By Samantha Lynch, MS, RD
Welcome to the new pre-race carb-load. Gone are the days of white pasta and jars of sugary tomato sauce. These are other ways you can fuel for the race - smart carbs.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CARBOHYDRATES
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary choice for fuel. As a refresher from college Chemistry class, carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen — aka "water." I like to think of carbohydrates as the gas in the engine of a car. Without gas, your car won't run. Like a car, your body without carbohydrates won't be able to function physically or mentally.
Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles and in the liver in the form of glycogen. If muscle glycogen breakdown exceeds its replacement, glycogen stores become depleted. The result is fatigue and inability to maintain racing intensity. Therefore carbohydrates are essential.
THE DAY BEFORE
Spread your calories out throughout the day. Eat every 2 to 3 hours. About 60-70% of your calories are to come from carbohydrates. Eat your pre-marathon dinner on the early side so you have enough time to digest before bed. Give your body at least 3 hours before tucking in for the night.
My favorite pre-marathon dinner
- Grass Fed Ground Beef cooked with shredded onion, salt, pepper, and a splash of Bragg Liquid Aminos (grass fed beef can be substituted for organic poultry, wild fish, or organic tofu). Avoid high fiber, gas-forming foods like beans.
- Quinoa or Black Rice cooked in Vegetable Broth rather than water
- Steamed Spiralized Zucchini and Yellow Squash using a Paderno spiralizer
Drink plenty of water. That means your urine should be light in color.
Eat breakfast 3 hours before the start of the marathon. Don't have a huge breakfast, and stick with mostly carbs and some protein. Some examples of good pre-marathon breakfast foods include: a banana and an energy bar; gluten free toast with nut butter and banana, or eggs and gluten free toast or fruit.
About 90 minutes before the start of the marathon, it is important to have a bar that has about 10g protein and at least 20g carbs. It should be relatively low in fiber, like 3-4g and have some fat, but not too much (up to 11g). GoMacro bars are organic, gluten free, and taste great.
Drink 4-6 oz. of water every 30min, from when you wake to 1 hour before the race. During the marathon, a good rule of thumb is to drink 3-6 oz. of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. That amounts to grabbing a cup every other mile. The first couple water stops tend to get overcrowded so use your Homemade Sports Drink (see below for recipe and details).
To determine your sweat rate prior to the race, weigh yourself naked before and after a hard one-hour run. Convert the amount of weight lost to ounces to figure out your sweat rate per hour. For example, if you lose one pound, that means you sweated 16 ounces of fluid. Therefore, going forward you would try to replenish fluids at a rate of about 16 ounces per hour.
If you have been drinking a cup of coffee before training runs, have a cup race day, but don’t try anything new that your body isn’t used to. Research suggests that a cup of coffee an hour before a race will improve performance. It helps mobilize free fatty acids and triglycerides, making them available for energy utilization in the blood stream. In addition, it helps you feel alert, even if you didn't get a good night’s sleep, and helps get the digestive systems cleaned out, which you want to do pre-race. Just be careful, too much caffeine can cause dehydration and may negatively influence your heart rhythm. Again, try it out several times during training runs before using it in races.
Most runners carry energy supplements to fuel during the long day of running, in addition to hydrating with water. Instead of spending on pre-made gels and drinks, try making your own at home.
Homemade Sports Drink Recipe (Makes 16 ounces)
I recommend drinking a homemade sports drink during the first 3 miles of the race.
from Thrive by Brendan Brazier.
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Juice of 1/4 lime
- 3 dates
- 2 cups water
- 1 Tbsp agave nectar
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- sea salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a Vitamix or Blender, and process until smooth.
Homemade Gels (Makes 3/4 cup)
There are a variety of gels on the market. Consider making your own Gels and chasing them with a few ounces of water.
Inspired by Brendan Brazier, and Thrive.
- 4 dates (soak dried dates for a few hours to soften)
- 1/2 cup raw agave nectar
- 1 Tbsp lime zest
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 tsp dulse (sea vegetable that contains vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and protein)
- Sea salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a Vitamix, blender, or small food processor until desired consistency is reached. Put into plastic zip-lock bag (just bite off the corner and suck it down) or gel flask.
It is important to eat 200-300 calories, mostly from carbohydrates and some protein, within one hour of finishing the marathon. A banana and packet of nut butter will do the trick. Also, a packet of gluten free oatmeal with chia seeds, or a sweet potato with an egg works well. The carbohydrates refuel your muscles with glycogen, and the protein will help repair your muscles. Eat a full meal as soon as you are able which will continue the recovery process. In addition, don't forget to drink fluids to rehydrate after you cross the finish line. I suggest coconut water or a replenishing drink, like Ultima Replenisher.
Most importantly, I know these suggestions will be new to some readers and I do not recommend that you experiment with this on race day. Try these on your training runs before the marathon. And, of course, run your heart out!
Samantha Lynch MS, RD CDN is a registered dietitian who caters to everyone from athletes and celebrities to students and stay-at-home moms. Based in Manhattan, she holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. After graduating in 2009, she started her own nutrition counseling practice to fulfill her dream of helping people live longer, happier, and more energetic lives. Samantha is frequently called upon as a nutrition expert on TV and online media outlets. She loves eating and cooking delicious fresh foods with her family, shopping at farmers’ markets, and dining out. When not working, she is sweating it out at a Flatiron fitness studio. She lives with her husband Roger and two daughters in New York City’s Union Square.