As you probably know by now (or will know very soon), runners need to pay close attention to the types of foods they are putting in their bodies. It is important to eat a healthy diet full of complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, and lots of water. Now, that’s all fine and dandy, but what should a runner eat before a marathon? That is a long time to run – what is the best fuel source to keep one going for that long?
As you train for your marathon, it is important to treat all of your long-runs as a dress rehearsal for your marathon. Be sure to keep track what kinds of foods you eat the day before your long-run, as well as the food you eat before you set out on your run. Pay attention to your body – are you having stomach cramps or gastrointestinal issues, feeling nauseous? These can all be signs that what you ate prior to your run is probably not agreeing with your stomach and most likely not what you want to eat before your marathon. In other words – experiment. I, for one, cannot eat cheese ravioli before a long-run. I remember thinking that cheese ravioli might be a good night-before-my-long-run-meal kind of meal because of the combination of protein and carbohydrates (protein and carbs eaten together help your body make the most efficient use of the ingested glucose). In theory, this may have been a good idea, but for me, I ended up having a really sluggish, lethargic run, and ultimately, I just wanted to lie down on the sidewalk and take a nap. Not a good experience, but I learned this during that long run, as opposed to learning the hard way- during my first marathon. For most runners, the best advice is to have a high carb meal during lunch the day before your marathon, and a lighter meal at night. Thus, you most likely won’t have undigested food sitting in your stomach come race morning. Despite all the running and cross training I do, I tend to have a really slow metabolism, so this system works well for me. For example, for my marathon in Fox Valley, I ate a six-inch veggie sub for lunch the day before (I actually intended on eating more but my nerves wouldn’t allow it) and a veggie pizza with no cheese for dinner. Apparently my body felt like this was just the right amount of carbs and proteins as I didn’t have any stomach issues during my marathon, and I had plenty of energy. So again, experiment with different kinds of foods in the time leading up to marathon race day before all your long runs.
Plenty O’ Carbohydrates
It is also important to take in plenty of carbs during the last few weeks leading up to your marathon. Also, limit fats! Cookies, candy and ice cream may seem like good sources of carbs to fill up your glycogen tank, but foods with high concentrations of fat will only sit in your stomach, weigh you down, and potentially lead to some stomach issues. So, stick with complex carbs that digest easily and don’t give your stomach any trouble. Here are some good examples of complex carbohydrates. Needless to say, you may find that your diet becomes a little boring leading up to race day – who cares. You can go crazy once you cross that finish line! (And you will, trust me.)
Also, hopefully this goes without saying, but be sure to drink lots and lots of fluids in the weeks leading up to your race. One rule to live by is the straw test. If your urine is the color of straw or lighter, you’re good to go. If not, drink more fluids. Also, be sure to consume some sports drinks as well. Fluids such as Gatorade and Powerade have potassium and sodium, both of which are essential for a runner to perform his/her best.
Yeah great, so what the heck should I eat??!!
Now, as far as what to eat the morning of a marathon – this can get a little tricky. There are some experts out there who say to eat a very light meal of easily digestible carbs at least 2-3 hours before your marathon. This can consist of half a bagel, a banana, and some peanut butter. As previously mentioned, experiment your pre-race meal during your long-runs! I cannot stress this enough. The last thing you need to do the morning of your marathon is rummage around in the fridge for something to eat without knowing how it will affect your stomach and overall performance. You may also consider not eating at all before your race. By now, you have hopefully been filling your glycogen tank for weeks. If so, you will most likely have plenty of fuel on board to successfully run your race. If you do chose to go this route, again, experiment with this strategy during your long-runs, say your 20 and 22-milers. Squeeze down some GU and some water before you set out and see how it goes. Listen to your body – feeling sluggish? No energy? You may need to eat something small next time. Feeling good? Lots of energy? Maybe a GU breakfast is all you need. Again – experiment.
Investigate and Experiment
So, in the end, no one can tell you what you should eat or drink before your marathon. There is LOTS of information out there and most of it is very good; just be sure to do your own investigating and experimenting before race day.