Tips for the marathon - training and performance

1.         The old adage never run on empty has given sway to new science.  It is now suggested that 'training low' be used wisely in order not to lead to overall poor results and/or resulting illness.  Practically speaking, training 6-10 hours after your last meal; training 2x day with the second session on less glycogen stores and/or restricting carbohydrate in the recovery period post exercise, may help induce the stress response and mitochondrial biogenesis.  Training low should be used alongside training high sessions (glycogen loaded, pre exercise meal, and carbohydrate provision during exercise).  Further protein should be taken before (eg 20-25g), during and/or immediately after training low exercise in order to attentuate muscle protein breakdown and promote protein synthesis.

2.        Performance is delivered through optimum whole food nutrition, adequate rest and consistent training.  That is a proven fact.

3.       Supplement sparingly if at all.  The evidence is not out there to back up marketing claim and the supplement industry is unregulated.  Do not load up on antioxidants as they can interfere with the positive adaptation effects of exercise training. 

4.         Think CHO.  Eat a diet that provides >60% of your energy from carbohydrate sources, 15% lean quality protein, evenly timed throughout the day 5-6x, the remainder quality fats.  All are necessary for optimum health.

5.         Eat variety.  Think nutrient dense.  Your body has a higher demand for nutrients so choose whole-food, whole grains, lean quality proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. 

6.         Avoid processed food and food bearing health claims – real whole food delivers better. 

7.         Include foods that pack a nutritional punch.  Beets for stamina, berries for antioxidants, clams and spinach for iron, green powders for trace minerals and protein, hemp seeds, cacao, chia, almonds, brazil, walnuts and cashew nuts, milks and butters - delicious & nutrient dense.

8.         Check your Iron, folate and Vitamin D stores.  Endurance athletes have been shown to be low in these nutrients.  Low iron can reduce oxygen capacity and decrease performance.  Low vitamin D can affect immunity and bone health.

9.         A few days out from the run, train less, hydrate and increase high GI carbohydrate to ensure maximum glycogen stores.  

10.         The evidence is strong in support of a high carbohydrate meal >90 minutes before endurance events.  Utilise different forms of carbohydrate to maximise the transport-ingestion system.  Sports drinks are tailored to deliver carbohydrate.  The evidence does not suggest they are better at water in hydration.  60 grams (600ml of a 10% carbohydrate solution) of carbohydrate per hour for the event is the ideal ergogenic aid.  

11.         Hydrate during and immediately after your run with water and an electrolyte drink.  Water, coconut water are an excellent hydrator without the sugars of a sports drink.

12.       Evidence shows that natural food solutions deliver performance as well as sports confectionary, or better.  Think raisins, dates, pineapple, chia, hemp & flax seeds, bananas, chocolate milk.  Mouth rinsing is also an excellent strategy without the calories and sugar.

13.      Post race, replenish high GI carbs and protein at a ratio of 4:1 within 30 minutes of finishing.  This will help muscle repair and limit fatigue.  A smoothie is a quick way to shuttle in nutrients for recovery.  Try a banana, milk, cacao or chocolate and vegetable protein.

14.      Follow this up with a series of small meals to achieve full recovery.  

15.      Science shows that no one diet out performs the other in performance.  You can eat plant food or meat based or OLVD (like Kenyan & Ethiopian runners).  The key is to ingest enough calories for your output, and nutrients for your body's demands.

16.      Soak in an Epsom salt bath.  Combine with stretching to help alleviate toxins and ease muscles.  There are some great products on the market formulated for muscle resuscitation.

It is also very important that you do not try anything new on the day of a race - work out what works best for you during training.

Run well, x

Deborah McTaggart is a registered nutritionist practicing in Barnes, South West London.  We can tailor nutrition principles along with proven strategies to optimise your performance.   You will feel fitter, leaner and improve energy levels, helping you enjoy a more productive lifestyle.  Contact me here.