Marathon Nutrition Q+A: Nick Morgan

Discover the answers to some of your frequently-asked fuel and hydration questions with these highlights from our live forum debate with Lucozade Sport's Lead Sport Scientist Nick Morgan


Posted: 20 February 2009
by Nick Morgan

Q. I ran the Flora London Marathon last year and took gels every 45 minutes along with water and sports drinks when they were available. Is 45 minutes about right, or too frequent or infrequent? My feeling from last year was almost that I'd taken on too much... Neil Bolton
A.Marathon runners need 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour. A carbo gel has around 32g of carbohydrate so, in combination with the Lucozade Sport on course, a gel every 45 minutes would give you an average of 40g carbohydrate per hour, which is well within these guidelines.

Q. At what point in a race should I take my last gel? Is there a point when there’s not enough time left for the body to benefit from it? Pies and Salad
A. It’s never too late, because it can still enhance recovery. You also have sensors in the mouth that can give you an instant lift by taking in carbohydrate. In terms of functional benefit for the race itself though, I would suggest taking your last gel around 30 minutes before you plan to finish.

Q. You mention taking on other carbohydrate sources - for enjoyment rather than fuel. I sometimes eat fun-size Mars bars as well as carbo gels - would the protein and fat content of these be detrimental to my performance, or is it just about individual choice? Fiona C
A. Chocolate bars are a good source of carbohydrate, although they’re not solely carbohydrate in the same way as carb gels are. The simple answer is: if it you like it, eat it and enjoy it. The enjoyment could even help your performance in endurance events. Many people find gels easiest though, and they are a more concentrated source of carbohydrate. Don't worry too much about your fat and protein content – you’ll only be using them for energy during the race.

Q. I’m running in the Sussex Beacon Half-Marathon this weekend. When's the best time to take gels in a half-marathon? Bootsie
A. If you're going to be running for between 90 and 120 minutes, one gel should get you through - probably after around 50 minutes. If you’re running for more than two hours, take two gels - the first after about 45 minutes and then another after about 90 minutes. Sweets are a good source of carbohydrate too - work out the carbohydrate content of one packet so you can calculate how much you need to meet the 30-60g/carbohydrate per hour guidelines.

Q. My marathon training includes two eight-mile runs to work each week. I do these without having any food or water first. Is there an advantage in running these shorter runs in a fasted state, to prepare for that feeling towards the end of the marathon? Bombat
A. If you don't consume anything before running in the morning, then the emphasis falls on your meal the night before. If you've eaten enough then, you could run without eating in the morning, as long as it isn’t a very long or really intense run. However, if you choose to do this, what you eat for breakfast afterwards is even more important, both for aiding recovery and allowing you to get on with the rest of your day. Porridge, cereals and toast are all excellent options. Have some fruit juice for additional fluid and carbohydrate too.

Q. Do you think it’s better to do all your long training runs using your marathon fuel strategy (on the basis that you are preparing your body for the actual event) or to do a few runs like this to get the strategy right and then do the rest on short rations in an effort to boost your body’s fat burning? Richard_R
A. You don't need to practice your marathon fuel strategy on every long run, but the science behind promoting fat burning isn't as simple as you suggest. There is a school of thought that suggests that if you train on low carbohydrate you are increasing the stress placed on your body and this may in turn enhance your race-day performance. However, as yet this is not well accepted, and from a practical point of view, without energy you won't be able to train for the duration or at the intensity you need to in order to achieve the finish time you want. A low carbohydrate diet also increases your susceptibility to infection. You should be more concerned with using and supplying your body with carbohydrate than trying to use fat as a fuel source.

Q. After my harder sessions I use specific recovery products or chocolate milk, and it seems to make for far less muscle soreness and consequently better sessions the following day. Is the composition of these products different? Sue C
A. Recovery is very important for three reasons: to replace the carbohydrates you've used, to take on protein to help your muscles recover and to replace fluid you've lost trhough sweat. The guidelines are: 1g of carbohydate per kg of body weight as soon as possible after exercise, plus 10-20 g of protein. As for fluid, drink according to the amount of weight you've lost. Monitor your urine colour in the hours after training too. The darker the colour, the more dehydrated you are. Ideally, your urine should be a light, straw colour.

