Your complete marathon race day nutrition plan

The big day is here. You can almost smell the sweat and feel the sweet, sweet weight of that hard-earned medal around your neck. Just 24 hours from now you’ll have joined that elite, heroic group who can say they’ve completed a marathon. But even now, just hours before the starter’s pistol, there’s still plenty to be done if you want to perform to your peak over those all-important 26.2 miles.

What you eat and drink immediately before – and during – your marathon will have a significant impact on your official time. Not to mention the importance of how you recover afterwards. Read on to optimise your fuel intake, run your best possible race and shave minutes off a time you’ll never forget.       

Related: Where to get free food and drink after the London Marathon 

1. PLAN THE NIGHT BEFORE

Your energy levels are everything now - but don’t make the schoolboy error of overloading on food the night before. You need the glycogen from carbohydrates, but you don’t need to feel bloated on race morning (if you’ve ever tried going for a run on Boxing Day you’ll know what we mean). Instead, eat a normal-sized dinner on the evening of your race (based around carb-rich ingredients like wholewheat pasta, brown rice or sweet potato) and eat it early.

Avoiding spicy or high fat dishes is obvious, but you should also sidestep highly acidic foods - like tomatoes, eggs and mint - in order to nullify any risk of heartburn while running. Your other key priority is to ensure you drink plenty of liquids throughout the day before your race, to keep your body at a healthy hydration level.     

Related: The definitive guide to running the London Marathon 2018   

2. BREAKFAST LIKE A RACE KING

The golden rule is to not try anything new on race day (this is particularly important if you’re staying at a hotel). A runner’s breakfast - which should be eaten 3-4 hours before crossing the start line - is the foundation for your endurance and power during the race. Aim for roughly 3 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of your body weight and don’t be afraid to add a cup of coffee if you normally have one. Good options are porridge topped with chopped banana or a wholewheat bagel topped with peanut butter and/or honey.

"For me, the secret is to stick with what you know works for you," says Paul Mee, one of our three Runners World Mission Marathon winners. "For me, that’s a porridge and banana race day breakfast, a flapjack bar just before the start and a ViFit Sport recovery shake immediately afterwards."

Related: London Marathon weather 2018 

3. PLAN YOUR SECOND BREAKFAST TO PERFECTION

Second breakfasts are just as important to runners as they are to hobbits. And if you want to avoid your own Mount Doom, you should plan accordingly. Normally, the hour before a race begins is spent anxiously waiting around – and you should be using that time to your advantage. Make sure you bring a discardable water bottle to sip from while you wait - and add an energy gel 15 minutes before the race starts. These take little time to absorb, so will be available as power to burn in the first few kilometres.

If you feel like it (and have tried it out during your training runs), you can also add a small, starchy snack like saltine crackers or a granola bar in this final hour, washed down with a few sips from that all-important water bottle. "The key in the final hour before the race is to stay relaxed," says our second winner, Jo Humphrey. "I'll be looking for some of my friends who are also running, and the others in the Mission Marathon team, as I find that having friendly faces around in those crucial minutes really helps to settle the nerves and take your mind off things."

4. DURING THE RACE

While you’re clocking up the miles, you should also be keeping a wary eye on your energy intake. Your goal is to maintain a barrier against glycogen depletion, to ensure you have the carbohydrates and liquids you need to get through the race. Sports drinks, energy gels and snacks like jelly beans are the answer, but how much you need depends on your body weight and pace, as well as the heat and humidity, and your sweat rate.

The crucial rule here is to stay ahead of dehydration or feelings of exhaustion. The more distressed your body becomes, the more difficult it is for your digestive system to process the fluids and energy you take in. Split the marathon course into 13 chunks of two miles, and aim for 300ml of water and a small, edible energy boost in each.  

5. IMMEDIATELY POST-RACE 

Yes, you’re buzzing – and rightly so. You’ve just finished a marathon! But whatever the adrenaline says, your body is also exhausted. Recovery is crucial here, and you need the right combination of protein, carbs, salt and magnesium to support your muscles before they give up on you (and cause you to walk like a duck doing a John Wayne impression tomorrow). Make your life easy by grabbing a recovery shake combining all of the necessary ingredients (like a Vifit Sport drink), so your marathon-mashed body recovers quicker, comes back stronger… and can accept all of those pats on the back at work tomorrow.

That’s certainly what our third Mission Marathon winner, Lily Bridgwood, will be doing. "Post race, I’ll be grabbing a ViFit Sport Mocha recovery shake," says Lily. "I've used them throughout my training cycle, and they’ve definitely contributed to quick recovery and meeting the demands put on my body over long distances. It's easy to forget about nutrition in the euphoria after a big race - but I know I'll thank myself the following day!"

Manage your marathon nutrition with ViFit Sport