Everyone knows that diet is of paramount importance when training for a marathon; but did you know that what you eat in the week leading up to the race could actually have a measurable effect on how fast and how long you’re able to run? Although your finishing position and performance will ultimately be determined by your overall fitness level going into the race, the following 7 pre-marathon diet tips will at least give you the nutritional edge needed to be the best you can be:
- Gradually Decrease Carb Intake One Week Before The Race
Carbohydrate depletion is a controversial technique, but it has been successfully used by many marathon runners and is therefore worth a mention. Your body uses glycogen stores to fulfill the energy needs of muscles during a race, so these reserves are the equivalent to your anatomical fuel tank. In a normal diet you’re supposed to consume 70% of your calories in the form of carbohydrates. In the carbohydrate depletion technique your goal is to incrementally reduce carb intake (by 10% per day), starting one week from race day and lasting until three days before. So, if your race is on a Friday then you would start by reducing your carb intake to 60% on the Saturday before, then down to 50% on Sunday, 40% on Monday, and Tuesday through race day you would maintain the normal 70%.
- Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, and Candy For At Least 3 Days Before The Race
To truly optimize endurance you need to make sure your body is free of toxins and stimulants of all kinds. Avoid all alcoholic beverages, coffee, soda, and candies for at least 72 hours before the race. The liver is responsible for handling glycogen stores, so burdening it with alcohol before a race is not a good idea. While you won’t feel the effects of the drink on race day, a martini two days before could actually cause you to feel fatigued up to several minutes sooner -(Are Bananas Fattening).
- Load Up On Carbs The Day Before The Race
The day before the race you need to significantly increase carbohydrate intake to maximize glycogen stores. Foods like pasta and whole-grain breads fit the bill perfectly. Scientists recommend that you consume 5 grams of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight on the day leading up to the race. Don’t make the mistake of eating a massive plate of lasagna at dinner though; your carbs should be spread out evenly throughout the day to allow for maximum digestion.
- Eat Small On The Morning Of The Race
On the morning of race day you should eat a small, easily digestible meal that is high in carbs, like a bagel or two pieces of toast. Avoid foods that are high in grease or sugar, as they could cause queasiness and dizziness. Make sure you eat at least 2 hours before the race to allow for full digestion. Sip water throughout the morning, but not enough to make you feel bloated. Opt for room temperature water; ice water does not absorb as well.
- Make Your Own Sports Drink
Although the majority of runners go with a commercial sports drink to replenish electrolytes during the race, you may benefit more from a homemade solution. Sports drinks typically contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose and artificial colors, both of which can cause stomach upset and other side effects. To make your own more effective sports drink, simply mix one 8oz cup of water with 2 table spoons of lemon juice and a small pinch of salt.
- Avoid “Energy” Products
Energy bars and drinks may seem like a good way to boost your endurance, but in reality they can leave you feeling drained and nauseous halfway through the marathon. If you’re feeling sluggish on the morning of the race, get your blood flowing with a little bit of light aerobic activity (i.e. – go for a walk) and then eat a piece of fruit. Most energy products are difficult to digest and are geared towards people who need an extra lift to get through a long work shift, not high-endurance athletes.
- Don’t Make Drastic Changes to Your Diet
Finally, do not pick the week of the race to try a new fad diet that is supposed to provide miracle results. If you’re going to make changes to your diet, do it at least 2-3 weeks before the race so you have time to see how it is affecting your performance. However, if you have been regularly consuming commercial sports drinks, you could still make an exception to the “no diet change” rule by switching to the homemade solution mentioned above. Also a good thing for diet is maca root powder (Maca Root Benefits), or Astragalus Membranaceus (Astragalus Membranaceus Benefits).