Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Runner’s Plate Guest Post: Pre-Marathon Nutrition

Hey, Twin Cities Runner readers!

I'm Michelle from The Runner's Plate, and Nate has asked me to write a guest post for you guys. Nate mentioned that he thought it would be great if I shared what I eat prior to running a marathon. I just completed my 8th marathon--Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN. My race didn't go as planned (It was very warm for racing a marathon.), but I still managed a 3:12 finish time, which is my second fastest marathon.

Fifteen or so years ago, it seemed as though carb-loading was the thing to do--partaking in large amounts of carbohydrates several days out from a race.  (Or maybe I just thought it was trendy because we always had pasta parties the night before our meets in high school.) More recently it seems like people continue to eat what they normally do on a day-to-day basis and don't try to do anything special with their diet prior to a big race.

As an endurance athlete I've tried both, and I wanted to share my experiences about each approach and the pros and cons of them.

My regular diet consists of whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, ample fruits and vegetables, and a little bit of dairy. I don't eat a ton of meat, but I am not a vegetarian. I don't dabble in fad diets but instead aim to eat a wide variety of foods and make 95% healthy choices.

For my first seven marathons—and any half-marathon, 10K, 5K, or any other race I've run, I have continued to eat the type of foods listed above. I might consume a few extra carbs two days before a marathon, but other than that I haven’t eaten a sky-high plate of spaghetti noodles the night before the race. I have had spaghetti the night before, but I always made sure to balance it out with a meat sauce, salad, and some fruit.

The biggest pro of sticking with what you know works for your body is that you won't risk having any stomach discomfort or GI distress come race day. It is safe. There are too many other factors to worry about on race day and your nutrition isn't something you want to toy with on such an important day.

I think this is definitely a good approach for new runners and those who are embarking on the marathon distance for the first time. The one drawback might be that you may not be filling the glycogen stores to the max. The more carbohydrates available for your body to tap into, the more energy your body will have on race day. This is the reason people carb-load: they try to max out their glycogen stores so that during competition their body will have ample energy to fuel their long distance race.

For my most recent marathon (Grandma's Marathon), I tried a carb-deplete followed by a period of carb-loading. Six days out from the marathon, I depleted my glycogen stores by eating only fats and proteins for three days and then ate a high portion of carbohydrates for the next three days. The idea is to deplete the glycogen stores and then trick your body into thinking it needs to replenish the glycogen stores with a higher percentage than it normally carries.

During the carb-deplete, 90% of my calories came from protein and fats. Here are some things I ate:
  • eggs
  • avocados
  • bacon
  • pork sausage
  • tuna + mashed avocado
  • chicken breast
  • mahi-mahi
  • protein powder mixed with water (milk has carbs)
  • almond milk
  • almonds, cashews, peanuts
  • peanut butter

After three days of eating only protein and fats, I then consumed a large amount of carbs to restock those glycogen stores. I aimed to consumed 350 - 400 grams of carbohydrates each day, which still allowed me to eat some fats and proteins in my diet. Examples of what I ate:
  • bagel with jam
  • pasta with butter and salt and pepper
  • muffins
  • graham crackers
  • cereal
  • pretty much all the carbs I often feel like I usually can’t justify eating

When it came to my race day, the conditions weren't ideal for racing (too hot and too humid), so unfortunately my body wasn't able to respond in the right way to see if the carb-deplete/carb-load worked properly. I plan to try this diet again for my next marathon, so I will be interested to see if I feel different.

I would only suggest this carb-deplete/carb-load diet for an experienced runner and someone who has run a handful of marathons already. I didn't experience any negative effects from this diet, but I have heard of some people feeling bloated from the extra carbohydrates. It is very important to drink plenty of water during the carb-load stage as your body can only absorb carbohydrates with enough water.

All in all, you should ultimately do what works for you and your body. You know your body the best and are the one who can determine if something does or does not work.

Best of luck to all of you racing this summer. If you need guidance on a running plan, I do offer individualized running programs for people of all abilities. Check out my blog for more information:

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