Q. Rather than worry about sweat rates - which will be different depending on the intensity of my running, the temperature, wind speed etc. - why can’t I just drink when I feel thirsty? Go-KL
A. This is an interesting and ongoing debate. The most current school of thought recommends you should drink according to thirst, and to minimise a decrease in your body weight of more than 2%. But doing one of these doesn't necessarily mean the other happens. For example, drinking according to thirst might not maintain your hydration levels to the recommended standard. This is why we suggest drinking according to sweat rate. Another key concern is that people will drink too much. Hyponatraemia is very serious and runners need to ensure they don't consume more fluids than they lose in sweat.

Q. What should I eat during the taper weeks, especially the final couple of days before my marathon? I’m a slow run-walker - will the extra time on my feet have an effect on my eating plan? Happy Camper
A. Whether you are an elite, club or amateur runner, what you do during the taper period should be very similar. Key guidelines are to consume 5-7g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. This amount is enough to help maximise carbohydrate stores but still support your tapering training. Eating breakfast is also important, as is taking on carbohydrates around training sessions.


Don't miss our next live forum debate - part of a series in our 2009 Flora London Marathon build-up. On Thursday March 19, we'll be welcoming club coach - and Lucozade Sport Super Six mentor - Steve Smythe into the forums between 1pm and 2pm to answer your fuel and hydration questions. Pop the date in your diary now!


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Discuss this article

Hi everyone

Lucozade Sport's Lead Sport Scientist Nick Morgan will be online between 1pm and 2pm today to answer any queries you might have about fuel and hydration strategies in the context of your marathon preparations.

Nick has been advising our Lucozade Sport Super Six on their Flora London Marathon nutrition strategies but this is your opportunity to pick his brains with any nutrition questions you might have.

We're starting this thread now so you have a chance to post your queries beforehand - that way, Nick will be able to hit the ground running rather than having to deal with too many questions all at once.

Time to get posting!

Catherine RW


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:07

HI Nick,

For my last two marathons, I appear to have been quite underfueled prior to the race.  I have done 6 marathons now and for the first four my nutrition appeared to be right on the button with no problems throughout any of those races.

The fifth marathon was a problem due to being with people who didn't understand that I was carb-loading and so finding carbohydrate was difficult but not impossible, and I just didn't insist hard enough on my food requirements. 

The problem was my 6th marathon. I carb-loaded again, and felt that I ate sufficient food, and drank sufficient drinks, and took gels with me on the races, but at mile 11 my stomach was rumbling loudly and although I had my gels with me and plenty of fluid, but I wanted actual food and as such felt drained from there on in - although I did complete the race.

My next marathon is soon and I am eating plenty of good quality carbs, fruit, vegetables and protein.  I am somewhat bigger than average for a runner and burn off an average of 4000cals per marathon.  I don't want to be half way through my next race and have a similar problem.

Any suggestions?

Thank you for your time.

Vixx


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:31

Hi Nick!

 Quick question about gels. I ran FLM last year and took Lucozade gels every 45 minutes along with water and Lucozade Sport when available. This seemed to get me round OK from a fuel/hydration point of view (it was just the legs that gave way!). I'm doing FLM again this year and had planned to follow the same strategy.......but thought I'd check if this sounds about right. Is every 45 minutes about right or too frequent/infrequent? If in doubt, is it better/OK to take more vs less? Any advice on gel usage is appreciated! My feeling from last year was almost that I'd taken in too much with gels plus all the Lucozade Sport available en route........however, it gave me no problems and I didn't hit the wall etc. so assume it did the trick?!

Thanks,


Neil


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:35

Whilst I understand the importance of the correct levels of hydration in racing; what are your feelings about extra nutrition en route, e.g. gels/sweets etc...?

I personally have felt that in my own preparation and racing, extra nutrition has not been necessary or warrented.

I sometimes feel that people are taking unessecery action regarding supplementing their nutrition, especially beginners.

What are your thoughts?

Cheers.


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:39

Can you really get dehydrated on a freezing day? I did the Watford half on 1st Feb on an icy, windy day - it started snowing before the end - and I drank two half cups of what might have been a sports drink on my way round. I'd had maybe a litre of fluid that morning before the race.

I had a bottle of sports drink at the end followed by a large cup of tea while I chatted to friends, more tea in my car before I went home, and had yet more when I got there! I didn't feel particularly thirsty but I didn't pee from just before the race (about 10.15am) till early evening.

I'm a slow runner, but I did finish the race more tired (and even slower) than I'd hoped (2:07) - could this be due to not taking on enough fluid during the race? 


