Marathon nutrition - Eat Right to Run That Extra Mile!

Marathon nutrition - Eat Right to Run That Extra Mile!

It’s that time of the year again. The leaves are falling leaving the trees bare, there’s a light nip in the air, and passionate runners are looking forward to their winter runs. Yes, the marathon season is upon us!

The most popular marathons in India understandably take place in the winter - The Airtel Delhi Marathon which takes place in the last week of November and the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon which takes place in the first week of January, are favourites for runners to test their limits.

With less than a month to go for the run, those of you training for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon will be in the last leg of your training. So this is a good time to focus on your nutrition in addition to your physical training. Eating right will not only make sure you’re healthy throughout the training period, but will also help you add that extra mile to the final run.

Running a 21 km or 42 km race is no mean feat. It is a humongous effort characterized by strength, endurance and mental focus. While running is a good full body workout, the muscle that probably works the hardest during a marathon is the heart. More often than not, it’s not your legs, but your heart that’s going to want to give up while running long distances. You’re going to feel fatigued, breathless, and will want to stop to get a breath in. Which means, the most important thing while running a marathon is - constant bursts of quick energy to get your heart pumping.

So let's have a look at what foods need to be consumed, and when, in order to get these energy bursts while training and during the final race.

Carbs act like the fuel tank for the body. What long distance runners need is mileage, and carbs are the best way to attain it. The carbohydrate store in the body is the first to be utilized during any physical activity. Why this preference? Because carbs are easiest to break down and the fastest to release that burst of energy we spoke about earlier. So load up on carbs fellas! And don’t be afraid, it’s not going to cause you to gain weight. If you’re training competitively, you’re going to burn all of it off very quickly. Infact, if your carb intake is insufficient, you’re going to feel fatigued and unable to endure that long run.

Good sources of carbs include:
Banana (medium sized) - 25 to 27 gms
Widely considered the safest and quickest way to consume and use up carbs, the humble banana is every runner’s best friend
White toast (regular sized slice) - ~20 gms
Light and crunchy, topped with jam or honey, this is a great way to load up on energy an hour before the run
Pasta (per 100 gms) - ~25 gms
Pasta has complex carbs which are a little more difficult to break down. So make this your lunch or early dinner staple for continued energy through the day
Energy bars - Variable. Anthing close to 20 gms is a good start
Can be eaten before, during or after a run. It’s important to differentiate between energy bars and protein bars. Energy bars will be focussed towards fuel fill up (which is what you need), while protein bars will help in muscle build up and repair.

Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles and are extremely important in muscle build up and repair. While it is important to consume protein in the initial training stages to ensure strength of muscles (specially leg muscles), protein intake should ideally be reduced in the last few weeks before the big day. Protein compounds are extremely heavy and will lead to your stomach feeling full and you feeling sluggish.
You can get your proteins from the following sources:
Mixed nuts (100 gm) - ~20 gms
Boiled kidney beans (1 cup = ~225 gms) - 15 gms
Lean meat like chicken and fish (per 100 gms) - ~20 gms

Avoid fats. If you’re a competitive runner, your diet should not contain more than 25-30% of calories from fat. Not only is a high-fat diet dangerous for the body, fats are the last to be broken down and utilized by the body even during a high intensity workout. So keep away from the high processed sugar/deep fried foods.

Fluids are extremely important to replenish the lost salts and electrolytes while sweating. Drink atleast 2 litres of water everyday, and sip lightly on an electrolyte rich energy drink during your run as well.

The lighter you are, the faster and easier it will be for you to keep running that long distance. Because your legs will have to carry a smaller weight. Which is also why protein is to be avoided closer to race day, since it is extremely dense in mass. So try to stay in the vicinity of your ideal weight, but don’t crash diet or starve. You need all the energy you can get, so depriving yourself in any way is a strict no-no.

Of-course these are broad tips that should work for most runners. But as you start training and continue it, your body will itself tell you what it needs - the food you’ll crave, the breakfast you ate before that awesome run, the post run meal that had you feeling re-energized fast etc.

So keep training, supplement it with good nutrition and run that extra mile. Good luck!

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