Taking on a marathon is a huge and daunting task. What’s best to wear? How do I keep my feet comfortable? How do I ensure I keep cool and hydrated?! But few questions are as vital as ‘What do I eat beforehand?’ It can massively affect your race.
Why is it so important?
Getting this right or wrong could be the difference between smashing your goal and falling far short, or worse, not making it to the finish. Marathons, whilst an incredible achievement, are massively demanding and take their toll on the body. It’s important to know exactly what your body needs to tackle it, and we’re here to help.
Where do I start?
For the best results, you want to be feeling lean, light and fresh on the morning of the race. To guarantee this you need to start carefully planning your meals days before.
Some recommend beginning to make changes to your diet as much as a week before, but this isn’t necessary- 4 days should be enough. First things first, you need to stay away from processed, highly-fatty and spicy foods entirely. These foods make you feel heavy and won’t be stocking your body up with the nutrients it’s going to need.
The second rule at this point is not to go too far out of your comfort zone- don’t try foods you’ve never tried before. Food affects everyone’s body in a different way, and something you’re not used to may well upset your stomach.
Four days before…
At this stage, your focus should be on increasing your carbohydrate intake. Carbs are converted into blood glucose and used for energy in the body, so these are the key to success. Not all carbs are good carbs though!
Stay away from fries, crisps and pizzas- even those these are carb based. Better options would be oats, basmati rice, pasta, wholemeal bread and plenty of fruit and veg. These will begin stocking your body up with the energy it will need whilst keeping you feeling lean.
It’s worth keeping an eye on your fibre intake. It’s not vital but you probably want to begin to reduce it slightly.
For meals, a good choice for breakfast would be a bagel or porridge. For lunch and dinner, mix ‘good’ carb-heavy food like vegetables, rice and pasta with lean protein, such as fish and chicken.
Two days before…
At this point, you’ll probably have heard talk of ‘carb loading’. Do not be deceived by this! This is not an instruction to eat a humongous amounts of food.
You want to increase your carb intake significantly but keep your calorie intake within a reasonable range. Eating too much of anything will only leave you bloated. It’s often recommended you eat one big meal before a race; and this is the day to do it.
If you do it the day before your race, you run the risk of waking up bloated. You’re likely to be nervous the night before, and a lack of, or disrupted sleep plays havoc with your body’s ability to digest food.
Continue eating cereals, oats or breads for breakfast. Eat some fish or chicken with plenty of pasta and vegetables for lunch and dinner, and pad the day out with fruit.
The evening before…
Post-lunch, you need to take care not to overeat. This is your last chance to load up on carbs, but the nerves will be having an effect on your body and you need to be careful not to give it too much to deal with. A normal sized meal with chicken, rice and vegetables should be perfect.
The big day…
The Big Day is here! You’ll need breakfast, but leave at least 2 hours between breakfast and the start of the marathon. Eat the same breakfast you’ve eaten across the previous days, perhaps with an energy drink, plenty of water and a piece of fruit.
Unless you’re Paula Radcliffe, a Marathon tends to take in excess of 4 hours, so you’re going to need to replenish some of your stocks on the way round. It’s incredibly important you don’t try energy bars, drinks or gels you’ve never tried before. These affect everyone differently and may upset your body. If there’s one your familiar with, Great! If not, fruit is a good choice.
Stick to this simple guide and your hard work should pay off! You’ll make it to the finish line with a time to be proud of. Completing a Marathon is an incredible achievement and one that will stick with you for the rest of your life. We know you can do it!