In addition to ramping up my mileage during my training for the Tokyo Marathon, I also focused on eating well. And experts say that’s a smart strategy. “Fueling your body for maximum performance starts long before your actual marathon,” says Annamarie Poluha, a nutritionist and the Wellness Coordination Manager at ASICS America. “The most critical component outside of training and nutrition is to ensure that your body is optimized.” In other words, you want your body chemistry to work for you, rather than sabotage you. So what is the right nutritional balance?
In a perfect world, Poluha recommends that marathoners-in-training work with a functional medicine doctor, who will run blood and other tests then prescribe micronutrients to enhance digestion and levels of absorption, as well as reduce inflammation. Going it alone? Just remember that “sustained energy is always achieved through a blood sugar-balanced and anti-inflammatory diet and consistent sleep,” she says.
Keep these 6 nutrition strategies in mind to avoid hitting the infamous wall and power through to the finish line:
Eat the BEST carbs
Carb-loading in the form of bagels and pasta is a thing of the past. The new thinking: Focus on the quality of carbohydrate. The ultimate carbohydrates to eat in the months, weeks, and days leading up the race are sweet potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa. These power picks are also easy to digest. During your race, your body burns between 150 to 300 carbohydrate calories an hour. One gram of carbohydrates yields four calories, so when you’re carbing up the night before the race, the ideal range is 38 to 75 grams, Poluha says.
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Be picky about fat
Using high-quality fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado will ensure proper digestion, allowing your body to perform at its best. Avoiding fats altogether, on the other hand, will simply cause you to be hungry too soon. Too much fat will slow your digestion, which in turn will lower your energy and output.
Don’t forget protein
Egg whites and fish are easiest to digest, however chicken breast will ‘hold’ you a bit longer while red meat may slow down digestion.
Get the mix right
While training, aim for power meals and snacks with a ratio of 55-60% carbohydrates, 25-30% protein, and 10-20% fat.
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Mind your electrolytes
They play a critical role in regulating your body’s water balance while exercising: Proper levels of these electrolytes allow your muscle cells to retain the appropriate amount of water. But you lose electrolytes when you sweat, which will impair your performance. Solution: Sip a sport drinks with sodium in it (an example is “Endurolytes Fizz” by Hammer Nutrition).
Fuel up throughout your run
Shoot for 6-10 ounces of fluid every 2 to 3 miles. If it’s a hot day, you’ll need to take in a bit more. You should start drinking early and not wait until you are thirsty or feel dehydrated (at that time it may already be too late). Recommended sources of fuel: Sport drinks, energy gels, and chews. One final tip from Paluha: “If you need or want to dilute your energy gels and chews, use water and not a sports drink—combined it will yield too much sugar for your digestive system to handle.” And who wants to run to the bathroom?