If you were to enter a Grand Prix, you wouldn't fill your Formula One car with diesel. Nor should you pump the wrong fuel into your body before a race. What you eat and drink in the days and weeks leading up to an event, especially one of marathon distance or longer, is as critical a part of your preparation as your training. Get it right and you'll have the best chance of knocking out a PB. Get it wrong and you could find yourself grinding to a halt on the warm-up lap.
Achieving the perfect fuelling strategy sounds simple: your calorie and carbohydrate intake needs to match your training energy output. However, as your training volume increases and then tapers, so should your food intake.
Planning your pre-race diet needn't be a nutritional nightmare: here are 25 handy do's and don'ts to help get you started.
RW magazine subscribers can access all our handy pre-race do's and don'ts, plus a handful of inspirational recipes, in the full article, while non-subscribers can enjoy these ten tasty tips for free. Want to subscribe? Save 30 per cent and get instant access to the full article (and a host of other benefits) right here.
Running Buffet Basics
DO step up your calorie intake. Whenever you increase your weekly mileage or training tempo, you'll need to match your calorie intake to your output. If your legs feel heavy all the time and you're struggling to complete your training programme, increase your carbohydrate intake: an extra portion of potatoes, pasta or breakfast cereal can make a big difference to muscle glycogen levels.
DO eat two to four hours before training. Good choices include porridge, cereal with milk, a chicken or cheese sandwich, a jacket potato with beans and pasta with tuna. Failing that, have an apple, a few dried apricots, a handful of sultanas or a pot of yoghurt half an hour beforehand, to give you an energy boost and keep the shakes at bay.
DO have a drink and something to eat as soon as possible after your run. Drink plenty of water or a carbohydrate drink (ideally one which contains six grams of carbs per 100ml) to replenish fluid losses immediately after working out. Have a carbohydrate-rich snack with a little protein ideally within 30 minutes and no later than two hours perhaps a couple of portions of fresh fruit with a pot of yoghurt, a tuna or hummus sandwich or a carton of flavoured milk.
DO plan ahead. Ideally you should eat every three hours, so build your day around eating. Schedule meals and take nutritious snacks and shakes with you if you have to eat on the go.
DO choose low GI meals and foods, which will promote better glycogen storage. Carbs eaten with some protein or healthy fat (such as potatoes with chicken, pasta with fish or rice with tofu) give a longer, slower energy release compared with carbs on their own.
DON'T eat less on rest days you still need plenty of carbs and protein to promote muscle recovery and re-fill glycogen stores.
DON'T over-indulge. Although you need to take on a lot of calories when you're training hard, the energy in/energy out equation still applies. You risk gaining weight and sapping your performance if you overdo it.
DON'T skip meals. Leaving longer than four hours between meals saps your energy and can result in muscle loss as your body turns to protein for fuel. No time for a meal? Have a smoothie or some nuts and dried fruit to stay fuelled.
DON'T eat quick-fix foods. Fast foods, processed snacks and soft drinks are full of sugar, saturated fat and salt all great energy-sappers. They don't fill you up or satisfy your appetite so it's all too easy to passively over-consume calories.
DON'T drink too much alcohol. It's high in calories, puts undue stress on the liver and can hinder your recovery after intense runs. If you must drink, limit yourself to one or two units (one pint of ordinary strength lager), and have at least two alcohol-free days per week.