After months of hard training, race day has finally arrived. Now it’s time to give your best. But in order to succeed, it is important to eat right. On the one hand, to optimise performance and, on the other hand, to avoid the risk of wasting all the work of the past months due to an unnecessary nutritional error. Even the smallest details make a difference in endurance competitions. So let’s identify together the right nutrition for race day.
First, a premise: whether it is breakfast, the energy snack before the start, or supplements during the race, you must test everything in training! Do not try new products on race day, test them during the long sessions to avoid surprises such as gastrointestinal problems.
The marathon is the epitome of endurance sports, and pushes your body beyond its limits by producing extreme effort. To avoid collapsing and get to the finish line, it is necessary that our energy supplies are always full. Carbohydrates are runners’ primary source of energy, and it is important, especially in the three days before the race, to stock up on them (nutrition and marathon preparation). Carbohydrates are in fact the main fuel for high intensity exercise (whereas fats are rather medium to low intensity). They supply energy to the muscles much faster, but the problem is that the reserves are much smaller than for fats.
The runner’s goal is therefore twofold: to start the race with good reserves, and to refuel adequately during the race.
Breakfast before the marathon
The pre-race breakfast is crucial for a good performance. It should be eaten about three hours beforehand, and should mirror that of the last month’s training, without any surprises that could complicate the digestive process.
Obviously, carbohydrates are the central element. If you often suffer from gastrointestinal problems, limit your consumption of fats and proteins, they take longer to digest. Prioritize foods with a high glycaemic index, such as white bread, cereals, jam, honey, yoghurt, dried fruit. Test dairy or fibre content products in training, some people cannot tolerate them.
An example of a breakfast could be as follows:
- 1 cup of tea or coffee
- 10 g honey
- 1 semi-skimmed yoghurt
- 30 g of muesli
- 40 g wholemeal rusks
- 30 g of jam
- 20 g walnuts or hazelnuts
Total kcal: 500-520 (70% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 20% fat)
The choice can differ depending on the person’s digestive capacity, and their taste (you can replace sweet with savoury, e.g. toast with ham).
If you have little time and eat breakfast 2 hours before the start, you can keep the same foods but almost halve the quantity.
Pre-race tension can play tricks on the digestive system, which is why it is important to eat easily digestible food. Those who suffer from these problems can drink isotonic regenerating drinks an hour before the start.
If too many hours pass between breakfast and the race start, treat yourself to a small snack of dried fruit or an energy bar 1 hour beforehand. And of course, don’t forget to drink at least one glass of water every hour!
Articles on hydration:
- Drinking during competition – how much, when and what?
- Hydration and Running: 3 Common Mistakes
- Avoiding dehydration during running – how much fluid should you consume?
During the marathon
As explained above, in endurance competitions, where the physical effort exceeds 1 hour, it is necessary to replenish the micronutrients lost during the run, particularly carbohydrate reserves (generally finished after 1.5/2 hours).
In races exceeding 2 hours, athletes would need 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour (it is preferable to divide the intake into 10 to 20 grams every 20 minutes). This level can be achieved through various foods, such as sports drinks, gels, solid foods, energy bars and chewable tablets. The aim is to take in immediate energy (we recommend products based on maltodextrins).
Everything must obviously be tested in training to avoid gastrointestinal disturbances. Sports drinks are generally tolerated. Typically, one litre contains 60-70 grams of carbohydrates, as well as sodium and other minerals. As far as gels are concerned, it is preferable to combine them with liquids, in order to have both energy and water intake and to ensure that gastric emptying is rapid and free of digestive complications. They are a compact form of energy; the amount of carbohydrates is about 20-25 grams in a small volume of fluid. Bars and solid foods provide more carbohydrates and are therefore an effective source of energy and a good way to prevent the feeling of emptiness in the stomach. The disadvantage is that chewing is more complicated under stress and during running. Finally, chewable tablets are a compromise between bars and gels: firmer than gels but easier to handle than bars.
For the last quarter of the marathon, caffeine can improve performance.
In any case, never miss a refuelling point and drink a sip of water every 15 minutes (we recommend a fluid intake of 4 to 8 dl per hour). This is the best way to avoid both cramps and hitting the wall.
After the marathon
You’ve done it! After many months of sacrifice and effort, you have crossed the finish line, congratulations! Now you can relax and celebrate, but don’t forget to replenish the large amount of fluids and nutrients lost during the race!
For at least a couple of hours after the end of the competition, it is best to replenish mainly liquids and minerals. Drink plenty, but distribute evenly. Drinks based on maltodextrin or fructose also replenish glycogen. Energy/muscle-detoxifying supplements and mineral salt supplements are ideal.
After two hours, you can eat a generous plate of pasta for carbohydrates (to replenish glycogen stores), and a main course of meat or fish with a side of vegetables for protein (to help repair muscle tissue). Season your food lightly, avoid junk food and alcohol in the hours following the marathon.
Of course, in the evening you can celebrate with your friends, colleagues and family, and you can finally let loose by toasting your success with a beer – with or without alcohol!