What To Eat in Race Week

The London Marathon is almost upon us! This week, thousands of runners from across the globe will be descending on the capital to race around London’s most famous sites.

For many, the preparation for the marathon has long been underway. These final few days are no different, and it’s time to put the finishes touches on the pre-race prep.

We caught up with Katie from Runna, a personalized running coaching platform with tailored plans to achieve your goals, from training for a faster 5k to your first marathon. Katie is on hand with her top tips for nutrition and fuel in the week leading up to a race.

Time to taper

Ok, for the past 16 weeks or so it has been all about the running, but now we need to turn our attention to tapering our body for the big day, making sure we arrive on the start line with fresh legs that will see us through each stage of the big event.

Tapering is a very important part of marathon training. The marathon taper is a delicate balance of maintaining fitness whilst promoting recovery. Tapering means reducing the volume of your weekly training distance during the final weeks leading up to the marathon. Do not fear that cutting back on training will affect your performance on race day.

The hard work in training has been done, so it is time to reduce our mileage and maximise our freshness to run at 110% on the big day. In comes race week nutrition! 

Coupled with reducing our workload as we taper towards the big day, making some tweaks to how we fuel ourselves will help us get the most from the big day itself. It is important to state that there is no one size fits all in terms of nutrition and the process will be different for everyone so please do go back to basics with trial and error. 

So, this is where the famous ‘carb-loading’ comes into play. There are lots of myths around carb-loading, but we really don’t need to overcomplicate things. 

The science

Our body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in our muscles and liver. When we workout, or run, our body needs energy. Our glycogen stores are the easiest accessible way for the body to convert glycogen back into glucose again, to be used as energy. The average amount of glycogen we can store in our muscles is between 350 to 500g. This equals around 90 minutes of endurance exercise.

The body can also use fat as a fuel to generate energy. This process occurs simultaneously to burning glycogen, but this process is more complex and slower.

During any endurance sport or event, it is when our glycogen runs out that athletes ‘hit the wall’. 

To increase your glycogen storage, and therefore increase the amount of accessible glucose to full capacity for race day, you can ‘carb load’ in the days leading up to the event. But how does that actually work?

3-5 Days before race day

A frequent mistake made by athletes is eating one extra large dinner the night before the event. The problem with this is that it doesn’t give your body enough time to digest and you might still feel lethargic and perhaps bloated in the morning. On top of that, it’s not as efficient to try to fill your muscles with glycogen from just one meal.

For this reason, it’s better to start choosing your carbohydrates wisely three to five days prior to your event. Since you’re tapering your activity levels over this time, the glycogen will accumulate in your muscles ready for race day.

It is important to state that you shouldn’t dramatically increase your calories. Aim to keep your total calorie intake for the day in line with your normal intake, but swap fats for an increased volume of carbohydrates. Try to obtain around 70% of your intake from carbohydrates, prioritising complex carbohydrates from whole food sources, such as:

  • Whole grain pasta
  • Rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Lentils
  • Beans.

Whilst you are going through this process, it is also important to not forget about the other macronutrients such as protein. Keeping your protein high throughout this period will not only help muscle recovery but also slows the digestion of carbohydrates. This is perfect for the marathon; you don’t want that quick hit of energy to be released at the start of the race, you want it to be sustained throughout the 42.2km! 

Alongside thinking about how to fuel optimally and manage our running workload through a taper we want to think about all other areas of our recovery, make sure to sleep well, do plenty of mobility work and hydrate well, it all adds up.

3 Days before

3 days before race day is where you might need to start thinking about your nutrition a little more. This is where you might want to slightly reduce high-fibre foods such as high volumes of vegetables, whole grains, and cereals. I think everyone training for a marathon will understand the impact this could have on your bowels, so to help this situation on race day, limit that fibre to take the weight out of the intestines to help you have a smooth run! 

2-4 Hours before

You’ve just spent the last few days loading up on carbohydrates for your glycogen stores, so it is only right to see race day with another high carbohydrate meal to keep those stores topped up. 

Try to eat breakfast 3-4 hours before you cross that start line to allow optimal digestion and storage. To put it crudely, this will also allow yourself enough time for the bowels to start moving and mean you can hopefully visit the toilet before the start. It becomes a payoff between waking up early and getting that pre-race meal in, so experiment with what works with you in training and have confidence in that. Don’t feel you need to change things up significantly for the big day. 

We would encourage you to consume an extra snack before you set off, but this is where your own practice and nutrition take over.

My pre-race meal is always Weetabix chocolate mini’s with milk and a coffee a few hours before. Then I’ll typically have an energy bar and caffeinated drink shortly before KO.

It is important to note that throughout this period, you need to ensure you are keeping your body hydrated. Recognise that your body stores around 3g of water for every gram of glycogen stored, so during this period, you might find you have put on a little weight, congratulations! You have successfully carb-loaded and are ready for race day, and it’ll act as your rocket fuel!

The time has come, good luck and make sure you enjoy this, you have worked hard throughout the process.

Feeling inspired to lace up your trainers? Runna is your personalised running coach with tailored plans to achieve your goals, from training for a faster 5k to your first marathon. Download Runna today to claim your two weeks free coaching to help you reach your next running goal with code: FRESHFITNESS. Get started.

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