Marathon season is fast approaching, and if you’re one of the many preparing to tackle 26.2 miles this year, your training plan is probably well underway. But what of the fuel powering that plan? In the weeks before a big race, the food you consume is just as important as the miles you eat up. Your nutritional choices now will have an impact not only on your all-important race time, but also on increasing your energy levels, preventing dehydration and optimising your recovery time during these crucial weeks and months. The good news is that by following a few simple fuel rules now, you can ensure a positive, successful running experience all the way from here to that sweet, sweet finishing line.
1. GO PRO
Upping your protein intake is one of the most important moves you can make when it comes to marathon prep. Think of it as an edible upgrade for your legs – to help you build muscle, recover quicker and avoid injury. Runners need about 50 to 75 per cent more protein than non-runners, which equates to around 200g of chicken a day. The good news is that chicken also contains a number of bonus benefits, including selenium (which helps protect muscles from free-radical damage during exercise) and niacin (which helps regulate fat burning while running). You can top up your levels easily with decent protein bars too. Vifit Sport High Protein Bars, for example, contain 20g of protein per serving, or 10% of your daily training intake.
2. HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE
Hydration is important, we all know that. But in the run up to a marathon, it’s just as important to hydrate when you aren’t training. Fluids regulate your body temperature, flush out damaged cells and ensure that your joints are adequately lubricated. When you’re actually hitting the road, a good rule of thumb is to drink 3-4 sips of fluid for every 15–20 minutes you’re running. Every body is different, but as a guideline you shouldn't exceed 600ml of water per hour running. To give yourself an edge, alternate your agua with a good sports drink, to add a bonus carbohydrate kick to your fluid intake.
3. FOLLOW THE 30 MINUTE RULE
The best time to eat before a training run is 30-60 minutes before you head out. Smaller snacks are better as they digest more easily, but will still give you that welcome turbo boost of energy. Ideally, what you’re looking for is a nice balance of proteins and carbohydrates – a wholewheat bagel topped with a scoop of peanut butter or sliced banana for example.
4. PROCEED GINGERLY
Bad news: long distance running puts serious stress on your joints, particularly your knees. Good news: there are plenty of ways to combat this, and one of the easiest is to add ginger to your diet. Not only does the natural spice help relieve muscle soreness, but its anti-inflammatory compounds also help minimise your risk of injury. Add chopped ginger to stir fries, soups and smoothies, and invest in a big box of ginger tea for brewing up between now and race day.
5. PRACTICE FUELLING MID-RUN
Over the course of 26.2 miles, your body will not be able to propel you forward properly without fuelling every 30 to 45 minutes. Abide by the motto “fuel early and often” and build this into your training routine, aiming to take on at least 30g of carbs per hour. The key is to stay ahead of any feelings of exhaustion, so keep topping up the tank, even if you don’t feel you need it. Once you feel your energy levels start to crash, it’s too late to get the maximum benefits from calorie intake.
6. RECOVER RIGHT
Within 30-45 minutes of finishing a long run, you need a recovery snack consisting of both carbs and protein. This is an important window of time when your body is very responsive to nutrition and will quickly use any nutrients to rebuild and repair muscles. How you choose to refuel in this crucial period is crucial. Drinks like the Vifit Sport recovery shake are ideal – and will kickstart recovery nicely, replenishing your energy stores for those all-important post-run celebrations.