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:47

Hi Nick

Also training for FLM so as above, any gel advice would be very useful! I recently completed a PB half of 1h32 using a couple of gels and a Lucozade Sport. I do find bottles of LS quite hard to carry around but by mile 8/9 I'm glad that I did!

I have another half marathon and 16 miler coming up in the next few weeks (Bath and Kingston), so do you envisage changing the fuel/nutrition strategy slightly for the 16 miler?

I also have a 20 mile race coming up a week on Sunday, in terms of gels and Lucozade Sport - I'm thinking that again a gel every 5 miles plus a bottle of LS should get me through, would this strategy sound about right to you?

For FLM, is there a maximum number of gels that you should take on board? I think any more than 4 would start to be counter-productive, but if works for everyone else then who am I to argue?!


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:51

Hi everyone - I hope you are raring to go.

Please bare with me throughout as I will try to address everyone's questions as best as I can. Also, with that please excuse any spelling mistakes!!

So here goes, in no particular order to the questions posted thus far;

1. Vixx: you mentioned about feeling that your first 4 marathons went well, but the fifth wasn't great. Your symptoms sound like gastrointestinal distress which could come from unaccustomed carbohydrate sources i.e. ones you don't normally use or a different amount taken in. The key point is you need carbohydrate- absolutely, the second point being you need 30-60g per hour and the third point being, whatever has worked for you in the past, make a note of it and repliacte in training and therefore this should transfer nicelt to race day


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:57

Nick,

 Will there be Lucozade products available during Edinburgh Marathon this year. If so what will be available and how often. I would like to know what to train with and how often, and whether I will have to carry gels with me during the race.

Regards

John


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 12:58

Nick has lots of spreadsheets available which I am sure he would be more than happy to discuss at length
Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:00

2. Neil: Carbo gels

To confirm the previous guidelines, as marathon runners you need 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour. A carbo gels has ~ 32g of carbohydrate per sachet therefore in cobination with the luoczade sport on course a gel every 45 min would give you an average of ~40 g CHO per hour - well within guideslines. The key again would be to practice in training. Of course i'm not sure how long it takes you to run a mararhon but our stats show it takes people on average 45-50 mins to get between the Lucozade Sport stations.

Summary: your strategy is very logical


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:00

Hi Nick

i am running in the brighton half marathon on sunday.. what is the best plan for timing of gels in a half marathon? I usually have porridge in the morning but in this case it will be almost 3 hours before the race.. what should i take just before the start of the race? 


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:02

3. KittenKat: Extra nutrition

I hope that the previous answers are starting to get my thoughts across on whether extra nutrition during the event is warranted. Starting in a good place is absolutely paramount, but you do need something during. We saw from our stats that more than 23,000 people take longer than 4 hours and that people are 11% slower in the second half of the marathon compared to the first. Carbohydrate is without doubt extremely important and therefore sources of gels, bars sweets will be your best friend. this is not just to run faster but feelings of enjoyment too!


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:03

Hi Nick

I'm a little uncertain as to how I should be eating during the taper weeks and especially in the final couple of days before FLM.  I am a slow walk/runner (aiming for around 6.5hours) and most of the nutrition plans I've seen appear to be aimed at runners looking at sub 5 onward, I just have no idea if my speed/time should have an effect on my eating plan.

 Thanks


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:03

Thanks Nick! I ran last year after injury in 4h 28m and am training for 4 hours this year. I took gels every 45 minutes and made a point of drinking most/all of the Lucozade Sport when provided. Net, sounds like that's about the right level of carb intake. Thanks for the advice!!!


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:04

4. Eva: really dehydrated on a freezing day?

Good question and whilst it does depend on a number of factors you CAN become dehydrated on a cold day. I have monitored body weight in cold conditoins and stil seen people/runners lose 2-3 kg in weight over half marathons. I lost 3.2 kg during the Great North run this year and it wasn't that cold. Of course on a freezing day you won't lose as much as temperate or hot conditions but you still need to lose body heat, and sweating is stillthe mechasnim for doing so. If you took 2:07 mins then that is still along time and I would imagine you would of sweated more than 2% of your body weight.

 Consequwently, drink little and often still, although what you did on the day sounds ok


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:06

5. Ian: 16 miler, envisage any changes?

I would say that assuming what you are doing is good practice (gels every 5 miles is logical) then you don't have to change in any way just conitnue with more of the same.

More than four being counter-productive - You have a ceiling of carbohydrate usage at about 60 g / hour. Therefore as long as what you do doesn't exceed this amount you are fine. Saying that, it won't harm you just won't have any functional benefit as such.

