The event calendar is ramping up again. There’s race excitement in the air! Perhaps you’re considering your first post-pandemic half, perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a London Marathon place?
Whatever your goal, this blog's focus is on how to prepare nutritionally for your best race ever! A few simple steps. If you'd like more detail, don't forget to check out my little e-book #Enerjoy! Your Race Day, available HERE.
What to eat the week before a marathon
The goal is to be standing on the start line with peak energy levels, a calm stomach and enough in the tank to nail your race, rather than feeling bloated and anxious! Follow these simple top tips to prepare yourself for the best race ever!
Taper and take it easy!
Resist the temptation to run too much in the week before your race. You've done the groundwork now, the best you can do is rest your muscles, sleep well, eat well and take it easy! Look after your legs! The day before, try not to walk too far.
Don’t eat too much!
Yes, a good part of your carbo-loading will have been done simply by tapering your running. Many athletes fall into the trap of eating too many calories, or eating the wrong foods during those critical few days before a race. The last thing you want it to stand on the start line feeling heavy and sluggish!
The truth is you don’t have to eat much more than you usually do. A certain degree of carb-loading will occur naturally with your taper. As you reduce the duration and intensity of your workouts in the week prior to racing, the muscle glycogen which would normally be used to fuel your long training sessions will automatically be stored by your body.
More carbs, less protein and fat
Reducing the level of your training and increasing the level of carbohydrate in your diet in the few days before an event will help ‘super-fuel’ your muscles to ensure that your glycogen levels are at their optimum.
Why is this? The science...
Carbohydrates are converted into blood glucose and used for energy or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle. Your body can store enough carbohydrate to keep you going for approximately 90 minutes. That’s not quite enough to get you through a Half Marathon (unless you’re very speedy!). Your job in the run up to the race is to eat enough carbohydrate to keep your glycogen stores at their optimum. Increase your daily carbohydrate intake to around 70% of your diet three days before the event.
You’ll find 24 nutritionally suitable (and delicious!) recipes and snacks to help you do this in my #Enerjoy! Your Race Day e-book.
Your only increasing carbohydrates, not overall calories...
Bear in mind that you are only trying to increase your carbohydrate intake, not your overall calorie intake, so eat smaller portions of protein and limit fat. Your plate should still consist of 10–15% protein but this should be lean protein, such as fish, chicken and eggs. This will not only protect your muscles, it will also slow the rate of digestion of the carbohydrates you eat, effectively lowering the GI of your meal.
Carbs and weight gain…
Don’t worry too much if you gain weight as you increase the amount of carbohydrates in your diet. This weight gain will normally be in the form of water rather than body fat. Carbohydrate contains water: for every 1 gram of carbohydrate stored in your muscles you will store between 3–4 grams of water with it and this will help towards hydration as you race.
Choose ‘nutrient-dense’ foods and avoid ‘empty-calories’
Carbohydrates are found in a massive variety of foods, not just pasta and porridge! You can boost carbohydrate intake by eating nutrient-rich, slow-releasing (low to medium GI*) carbohydrates such as:
- wholegrain bread,
- basmati rice,
- pulses and, most importantly,
- fruit and vegetables.
Poor choices for carb-loading tend to be processed convenience foods, which, whilst often containing high levels of carbohydrate, also contain high levels of salt, fat and additives. Examples of foods to avoid include French fries, crisps, donuts, buttery croissants, pastry products such as pasties, sausage rolls and Danish pastries, cookies, creamy pasta meals. Sorry about that!
Stick to plain and familiar
It’s quite common for runners to experience stomach upsets in the lead up to a race. It’s those dreaded pre-race nerves that play games with your tummy! The last thing you want is a portaloo-stop mid-race (believe me, it’s not much fun watching the minutes fly by on your watch while nature is calling and you’re sat on the loo!)
In the three days before your race, try to avoid really high fibre and spicy foods, such as lentils, pulses, bran and hot curries, even if you normally include them in your healthy training diet.
Avoid unfamiliar foods the night before too, keeping things plain and simple.
Little and often
If you feel too nervous to eat a proper meal, try to eat smaller meals and snacks – ‘little and often’.
Try my yummy lemon curd flapjacks in #Enerjoy! Your Race Day
Hydrate well all week long
You’ll enjoy your race far better if your body is well-hydrated. Keep a bottle of water with you and sip it throughout the days prior to the event and don’t forget that tea, coffee, squash, smoothies, juicy fruits and fruit juices, even soups, will also boost your fluid intake.
Keep checking that your pee is a light straw colour. Keep off the booze!
For more on hydration, read HERE
Pre-Race breakfast – don’t overdo it!
With the taper and your pre-race diet you should be feeling like a coiled spring, ready for action! On race day, eat what you normally eat before a long training run. Not too much, you just need to ‘top up the tank’. Eat around 2 hours before the race.
Try one of my lovely porridge recipes like this Autumn Spiced Apple & Raisin Porridge. Packed with slow-releasing carbohydrate and not too heavy, it’s a perfect pre-race breakfast.
If it’s hot, you might prefer some birchermuesli (try my Bircher With Benefits!) or whole wheat cereal, toast, but above all try it out in training and eat whatever you normally eat for breakfast before your runs!
Drink 500ml water, or diluted juice as soon as you wake up, or with your pre-race breakfast and sip on a bottle of water on your way to the start, if you like. Don’t drink too much now, or it will be sloshing around in your stomach when you run. Do the pee test - once your urine is light in colour, then you are fully-hydrated.
Get to the start line with plenty of time to spare and ENJOY THE RACE!
Top tip - take a bin liner if it’s raining. Make a hole in the top for your head, plus holes for your arms to keep you warm and dry. Relax, soak up the atmosphere, pace yourself and have the best time ever.
Take a look at the shop for more resources and my yummy snacks:
Don’t forget to join @katepercys on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook!