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Smart Fueling Strategies for Your Next Marathon

Carbo-Loading, Hydration, and Electrolyte Replacement

© 2013 Michelle Rebecca; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

Eating at the Paris Marathon; photo courtesy Michelle Rebecca

This article was last revised on 08/16/17.

You’ve probably heard people say a million times that you need to drink before you get thirsty during a marathon, otherwise you run the risk of becoming dehydrated.

Well, the same thing is true of eating during a long race, only it’s even more important to start fueling before you get hungry. Most runners never feel hungry during a long run or marathon, which leads them to consume way less than they should.

You don’t need to chow down on a five-course buffet out on the race course, but here are some tips for proper fueling during a marathon that could help you to your next personal record (PR) or personal best if you prefer.

One tradition that is not considered as reliable as it used to be is carbo-loading, or eating massive quantities of pasta and salad for dinner the night before the race. Whether it’ effective or not is questionable but it is still an important social event!

But how about before the race, on race day morning? Well, that depends on the individual. The general rule is to do just what you do before your long runs. For example I have a cup of coffee or two and nothing else when I wake up (several hours before gun time) This wakes me up and ensures, ahem, that I can conclude my business and avoid the porta-potty lines.

Determine Your Caloric Needs

Just as construction workers using gps excavators and desk jockeys who spend all day on the computer have very different caloric needs, no two people running a marathon need the same amount of fuel.

The first step to a foolproof race plan is to calculate your fueling needs using a fueling calculator, which is easy to find online. It will tally how many calories you need to intake during your run based on your body weight and how fast you are running.

The Taste Test

Once you know how many calories you need to eat during your race, start playing around with food and drink. Some people have sensitive stomachs and can barely stomach a gel, much less something solid.

One useful tool to use when choosing your food is the glycemic index. Each food is referenced by a number and the lower the number, the slower burning the food is.

Others can gobble down chocolate chip cookies at mile 18 with no problem. You want foods that will deliver a big load of easily digestible carbs for your body to burn off.

Some good choices include bananas, energy gels, energy blocks, and gummy candy (bears, worms, Swedish fish). Make sure that you are also taking in sports drink and water; play with the balance between these two to figure out what’s best for you, but remember that some sports drink is a necessity.

Why? Because you have to replace your electrolytes. Gatorade is arguably the best known product, but many others have entered the fray. A couple of the key ingredients are sodium and potassium.

And yes, in case you were wondering, Gatorade and G2 Thirst Quencher ready-to-drink varieties are kosher certified. Look for the Circled U symbol on the front of the label when looking to purchase kosher certified Gatorade products.

But sometimes these one-size-fits-all beverages just don’t do the trick as well as you would like. That’s the way it is in life with most things, right? The good news is that you can always experiment and come up with your own individual homemade sports drink. Choose the ingredients that work for you.

Practice Makes Perfect

One big mistake rookie runners often make is trying a new fueling strategy on race day. That is a dangerous strategy. Your body may react so poorly to a food you haven’t tried on the run that you get an upset stomach or, in the worst-case scenario, can’t even finish the race.

Make sure to practice fueling with the foods in at least two long runs before you do the actual race.

If something doesn’t sit well with you, don’t waste time trying it again. Move on to other foods and adjust your fueling strategy. Also remember to time when you’re ingesting your food as well as where you’ll be getting it; you might hold it yourself or have a spectator friend hand it over on the course.

Ultramarathons are Different

We already know that the rule of thumb is that you will hit “the wall” at the 20-mile mark. Well, the same is true in an ultra but instead of only having to hang on another six miles and change, you still have a long, long trek ahead of you.

Many ultras will provide food and fluids at the aid stations along the course. At other races you will have to pack your own chow in or recruit a support team to keep you supplied. No matter which scenario you find yourself in, eat early and eat often.

Whatever distance race you are doing, don’t neglect to indulge in your warm-up routine. Avoiding injury is key to a successful run!

About the Author:

Michelle is an aspiring writer with a passion for blogging. She enjoys writing about a vast variety of topics and loves that blogging gives her the opportunity to publicly voice her thoughts and share advice with an unlimited audience.

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