It is a well established fact that carbohydrate ingestion before and during endurance events delays the onset of fatigue. Therefore, runners are recommended to base their diets around higher carbohydrate foods in the days leading up to an event. This will provide your body and muscles with adequate fuel to take you to the finishing line, and is called carb loading. The numbers participating in the Race For Life and the Women’s mini marathon is increasing every year, which will hopefully translate to a fitter and healthier population. Having a nutritionally balanced diet in the lead up to these runs is crucial if you are to compete without harming your body.
Many people believe that in the days coming up to an event or marathon you should increase your calorie intake, but this is not true. As you have been training for the event for some weeks, your calories will have been reflecting this increased activity already and are therefore at the correct level. What you do need to increase is your carbohydrate levels as they give your muscles fuel. Prior to the run, you need to carb load. This will involve increasing the calories you are getting from carbohydrates to 65-70% of your daily intake.
Carb loading may seem difficult but it is very simple. Base your meals around carbs that release their energy slowly such as brown rice and pasta. If you have been following a calorie controlled diet while preparing for the marathon, now is the time to treat yourself. You can go for high Gi foods like bagels and baked potatoes in the days before your race as this will bump up your carbohydrates. Try to spread your meals out throughout the day when you are carb loading, as large meals are difficult to digest following a hard workout. Aim to have smaller meals every 2-3 hours.
In the weeks before your event you should try to avoid sugar – the initial high will be followed by a sugar low which will have drastic effects on your energy levels and may impact on your training. If you are looking for something sweet a banana is a great treat or snack in the days before your race. They are very digestible and their potassium content can help to prevent muscle cramping. Although carb loading is very important, adequate protein intake is also crucial. Dietary protein from sources such as meat, fish and tofu will help to rebuild protein stores following an intense workout.
As you approach the big day try to stick to what you know and avoid high fibre or gas forming foods such as beans as these will only upset your stomach and/or interfere with your sleep. Aim to have your evening meal prior to the marathon between 4-6pm and your breakfast on the morning of the event at least 90 minutes before 'kick off'. This will give your body plenty of time to digest the food properly and avoid an upset stomach. Ingestion of a high carbohydrate meal 3-4 hours before the whistle blows will ensure carbohydrate availability and enhance your performance. Lastly, keeping hydrated during the race or marathon is vital if you want to do your best. Experts recommend drinking 500ml of water about 2 hours before the event in order to promote adequate hydration and give time for excretion of excess fluids. You should then keep an appropriate amount of fluid with you throughout the race to ensure you stay hydrated.