Dietitians Dish: On your mark, get set, eat: Preparing proper food intake essential for marathon runners

Nov. 23, 2010 at 5:23 a.m.

Kendra Blaschke

Kendra Blaschke

By: Kendra D. Blaschke

You've paid the entry fee, bought running shoes, filled your iPod with the most up-beat running songs, printed out a training schedule and joined the local running club. Now what?

Marathon season is upon us once again, and many local athletes are starting to train for their first full - or half-marathon.

As everyone knows, training is key for successfully completing a marathon and this includes training your gut. To get the most out of each workout, you need to practice how you fuel, so come race day, you know exactly what to eat, when and how much.

By practicing, you will allow yourself to compete with optimal energy and without fear of intestinal distress.

Runners are more susceptible to intestinal distress because of the fact that blood flow is directed away from the gut to help meet the demands of running, which decreases the rate of stomach emptying. The constant jarring motion of running and dehydration may also lead to an aggravated stomach. To alleviate this GI issue, make sure to stay well-hydrated, choose low-fiber foods before workouts, limit caffeine and artificial sweeteners, and practice with different foods during training.

While there is not one certain meal or snack that will guarantee top-performance in everyone, following these simple guidelines while experimenting during training sessions will help you find what works best for your body.

Carbohydrates are fuel for long-distance events. A diet consisting of 55-65 percent carbohydrates is necessary during training. Going on a low-carb diet or even trying to lose weight rapidly during training will likely leave you tired and unmotivated.

While it is imperative to eat before your run, you must allow adequate time for digestion. The general rule is to allow three to four hours for a moderate to large meal to digest; two to three hours for a small meal or snack; and one to two 2 hours for a liquid meal. The main goal of the pre-run meal is to replenish liver glycogen stores and store fuel for later release.

All meals or snacks consumed four hours or less before a run should be high carbohydrates, low-fat and moderate in protein. For example, a meal consumed three to four 4 hours before an intense run/race might consist of a low-fiber breakfast cereal and fruited yogurt or some scrambled egg whites, toast and jam. The key is to practice with foods during training runs and use those same foods and timing for race day.

For those with timing constraints, eating one to two hours before a run/race might be your only option. Liquids are generally tolerated best. A breakfast shake, liquid meal replacement, a fresh fruit smoothie, or even a high-carb sports drink should provide you with highly digestible carbs that will give you the energy you need, without weighing you down.

If you know you will be nervous and unable to consume food the morning of a race, make sure you eat well the day before and even consume a high-carbohydrate late night snack, if possible.

Kendra Blaschke is a registered and licensed dietitian with a master's of science degree in nutrition. Send questions or comments to dietitians



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