Food is Fuel for Marathon Training

With marathon training in full swing, it’s worth considering other elements to training, other than the running itself. In a previous blog, we explored the idea of cross-training and how this can be beneficial to support your running, but what about the non-physical aspects of preparation? Emma Dunnett explains all.

Food is fuel. We need fuel to be able to train efficiently and effectively, to get the most out of the sessions we are doing and to help the body recover. Also, fuel is a large component of pre- and post-race, as well as during. In this entry, we will explore some options of fueling, to give you some ‘food for thought’.

Pre-race fueling is absolutely tailored to the individual and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. What works for me, won’t necessarily work for you, and this is a part of the training process – to train on different sources of fuel and figure out what your best fueling options are, and more importantly, what your absolute no-no’s are! Timing is also key – how long before the race should we be fueling, and how much should we eat at that time? These questions feel initially difficult to navigate but there is one simple way of figuring it out. Do in training what you would do in racing; i.e. test out different fueling options and timings during your training sessions to guide what you will do on race day. This may take several attempts but will be worth it when it comes to race day, knowing what you need to eat to give you enough energy but without impacting your ability to perform.

The best day of the week to try this, from personal experience, is a Sunday long run. As your distance increases on a Sunday, you will have a good measure on whether your fueling before has sustained you for the initial stages of the run and at what time/distance you felt you needed to take more fuel on board. Let’s not forget that fuel includes water and your long run of the week can help to support trialling your water intake also.

This leads nicely onto during-race fueling. As before, the long run of the week is the best place to try this out. Most sources suggest aiming for 30-60g of carbs per hour of running, with water to aid washing down the food/gel etc (link to the source provided at the end of this entry). This will vary depending on multiple factors, e.g. individual requirements, difficulty of terrain underfoot/energy consumption, temperature/weather conditions, to name a few. But this can act as a rough guide when trialling your fuel intake over the course of a long run.

Now, the above doesn’t necessarily mean that you gulp down 30-60 grams of carbs in onego; some runners break each hour down into 20 minute intervals and take 1⁄3 of their hourly intake every 20 minutes. Again, this has been established through practising their fueling and figuring out exactly what works best for them. Additionally, the fuel options are endless; from gels to tabs to baby food (not a personal choice!), which can feel challenging to figure out. Again, trial it out. Mainly, carbs are key. They are a food source which tops up your
glycogen levels – our energy store.

Post-race is the easier one. Sometimes, depending on the effort output of the race, taking on fuel can be challenging due to feelings of fatigue etc, and in this case it is best to adopt the little and often approach. Chances are your body needs the refuelling so top yourself up gradually with carbs (energy) and proteins (building blocks for recovery). The window is typically 30-60 minutes after finishing the race and besides the above, snack to your heart’s content! Just remember, water is part of the refuelling process as well and your body needs plenty of that. Depending on how sweaty you were, salt tabs can be popular or an electrolyte drink to top up sugars and salts.

Fueling on either side of, and during a race can be a challenge but put simply, explore all the options during your training and come race day, you’ll know exactly what your body needs so you can focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Top Marathon Fueling Tips

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