Sounds liek your on good form with carbohydrate strategies


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:08

6. John: LS stations @ edinburgh

Not sure exactly where they are but

1. LS is there and at regular stations through

2. One gel station is also available, so you will need to bring additional gels with you.

Train with what you are going to do in race situations. I hope that doesn't sound too obvious but very simply the best tactic is to replicate what you do in training on race day with the same products.


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:11

Hi Nick,

 Just wondering at what point in a race should I take my last gel/drink?  Obviously there is a point where there is not enough time left in a race for the body to benefit from taking anything onboard.

Personally, I tend not to take on anything at all (inc. water) on races less than 7 miles and then don't bother with anything in the last half hour of anything else.

Is this correct?


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:12

7. Super 6 SUE!!! Hey!!!

Great plug Sue - I like my fact sheets too. You can get hold of them at www.lucozade.com/flm. There are factsheets on carbohydrate, fluid and all our marathon stats. All include nice simple recommendations to help you achieve whatever is it your after


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:13

8. Bootsie: Brighton half

How long are you going to take?

If it is between 90-120 min I would say 1 would get you through - probably after 50 min or so. Two would be fine too but i'd say 1 is fine. If you are running greater than 2 hrs, then two is about right, say 45 min and 90 min.

 After your porridge it is normal and good practice to take in something just before you start. I'd say good options are sports drinks, energy bars or other simple carbohydrates. White bread and jam being another option. Try it in training first


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:15

I have sport beans.. wil they help..??

aiming for 2 hrs 10 so will take 2


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:16

Hi Nick

Your reply re extra nutrition mentions other carb sources for enjoyment not just fuel. On training runs I take gels but if doing 20+ miles, have been known to take fun size mars bars too. Would the protein & fat content of these be detrimental to performance if the body has to work harder to digest them or is it just a trial and error thing depending on each individual?

Thanks


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:17

9. Happy camper: taper weeks

Whether you are an elite, club or amateur runner per se, what you do during the taper week is largely very similar. Lets assume you taper nicely, i.e. reduce training volume but maintain a couple of sessions, maybe one with a little intensity. Key guideline are to consume 5-7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bdy weight, i.e. 350-490 g per DAY. This ca then be worked out ito meals by loking at the back of the pack of pasta or similar carbohydrate based foods. this amount is enough to help maximise carbohydate stores but still support the tapered training programme. Other important tips include:

breakfast is really important

similarly, you should still address crabohdrate before, during and after any training session you


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:19

10: Pies and salad: last gel/drink

To take Kay in the office next to me, it is never to late! Very logical because it can enhance recovery. In terms of functional benefit FOR the race, I would say that 30 mins before final time is about right. However, I would say you have sensors in the mouth that can give you an instant lift by taking in carbohyrate. However, for use in the muscles, 30 min before seem about right


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:22

11. Bootsie - confectionary

Sweets are a good source of carbohydrate so would absolutely be relevant. Just understand how much carbs is in one packet and then take in the amount required based on 30-60g / hour


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:23

... cont: taking into account carbohydrate from your drinks also of course
Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:24

12: Fiona - chocolate bars

chocolate bars are again another good source of carbohydrate. Is it not solely carbohydarte though as you say, like a carbo gel. Therefore, the simple answer is if it you like it, enjoy and eat it IT could help your performance in endurance events. I would though that many people find gels more applicable and is provides a more concentrated source of carbohydate. Don't worry about your metabolism of macronutrients, i.e. fat/protein - not biggy here more that you won't use them a great deal for energy during the race.


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:26

Nick - regarding hydration, rather than worry about sweat rates, which will be different on any given run because of intensity of running, temperature, wind speed etc., why should I not just drink when I feel thirsty?

Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:27

Great, thanks Nick.
Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:28

Go KL - dehyadrtion - thirsty

ok you do tap in on an interesting debate in the world of science, hydration and performance. The most current position statement states that you should drink according to thirst or to minimise a decrease in body weight of 2%. Doing one doesn't necessarily mean the other happens, i.e. drinking according to thirst will maintain your body weight (hydration levels) within suitable limits. Consequently we advise drining according to sweat rate (if you can pre and post) or little and foten.

There is the concern that people will drink too much - hyponatraemia. This is very serious and runners need to ensure they don't drink too much - basically consume more fluids than what you are losing during sweat. Those most at risk or those exercising for longer than 4 hrs and females. So to try and answer your question directly - you can drink according to thirst but it might not keep you within recommended limts so perhaps that extra thought to drink would be prudent, just not too much.

