fruit for instance). People sometimes think one bowl of pasta is the solution but in reality that can be boring and you may risk overeating.
Q. In my last two marathons, I have hit the wall around Mile 22 - what can I do to avoid this? Sandor
A. We conducted a study recently that shows your longest run in training is a good predictor of your marathon performance - running up to 20 miles before the race is really important. However, assuming you have done these long runs, you also need to look at your pacing and nutrition. You'll need around 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour - one 330ml bottle of Lucozade Sport and a gel (or four Jelly Babies) provides roughly 50g carbohydrate.
Q. Are dextrose sweets a good alternative to gels or Jelly Babies? Kate F
A. Gels are an uncompromising product but there are a variety of flavours and consistencies available. I'd recommend you try different options - because they are so concentrated, they're very functional at giving you what you need. Dextrose tablets contain about 4g carbohydrate per tablet - try taking five an hour as well as some sports drink.
Q. My body seems to only tolerate water and I'm worried that I become very electrolyte depleted over the marathon distance. Should I try to get used to energy products or just go with what my body is telling me? Liverbird
A. Your problem is not uncommon but look for small improvements first. Don't try and down your drink - practice running with a bottle and sipping it over time. Try the same approach with gels too - that way you won't distress your body by consuming too much at once. If that doesn't work, experiment with alternative carbohydrate options - Jelly Babies, Jaffa Cakes or energy bars.
Q. What time should I be aiming to eat breakfast and what should I eat to give me the most energy? Noodler
A. For breakfast, the classic guidelines are 1-4 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight - that's 70-280g for a 70kg person (a large bowl of cereal, two slices of toast and a banana). Add in orange juice or a sports drink along with water to maximise hydration.
Practice your plan before race day and try to eat three to four hours beforehand if you can. If that's not possible, try breaking down the meal into manageable chunks over a three-hour period instead.
Q. I'm an early morning runner so am finding it difficult to find an opportunity to practice my race-day breakfast. Would running several hours after an evening meal be a good alternative? Gul Darr
A. Yes. My suggestion would be to swap your dinner for breakfast foods though - that way, you are using your chosen race-day foods as fuel. Getting your timing right will be key - think about your race-day strategy then transfer this to an evening slot.
Q. I don't like porridge - is muesli a suitable slow-release alternative for breakfast?
A. Check the brand or type of muesli you're eating to find out whether it is slow- release: you need to watch out for added sugar. If we're only talking about a breakfast before you run, I would worry less about slow-release carbohydrate and more about just getting enough carbohydrate in.
Q. I have a toilet issue the morning before a race - what is the recommended cut-off point for eating the night before? Or could it just be pre-race nerves? Knight rider
A. Unless you've had spicy food, I'd suggest it is predominantly pre-race nerves. You could look at using Imodium or alternatively, work on getting up early enough to give you plenty of time to do what you need to do. Unfortunately, there are no time windows or cut-offs - it's just about managing solutions as best you can.
Q. How can I prevent the post-long-run munchies? The Evil Pixie
A. I'd recommend stretching things out - when you get home from your run, have a recovery drink, stretch and hit the shower. Then, 30 to 60 minutes later have a sensible-sized meal based on carbohydrate. Assuming you don't overeat, snack again two hours later - the optimal refuel time window is longer than most people think.
Another solution is to include a high-protein element to your meal. Protein has a high satiety value and keeps you feeling full for longer.
Q. I can't stomach food or drink after a long run - what would you recommend? ChrissieT
A. Many runners struggle to stomach food after a long, slow run. Assuming it's not longer than four to five hours, wait until you feel ready to eat and take care that your overall daily intake doesn't suffer as a result of this delay. Alternatively, try to snack on a recovery bar, fruit, milk or orange juice in the first hour after you exercise - they might not be specific recovery products but they will give you a lot of the nutrients you need.
Q. I have a sweet tooth and like chocolate - what else can I snack on? Knight rider
A. Chocolate is a great source of simple carbohydrate - other alternatives are fruit, energy bars, toast or yoghurt.
Q. I'm a lifelong vegetarian - how can I maximise my protein intake? Ehine
A. Recent studies show that vegetarian diets can, for the most part, provide athletes with adequate protein and a complete set of indispensable amino acids (the building blocks of protein). However, vegetable or plant proteins may be limiting in one or more amino acids - try combining different foods (for example legumes and grains, or legumes with nuts and seeds) so low levels of amino acids in one food can be complemented by high levels in another.
Aim to include around 86g of protein in your daily diet. This might seem like a lot, but recent studies suggest that protein absorption plateaus at around 16-22g in a two-hour period. Practically, aim to spread your protein intake into around four 21.5g portions per day.
It is possible to increase your protein intake by eating 'real food sources'. Dairy products (eggs/milk/cheese), soy products, textured vegetable protein, temeh, lentils and dried beans are all good sources. In sport, use sports products which contain protein to aid recovery and promote strength gain. The Lucozade Sport range incorporates whey protein and casein which have been shown to have high absorption rates - these products can be incorporated as part of a healthy and well-balanced diet to help your muscles adapt to exercise.
Be mindful of your calcium and iron intake when making food choices too - many vegetarians often have low levels of these micro-nutrients. Soy products are often fortified with calcium, and broccoli, kale and bok choi are also high in calcium. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron: nuts, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables are also good sources.
Q. Do you have any general advice for insulin-dependent diabetic runners? Peter Collins
A. Diabetes Mellitus is a group of metabolic disorders that results in defects in insulin secretion, insulin action (sensitivity) or both. Diabetics can train at high levels of intensity and duration and their recommended diet is no different to that of a non-diabetic athlete. Maintaining consistent food intake during the day - with regular intake of moderate to low GI carbohydrate-rich food sources between meals - can improve glycemic control.
Consuming some carbohydrate during continuous aerobic exercise is recommended (following the same guidelines for athletes without diabetes) however, diabetics are prone to dehydration via an increased urinary output. Sports drinks contain fluid and electrolytes and can therefore provide an effective hydration solution before, during and after exercise.
Sports drinks also contain high-GI carbohydrates which are quickly absorbed and boost blood sugar levels to fuel exercise. It is important to monitor blood glucose and insulin levels accordingly to avoid hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia during exercise.
For participants exercising one or more times a day, consuming high-GI recovery foods within 60 minutes of exercise is advisable for enhancing recovery of muscle glycogen stores. Carbo-loading involving a depletion phase isn't recommended unless good diabetic control is maintained. With regard to strength training, the hormonal response to training can, in some cases stimulate glycogenolysis and induce hypoglycemia.
It is advised that diabetics should consult a specialist before amending dietary intake.
Sources: (Dieticians association of Australia 2005; American Diabetes association 2004)
Don't miss our next live forum debate - part of a series in our 2010 Virgin London Marathon build-up. On Friday March 5, we'll be welcoming Paul Evans, former Chicago Marathon winner - and another Lucozade Sport Super Six mentor - onto the forums between 1pm and 2pm to answer more of your marathon training questions. Pop the date in your diary now!