Ten Diet Tips to Fuel You for a Marathon

Eating right - essential for any endurance race

Issue: Jul 2010

Toh Poh Joo
Resident Manager of Somerset Xu Hui in Shanghai, Toh Poh Joo, is a regular marathon runner both locally and abroad

Marathon running has become an increasingly popular endeavour amongst Singaporeans in recent years. In fact, it is one of the preferred sports of many men who inhabit the highest echelons of companies in Singapore. The CapitaLand family, for example, boasts quite a few marathon regulars. Mr Simon Ho, CEO of CapitaMall Trust Management Limited; Mr Simon Yong, Chief Development Officer, Project Design, Development and Management, CapitaMalls Asia; and Residence Manager of Somerset Xu Hui in Shanghai, Mr Toh Poh Joo, are just three in the CapitaLand family who have run in marathons both locally and overseas.

But there is no denying that the marathon is as punishing as it is rewarding. To make the marathon a success, preparation is key. And central to that preparation is conditioning the body through the twin pillars of regular exercise and a thorough nutritional plan. After all, what you put into your body directly impacts and affects how it performs.

INSIDE gives you ten tips to boost you up for your run.

1. Concentrate on Carbs

Go for good carbohydrates that are harder to break down, keeping the blood glucose level sustained at a constant level

Carbohydrates are the mainstay of any athlete and the marathon-runner counts on them in particular to keep him going. This is because carbohydrates are the powerhouses in the food pyramid. When burnt, they provide the much-needed energy to fuel any physical activity. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. This store of energy needs to be at its maximum for the marathon runner.

But not all carbohydrates are created equal. There are simple and complex carbohydrates divided according to their glycaemic effect or their ability to release energy. Simple carbohydrates are found in any food that gets most of its calories from sugar, for example sugar, honey, jam, candy, and soft drinks. Their complex cousins are found in foods packed with vitamins and minerals essential for high-octane activities such as whole-grain breads, brown rice, cereals, fruits and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are what you need. They are slow-release carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index (GI) that will provide a sustained source of energy. Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, have a high GI and enter the bloodstream quickly. They offer only a sudden burst of energy that literally won’t last the distance.

Aim for a diet that has 60% to 70% carbohydrates, with simple carbs kept to about 10% of this.

2. Fill up on Fluids

Fill up on Fluids
Drink but do not binge drink on water during a marathon as it can seriously alter your blood-sodium concentration

During exercise, your body produces heat. A marathon runner’s temperature can rise by as much as half a degree Celsius. The body cools down by sweating. But if the weather is too warm or if you do not have enough liquid in your system to produce sweat, the natural cooling system fails. To prevent the body from over-heating, your muscles will slow down and so will you. So make sure you drink, drink and then drink some more.

In your workouts, learn how much you need to drink and when you need to do so. A good rule to remember is to drink before you feel thirsty because by the time you feel the thirst, you are already too low on your water supply.

3. Pack in the Proteins

20 - 25% of your diet should be made up of proteins. Muscles are primarily made of protein. So proteins are particularly important after a rigorous workout because they help repair muscle tissue and prevent muscle breakdown. Recent studies also show that proteins are needed to transport carbohydrates throughout our system. Consider them the transport system for your fuel.

4. Filter Out Fats

Fatty and junk foods can slow you down and make you lethargic

Go easy on the fats. Fatty foods may make you feel full and fill up your fat cells but they provide very little energy for the muscles. Because they take a longer time to leave the stomach, fatty foods will also leave you lethargic.

5. Keep Junk Out

Keep junk food to a minimum. They can result in weight gain that can slow you down during your run. Consume caffeine and alcohol in moderation. They contribute to water loss.

6. Stay with Supplements

rice dumplings
Fish oil is a good supplement for oxygen intake and joint functions

You should be already eating a healthy, balanced diet. But some supplements may be helpful. Calcium and magnesium can help to prevent muscle cramps. Fish oil helps oxygen intake, burn fats and aid joint functions.

7. Start Out Right

Just as you may start training for your marathon months ahead, you should begin your marathon diet ahead of time as well. Learn how much food you can eat and still run comfortably. Learn what you can eat and what works for you. As your workouts escalate, you may need to increase your calorie intake as well. Just remember to scale down once you are no longer in intensive training.

The week before your marathon, focus on fruits and vegetable and whole grains to boost your immune system. A day or two before your marathon, you might want to load up on carbohydrates to increase your energy store. The night before, stay away from high fibre foods because these take a longer time digest and will not contribute adequately to building up your glycogen stores. Avoid unfamiliar foods that may contribute to an upset stomach.

8. Make the Morning Matter

Have a small low GI carbohydrate meal the morning of the race. Keep the high GI foods to the race itself. Factor in three to four hours for your meal to be digested, shorter if it is a smaller meal. And don’t forget to drink every two hours before the run, making sure to stop two hours before the run itself to avoid having to waste time looking for a toilet in the middle of the marathon. You can tank up again five to ten minutes before the race begins because any excess water will be perspired out.

9. Eat on the Run

rice dumplings
Snacking every half on the run helps keep your energy level up

A 42-kilometre run is likely to last hours. Whatever store of energy you may have shored up would likely have been lost within the first two hours. So if this is your first marathon, you need to learn to eat while you run. You may find that food taste different when you are running. Experiment with different foods during your training to find out what you can hold down. Bananas, jelly, energy bars and gels are the usual choice. Try to eat something every half hour or so.

Remain hydrated. Whether you feel like it or not, drink at every aid station. Make sure not to gulp down your drink as you run. You will find that you get more in when you walk and drink. Alternate between water and replacement drinks to avoid hyponatremia.

10. Fuel Up in the Aftermath

Make sure you replenish your glycogen stores within 30 to 60 minutes after the race to prevent fatigue. Go with a 100 to 400 calorie intake. And don’t forget to continue to drink, even if your initial thirst is quenched.

There you have it, ten tips to help your marathon nutritional plan. Go ahead and make a run for it.

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