Running a marathon is fantastic, but there’s no doubt that it places extra nutritional demands on your body. Putting your body through those 26 and a bit miles warrants a bit of TLC foodwise as you are using up far more nutrients than usual. If you put good fuel in, then it makes sense that your engine will last longer, run smoother and have fewer niggles or breakdowns along the way. If you put poor quality fuel in, then your aches and pains will be greater, you’ll be more prone to injury, and your muscles (and you!) are more likely to fatigue.
Here are my top ten tips for reaching your running potential! Please note that the food advice is very general and may not suit everyone. Our individual requirements can vary enormously.
1. Make sure your muscles have an optimum supply of fuel, especially glycogen. Include lots of low GI meals. This includes meals like chicken, veg and rice, or salmon, green veg and sweet potatoes, or chick pea curry and a salad. If you include some form of protein (animal or veggie source) you will help convert the carb to glycogen.
2. Avoid relying on sugary snacks to up your carb amounts or fuel your training after work. While these give you an instant lift, once you start upping the mileage and running for more than an hour you are likely to crash. Have a low GI snack/small meal a couple of hours before training – eg oatcakes and houmous or avocado, large handful nuts and dried fruit, natural yoghurt and chopped apple.
3. Don’t forget your fruit and veg. Endurance sports increase your need for antioxidants as you will be using these to quench all the free radicals produced in training. They are also needed for your immune and digestive function. A simple way to get them in is to remember the rainbow and have something green, red, purple, orange, yellow at least once, if not twice a day….umm, that’s in the fruit and veg department not M and Ms or Skittles!
4. Increase your supply of essential fats. In times of training we are crying out for good fats to help combat inflammation and improve our recovery. They also help get oxygen to your muscles. Up your oily fish intake and make smoothies with hemp seeds or flax oil. Snack on avocadoes. Add seeds to your porridge and home-made flapjacks. Don’t go for doughnuts, biscuits, fish n chips and other trans fats if you are injured (or not!!) as they encourage inflammation, slow down healing and block the beneficial acts of the good fats!
5. Consider your protein intake. It’s needed to repair and fuel muscles, and to heal injuries. Pasta and tomato sauce is hopeless for repair, but chuck in some chick peas and some other veg and you have a complete meal. Whey, hemp or brown rice protein can be useful additions, especially if vegetarian, but avoid the ones with added sweeteners. And don’t forget to have some form of protein and carb 30 minutes or so after your training.
6. Female runners often have low iron counts. We need adequate iron to transport haemoglobin and get oxygen to our muscles. Lambs liver once a month can do wonders for iron levels (avoid chicken liver unless organic) as can mussels. For veggies it’s harder as non animal iron is harder to absorb, but pulses, nuts and seeds are reasonable sources and have with some vitamin C rich food such as dark green veg .
7. Up your B vitamins. B vits are great suppliers of energy and if you’re stressed or juggling training and work and/or family life, your need will be pretty big! If you’re getting really tired, consider supplementation with a good quality brand, cut back on the refined sugar (this uses B vits up in its metabolism) and increase whole, unprocessed foods such as nuts, seeds, eggs, and fruit and veg.
8. Stay hydrated. We just can’t perform if we’re under-hydrated. A fast runner can lose 2.5 litres of water in an hour, even when it’s cold. And if you’re not fast you’re still going to lose a lot. You should be taking in 400-600ml every hour, breaking it up in 15-20 minute intervals.
9. By all means use isotonic drinks on longer runs as your glycogen stores could do with topping up, but remember we can’t absorb more than 60g glucose per hour. You could have 20g fructose on top of that to give you 80g of available sugars.
10. Look into any digestive issues as if you’re having problems it will prevent absorption and utilisation of all the good stuff you’re putting in. You may want to supplement with some good probiotics to support your digestion and immune system as your training increases.
If you’re a serious athlete I am now doing fascinating DNA testing looking at your individual genes in relation to your sporting potential. You can find out about your recovery times, your tendency for injuries and just how cut out you are for endurance. For more information read here. https://nu-boosthealth.co.uk/2015/03/20/dna-sport/
For the month of April I am offering £10 off a sports nutrition consultation. Why not get a tailored plan just for you!