What we do know is though, dehydartion can reduce your perfromance so some sort of strategy is probably the right thing to do


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:33

Nick - One of the things that I have learnt a lot so far having been lucky enough to be a Super Six person is the importance of recovery products.

Now after my harder sessions I use the specific recovery products or chocolate milk. Makes for far less muscle soreness and consequently better sessions the following day.

I gather the compostion of these products will be different and contain more protein? What about the rehydration drink, will that do the trick?

ps - racing on Sunday, I am going to try caffiene based gels!


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:33

Hi Nick

My problems start after the race, have run a 15 miler, race was fine drank a couple of cups of water after and kept being sick for the next couple of hours, so decided on the next race - 30K just small sips of water after race, but still had same result of being sick, I always have to stop to drink on a race, but keep well hydrated with water and gels. Also any advice on what to take to avoid calf cramp near the end of a race?  


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:34

Sue: recovery

ok so recovery is very importat for 3 reasons: replace the carbs burnt, take in protein to help the muscle srecover and fluid to replace that lost as sweat.

Guidelines: 1 g of carbohydate er kg bodyweight, i.e. 50-100g ASAP

10-20 g of good quality protein - animal products (chicken, fish) or whey protein if in a product

Fluid - drink according to the amount of qweight lost. If you don't do that then I would say drink slightly more in recovery and monitor urine colour over the hours after training and drink according to minimising a yellow bright colour!

Whether protein actually reduce muscle soreness is not something i can really say yes or no too, but anecdotal feeling - like what you say - are widespread and the theory of consuming prtein specifically in recovery is high

If your strategy is to take carbohydrate and protein in the form of a drink then this will help to rehydrate you. Therefore many like this one stop shop for macronutrients and fluid. If you take in food then of course you'll need additional forms of fluid.

Good luck on sunday!


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:38

Nick,

My marathon training includes two 8-mile runs to work a week. I do these first thing in the morning with no food or water (there's no way I could make myself get up any earlier to eat before I run!). What's an ideal breakfast, lunch and dinner after these runs - I often feel tired in the afternoons?
And is there an advantage in running these shorter runs in a fasted state - to prepare for that feeling towards the end of the marathon?
Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:41

red69 -

1. sickness after the race: It is very difficult for me to say why you are sick. It could be the exertion of the event itself due to the intensity you ran or temperatures. My advise is to look back at what you actually did on these two occasions and note any differences there are from prior occasions. This would give me more detail to understand better. When you do the longer training runs do you have the same problems?


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:42

Hi Nick, I've been training for the FLM (my first one).  Training was going ok but unfortunately i've caught a nasty stomach upset .  I've not really eaten much for a couple of days, and feel like I would struggle to run half a mile!  Any advice on food to get me up and running again?  feel I'm losing valuable training time.  Thanks!
Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:42

bombat

the problem with running in the morning is exactly what you describe. I find that I need to settle my stomach before i run and you can do this, providing some energy, without risking an upset stomach. Fluids are the best way to do this - orange juice or sports drinks being two easy options. If you don't consume anything then you are running after an overnight fast so this places the emphasis on the night before meal. If this is ok you could run find without anything in the morning assuming it wasn't a massive run or really intense run.

If you don't eat then breakfast is really important to aid recovery and also allow you do get on with the rest of your day.  Porridge, cereals and toast are excellent options. Support with fruit juice for fluid but also additional carbohydrate. Protein will come from the milk but also eggs if you wanted that option.

Lunch/dinner - follow normal guidelines


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:45

Can I have some more energy bars coz I appear to have eaten all mine again.
Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:46

Hi Nick

Interesting stuff.

A few hours after doing long runs I get blinding headaches.  If I manage to drink alot of water then they are not as bad but will still  be there.  If I dont have much time to get water down me then it makes for an unpleasant afternoon.

Is drinking as much water as possible the key? Or is there other things to try.


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:47

beckyw -  stomach bug

Firstly, go back into trainin slowly and not at the point where you got ill. In terms of food, then you have two key concerns - total energy intake and the composition of carbohydrate within this amount. Ensure you have 3 strong meals throughout the day and when you run really work hard on the periods before, during and after the sessions to give you all the help you can get. Food choices would therefore include key carbohydrates: pasta, rice, noodles and pots. Also fruit and vegetable are a great source of vits and mins. This helps to support a balanced diet and immune system


Posted: 20/02/2009 at 13:49

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