Undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of your marathon training is the need to increase the length of your “longest” run, and prepare the body for the rigours of 26.2 miles. Whilst the big day might still seem some distance away, the adoption of some conscious nutrition strategies will certainly help you push through all those distance barriers, in addition to helping you to plan, practice, and refine what will work best for you on race day.
Yes, the distance is important, but don’t forget to take the opportunity to kill two birds with one “run” and build your nutrition plans around these longer distances.
It is important to recognise that there is no one size fits all principle to nutrition and marathon running, and what might work for one will not always be right for another. It is also true that traditional “sports nutrition” advice to consume a high carbohydrate has evolved to the extent that perhaps the biggest variable to achieving your goal is not the ideal diet per se, but the simple commitment to finding out what works for you.
As a result, the following tips should help you on your way.
If there is one session that you should “protect”, it should be the long run
You don’t need to have the perfect preparation all the time, but if there is one session that you protect and focus on the meal the night before, the time you wake, your breakfast, and the fuel and fluid throughout – then this is the session.
Fuel for the work required
Carbohydrate is important to keep the muscle stores topped up, but there isn’t a need to carbohydrate load the night before or go pasta crazy. Fuel for the work required, which means that you ensure a well-balanced meal the night before, and an energising breakfast at least an hour before you run.
Integrate products early
Find your fuel, focusing on what energy products you prefer. Ideally, consume 30g of carbohydrate per hour (i.e. one gel), every hour, with a regular “swig” of water every mile or two. It is frequently overlooked that your tummy needs to also be trained to understand the fuel and fluid you consume, so the earlier you start, the greater the benefit the products will have.
Prioritise the need to recover
Increasing the distance of your long run will inevitably take you a new level of fatigue on a weekly basis. Therefore, recovering well will ensure you continue to train well the following week and reduce the risk of training. Consume 20g of protein in the first few hours after, a normal portion of meat, a glass of milk or even a protein shake will suffice.
Keep a diary
It might sound a little childish, but do take note of what you ate the night before, morning of, and what you used and for how often for each long run? Did you feel tired or energised, comfortable or tummy upset? Tracking how you felt, alongside what you’ve eaten will help you find out what strategies work best for you. After all, practice makes permanent.