Marathon newbies are always asking me what they should eat in the run-up to the big day, so here are some foodie pointers that should help as the Yorkshire Marathon approaches.
The theory of excessive carb-loading (i.e. avoiding carbs for a few days then stuffing yourself stupid with them) is seen as a bit outdated now. There’s only so much energy your muscles can store. However, a few days beforehand it is a good idea to include some good carbohydrates in your meals; things like wholemeal pasta and bread, pulses, brown or basmati rice, fruit and vegetables. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, simply adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein, as they will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run.
On the day before, switch to simple carbohydrates, as you may not have enough time to fully digest wholegrain food before the race. Eat carb-based meals and snacks today – pasta with tomato sauce is a favourite of mine, but also consider rice, potatoes and bread, with maybe a little light protein such as chicken or fish if you feel like it. Avoid anything too fatty or fibrous, as these types of foods could make you feel heavy or bloated. Don’t have a massive evening meal, but spread your intake throughout the day.
On marathon morning you’ll need a breakfast that provides you with good energy but doesn’t take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies; hopefully you will have experimented in training to find out what suits you personally. Many people like white toast or porridge with honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup, because I know my system can deal with oats more quickly than wheat. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so it has time to leave your stomach before you set off – this also helps with the all-important visit to the loo! About an hour beforehand have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar if you feel you need to.
Consider carrying some energy gels or jelly babies with you during the race. Your muscles will have used up most of their own fuel stores after about an hour and a half, so supplementing with an energy product should prevent you from hitting the dreaded ‘wall’ by giving you a carbohydrate boost. If you are going to use energy products it’s really important to test them in training just in case they don’t agree with you. I like isotonic gels as you don’t need to take them with water, so aren’t juggling two things at the same time on the move – although they are bigger to carry. I’ve experimented with a few and will be using SiS Go gels for the Yorkshire marathon – and no, they aren’t paying me to say so! But I may well also have a couple of jelly babies tucked away in case of emergency too…
Hydration is obviously very important. Make sure you drink plenty of water in the week before the race. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale colour. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race, as there’s plenty of drink available on the marathon course – drinking too much can be dangerous (causing hyponatremia) and will make you want to stop for a pee en route! Toilet arrangements are always a concern for any long distance runner – I’ve been caught short myself before – and here’s what I’ve discovered works best for me. I have a big drink of water as soon as I get up and a coffee with my breakfast; then I try not to drink anything else until just before the gun. This way you have plenty of time to wee out any excess from what you drank first thing, and you’ll be running and sweating by the time your start line drink starts to come through! If you’ve been hydrating well all week you shouldn’t need to drink loads on marathon morning, especially if the weather isn’t warm.
Hope this has been helpful to some of the many marathon first-timers who’ll be at York.
Enjoy the rest of your taper!