Monday, May 13, 2013

Marathon Nutrition: Load De La Carb

While my legs have almost fully recovered from the marathon, my ass has remained firmly planted on my couch. Clearly my mind is not hastening me to break a sweat any time soon (oh the joys of nearly overtraining). Truth be told, I've been glad for the rest. I may head to the gym tomorrow.... but ONLY if I really feel like it, and only to get some blood flowing through my pegs. 

In the meantime, while I have not much to say on the subject of running, I have plenty to say on what went on with my nutrition last week, before, during and after the marathon. Aren't you a lucky bunch of people.

I was not really sure about how to approach carb-loading for the marathon. Some books say to increase carbs a week before, some three days before. Some say that you don't need to increase at all, and merely eating the same amount with less running will have a carb-loading effect.

For me, I am not naturally a big carb-eater (except for tortilla chips... don't even get me started). Resultingly, I don't have a terribly high carb diet, so I felt like I needed to be more proactive about getting increased carbs closer to the race.

So here's how it went down.  

5 Days from Race
I ate the same amount of calories (around 2000 calories per day, but this may have been more if I'd been running) but swapped out some fats and protein for carbs. For instance, I began eating a bit more oatmeal in the morning; instead of my tortilla wraps for lunch, I ate a sweet potato every day, with cheese, salsa and some ham. Delicious combo by the way. 

I added a lot more fruit (grapes and strawberries) as snacks to my diet and tried to eat a banana every day.

For dinner, I didn't really swap anything out, but added more rice, couscous and sweet potatoes (my dinners are typically pretty veggie/protein oriented).

3 Days from Race
I began increasing overall calories (not a huge amount, because I still wasn't running and my hunger had reduced dramatically), and making sure all my snacks were carby. I ate pretzels and rice crackers instead of yoghurt or veggies with hummus. I continued to eat fruit and sweet potatoes during the day. For "dessert" in the evening, I snacked on popcorn (instead of, for example, chocolate chip cookie dough ice-cream; i.e. the American creation that single-handedly prompted me to apply for citizenship. Whatever country is responsible for this deliciousness, I want to be a part of.)

The biggest change, however, was increasing my water intake. It was probably too low to begin with, so I had to concentrate on always pounding the water.  To mix it up, I also drank a ton of seltzer water and Vitamin Water Zero.

Saturday Before Race
I stopped eating dairy completely. I cut down on fruit and vegetables. I had oatmeal for breakfast, and snacked on a blueberry bagel throughout the day. I cooked up my traditional french toast for lunch with some fruit:

I also snacked on a bunch of rice cakes (4?), and even had a pop tart. OMG, how do they market those things to children?? And as a breakfast food???

I tried to drink a ton of water, and in the evening, had a bottle of gatorade with my meal of steamed rice, steamed shrimp and a small amount of broccoli (king of veggies, by the way).

Race Day
Before race:
  • 3 hours: 2/3 cup of oatmeal, a tiny bit of peanut butter, a banana, and a 20oz bottle of gatorade (around 450-500 calories or so) + 2 cups of coffee (strong)
  • 2 hours: more water
  • 10 minutes: 3 cliff shot blocks. I probably didn't need these, but I am kind of used to taking them now.
Kristen had mentioned a while back that she was considering carrying a handheld with some gatorade for the first part of the race, and then ditching it when it was done. I thought that sounded like a great idea to steal, and pass off as my own.

So during the race:
  • 10oz gatorade in the first 8 miles. I would really encourage any first time marathoner to do this. It really took the pressure off passing through the first few aid stations while I was still getting into my groove; but in a time when it was most important that I start getting fluids and electrolytes.
  • 3 Gus at miles 8, 15 and 20-21, two of which were caffeinated (never again!)
  • Fluids at every water station (every 2nd mile) after mile 9, even when I was not thirsty. I got this excellent advise from Rachelle; it was not something I would have done off my own bat.  I got a good amount of liquid each time (at least a gulp or two) and never felt dehydrated (and I sweat a looooot). [Side note: I'm becoming a massive pro at the close-the-cup-drink-while-running thing! Self high-five!]

