Congratulations! You have accomplished the most challenging part of running a marathon…the training! Through this training journey, not only are you both mentally and physically tougher, but you also most likely have a better sense of how to “fuel” your running machine. Now that the bulk of your work is over, and running has significantly decreased, you might be wondering how your nutritional game plan should also be adjusted. It is possible while the milage has tapered, your appetite has not! You might be asking yourself questions like: Should you be downing Gatorade days before the race? Eating pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? To help you nutritionally navigate the week before race day, check out these tips: 1. Train less. Eat less. To avoid race day weight gain, your overall calorie intake should be less than what it was while in peak training. If your appetite is still in high gear, eat often so your brain knows those calories will be coming in on a regular basis, increase your vegetable intake (see FIBER section below), and increase healthy, filling fats such as carrots dunked in guacamole and nuts and fruit for snacks. 2. Create Your Two-Day Game Plan Two to three days before the marathon , think ahead about the following dietary considerations: FLUIDS : Fluid intake should be similar to what you have practiced during training. Significantly increasing your fluids 1-2 days before the event could possibly lead to over hydration and consequently low levels of sodium and other electrolytes. Adequate hydration is characterized by pale yellow colored urine, and bathroom visits every 2-3 hours. There is no need to “load” up on fluids. FIBER: While a high-fiber diet is recommended for general good health, it is not ideal for you 2-3 days before the race (or runners behind you). Avoid high fiber foods such as beans, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, high-fiber cereals such as Kashi or bran flakes. Other foods like might be problematic include spicy foods, high-fat foods, chocolate, etc. You know your body best. Eliminate those foods 3 days before the race.CARBS : Carbohydrate loading is a way of eating to load the muscles and liver with stored carbohydrate and extend endurance performance in events of 90 minutes or longer. While studies have proven that carbohydrate loading can work, it might not be the optimal practice for you if you have not tried it during regular training. Potential drawbacks of carb loading is a feeling of “heaviness” due to water weight associated with carb intake and an increased risk of GI distress i.e.: extra porta potty visits. The latest protocol for carbohydrate loading is to consume 10-12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight (i.e.: 150 pound individual would have to consume 680 grams of CHO) 2-3 days prior to race day. For example, if race day was Sunday, carb consumption should be 680 grams on both Friday and Saturday. Studies have also shown that carb loading can be accomplished on days 4 or 5 prior to the event (i.e.: Wednesday and Thursday) with “normal” carb consumption on days Friday and Saturday before the race. This could relieve some of the “heaviness” associated with carb loading. For a thorough summary of carb loading: read here . Whether you chose to load or not, I do recommend increasing carb intake 2 days prior to race day. Here is an example of how to do this: Breakfast: Peanut butter sandwich with an egg (ADD BANANA) Snacks: Nuts (ADD A PIECE OF FRUIT) Lunch: Turkey sub with carrots and apple (ADD A SPORTS DRINK) Dinner: Chicken and rice with zucchini (ADD 1/2 A CUP MORE OF RICE TO DINNER) Spreading your carb intake throughout the day versus piling on the pasta the night before ensures a more settled stomach on race day morning. 3. Have NEOPHOBIA : A runner should have neophobia (fear of new things) leading up to marathon day, and this includes foods! Stick with the tried and true meals you have eaten during training. If you are traveling to a race, think about bringing foods from home. Another unforeseen hiccup is the marathon expo! With hundreds of bite-sized samples of gels, bars, drinks, waffles, and jelly beans, you might be tempted to try out the latest and greatest sports supplement only to find out the dozens of samplings you tried created a perfect recipe for an upset stomach. 4. Plan Out Your RACE DAY FUEL: Race day fuel (most likely breakfast) should once again be a tried and true meal that you have eaten before long training runs. If possible, it is helpful to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal 3 hours before the race. A 3-hour window allows for optimal fuel utilization, and minimizes potential GI distress. This practice is also important for nervous nelly runners like myself to get the food down without causing nerve-related stomach issues. In addition to solids, you should also consume 16-24 ounces of fluids two to three hours before the race. I recommend using a sports drink as a way to combine both carbs, fluids and sodium. Ten to fifteen minutes prior to the start, top off your fluids with 6-8 additional ounces of a sports drink. CONGRATS! You have come so far, now keep up the dedication and think through your nutritional game plan with wise food choices! You will be both physically and mentally ready for each 26.2 mile!
Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.