To begin with:
- Watch your weight –
Despite thinking that training for a marathon will result in easy weight loss, surprisingly the opposite can happen and runners can fin they gain weight (and it’s not muscle weight). This is because they are rewarding themselves or using sports products in appropriately. If you do a 40 minute run, there is no need to think you have earned that extra piece of cake and or a second helping of pasta. Equally you don’t need to ‘fuel up’ with a high energy sports drink before you start or after you have finished.
- Drink more water –
Get into the habit of always being well hydrated so you can get the most out of every training session. Even mild dehydration (not enough to feel thirsty) impacts your performance and can be demotivating. Drink little and often rather than taking large amounts of water in one go. If you drink a large amount of water at once, the water will be quickly absorbed and will expand the blood volume. Volume receptors in the heart will detect an increase of blood volume and will trigger excretion of some water from the blood through the kidneys before the water could reach the body cells. Therefore drinking will be less efficient than drinking smaller amounts, so try to get into the habit of always having a water bottle to hand.
- Nourish your body –
In the early stages of your training, nourishment is more important than fuel. For training sessions or runs of an hour or less, all you need before and after is water to replace losses in sweat. But eating nutritious foods helps support your immune system, which can be particularly vulnerable in the cold winter months. You don’t want to be plagued with irritating colds and coughs when you should be out running, so boost your intake of foods that can help to bolster your immune system by including oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines), nuts, avocados, green leafy vegetables, brightly coloured fruit and veg such as peppers, tomatoes, melon, mangoes, tomatoes and butternut squash. Home made vegetable soups are ideal!
As the training builds:
- Start to practice your strategy –
As your miles increase and the weekly long run gets longer you need to start to think about your strategy for marathon day, what and when you will eat and drink during the race. Lots of runners favour the gels because they are fast and convenient, but many people find the taste and texture unpleasant. They may even cause an upset tummy if you take too many. The most important thing is to practice, practice, practice! And never take anything on marathon day that is different to what took during training, it would be like starting the race in brand new trainers.
- Get prepared –
If you’re not keen on the gels, sweets work just as well. Jelly babies or jelly beans are popular choices, but think about the fact you will have to chew them. Dextrose sweets are effective but can make your mouth feel dry. My favourite choice is Dolly Mixtures as they taste good and dissolve in the mouth.
Whatever you choose, start to carry it with you on your runs and take every 5 miles. You will also need to carry your own water although on race day this will be available every 5k, so try to mirror this while training.
- Prepare and recover on long runs –
As the training runs start to exceed 2 hours, think about what you need to eat beforehand and afterwards to aid recovery. If your long runs are first thing on a Sunday morning, what you eat on Saturday evening becomes more important. A spicy take away is not ideal! Think about upping your intake of starchy carbohydrates, a simple chicken and rice dish the night before is easy to digest and will boost your energy for the next day.
When you get back, have a high protein snack that will help your muscles recover. A chocolate milkshake/protein shake or a high protein bar, some scrambled eggs or a bowl of yogurt, nuts and chopped fruit will do the trick. Don’t leave it too long (even if you don’t feel like eating) as the amino acids need to get into your body quickly for them to be most effective.
As the big day approaches:
- Focus on carbohydrate –
In the last few weeks and before the event itself, use the previous 48 hours to build up your carbohydrate stores. Carbohydrate is stored in the body as glycogen, there is a limited capacity for how much you can store and stores deplete throughout the day through normal daily activity.
You don’t need to overeat you can build up your stores by having well balanced meals and extra carbohydrate based snacks between your meals.
Carbohydrate comes rice, pasta, bread, potatoes and other starchy foods like malt loaf and teacakes. It also comes from fruit (bananas, dried fruit), juices, dairy products like yogurt and sugary foods like honey and jam.
- Drink plenty of water, aim for 2 litres per day, taken little and often throughout the day.
- Practice your eating routine so you become comfortable with it.
Example of a 2 day carbohydrate plan
Bowl of porridge oats made with up with milk, stir in a grated apple and chopped berries, honey and a pinch of cinnamon
Glass of freshly squeezed orange juice
Tea or coffee or water
Fruity chicken couscous
Make up 150g couscous or brown rice and quinoa and mix with a chopped spring onion, half a pepper, 6 cherry tomatoes, 2 tbsp of tinned chickpeas, 1 tbsp raisins or chopped dried apricots, 1 tbsp walnuts, seeds of a pomegranate and cooked diced chicken breast
Glass of cranberry, beetroot or cherry juice (good for blood circulation)
Baked salmon fillet with baked sweet potato wedges and a corn on the cob served with broccoli or green beans
200ml Greek yogurt mixed with 2 tbsp blueberries and a tbsp of dried cherries
2 crumpets with mashed banana and a drizzle of honey
2 mini wholemeal pitta pockets filled with 2 tbsp of hummus, grated beetroot
Total energy: 2834 kcal
3 scrambled egg mixed with handful of baby spinach leaves and a tbsp of snipped chives served on 2 slices of thick cut wholemeal toast
2-3 tbsp Greek yogurt with a sliced pear and a tbsp of walnuts
Glass of apple juice
Tea or coffee or water
Bowl of butternut squash and sweet potato soup served with a toasted multigrain bagel spread with soft cheese, sliced beetroot and rocket leaves
Banana and strawberry smoothie (half a banana, 6-7 strawberries, 200ml soya or almond milk)
Chicken, mushroom and spinach risotto
Apple and blackberry oat topped crumble with custard
3 Scotch pancakes with mashed banana and honey
3-4 oatcakes topped with guacamole and cherry tomatoes
Total energy: 2994
Wishing you all the best of luck!