How did I feel?
Throughout the race, I felt really well fueled. Frankly, I felt like I had been underfueling for my training, and I should probably have been drinking and eating like this (more fluids, higher # of calories and greater percentage of carbs) all along the way. In particular, I can point back to several workouts and tempo runs that likely suffered from under-fueling. This makes me feel a little silly, given how discerning I am with other aspects of my training. 

In any case, I felt better that week and the morning of the race by paying closer attention to my intake and making sure I got enough carbs and food in general. So important.

During the race, I didn't feel heavy, and never hit the wall. That said, I felt like I over-fueled slightly in the second half of the race, because my stomach was not happy with all the sugar by the end. Oh and the caffeinated Gus were a bad idea. I didn't suffer too badly , but it wasn't optimal, lets just say that.

There was nothing containing protein in the post-race food, so I felt like my muscles took a big blow in recovery from that. I shoved down a sugary granola bar to at least get some glycogen re-storage occurring. Next time I'll bring a protein bar or gatorade with protein just in case.

Throughout the afternoon I pretty bad, GI-wise... though I guess thats part of pushing your body to the edge like that. 

Add to that my dinner consumption of oily fries, buttery garlic bread, tons of sugar and several glass of champagne, I was not exactly giving myself the best send-off into recovery land. 

But, by that stage, I couldn't have cared in the slightest :)

So lessons learned? Eat and drink more (shock)! More carbs and water throughout training and perhaps I won't need quite as much on race-day.  

Does anyone else have any thoughts/advice on fueling for races? Do you eat/drink normally or dedicate your taper to working your way through the bread-basket/gatorade reserves? Do you count carbs or just roll with what feels good?


  1. This is so hard to get right - I generally don't change eating habits leading up to a race, but my diet is a little crappy anyway (*swallows Cheez-it paired with dried cranberry - yum*).
    I finally figured fueling out during the marathon last year: light oatmeal breakfast or no breakfast (it makes no difference to me), 2 or more cups coffee, then four gels throughout: half a gel at 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22. I try to toe the line between not enough fuel and throwing up!

    1. Cheez-its - another grand American invention! Must try the cranberry conbo. Yeah, fueling is tough. Balancing wall-hitting vs throwing up...its so unfortunate you don't know which direction you've gone too far until its too late!

  2. Hi Penny! I recently clicked over here from...gosh, I can't even remember who - someone, in a flurry of posts about the NJ Marathon. [I'm an NJ native who's living faaaaar away from NJ - so this makes me feel a little closer to a state I love. Don't judge. NJ and I have a lot of history!]

    Anyway, figured I'd chime in here...I usually keep things pretty much the same, since I eat rather carb-heavy anyway. In the day or two before a big race, I may tone down the "troublesome" veggies, and make SURE I'm eating enough carbs. I don't count them, though - just look for a steady-but-not-excessive input. And I make sure I'm welllll hydrated.

    [Also, when I have post-race GI distress, it's usually because my electrolytes got out of whack. Maybe you lost more salt than your Gatorade replaced? Just a thought!]

    Anyway - awesome race, and thanks for the report! :)

    1. Hi Holly! Thanks for your comment! Oh, Im so glad you felt a little bit closer to NJ; I feel EXACTLY the same way anytime someone references something in Australia :) Plus, the race was really beautiful. I had no idea that the simple suburban streets would be as pretty, and as lively, as they were. And of course, the shoreline was stunning (unfortunately I didn't get to appreciate it in the final few miles - just concentrating on not dying!)

      I had not thought of the electrolyte issue before, so thanks for that! Definitely something for me to look into, because I do sweat a TON.
      ~ Penny

  3. Smart stuff...I've never been too methodical with my fueling, still don't have any patterns or perfection. This is helpful though! I think next time, I will try to avoid dairy the day before a race. Never thought about that. What is that about? Also, the hydrating all week. Never thought about doing that. I'm smart.

    My race fuel is something like...grab gatorade at as many stations as possible...try to finish two or three Gus, or some chomps. I would guess I take in 400-500 sugar calories during a marathon, which sure doesn't seem like a lot....but man it NEVER sounds like the right thing to do while running. I just want water water water.