11th October 2019

Nutrition is an extremely important aspect of marathon running, for both performance and safety. Whatever the event, nutrition plays a major role in the achievement of various factors that will see a runner take the starting line in the best possible form. Everyday eating patterns must supply fuel and nutrients needed to optimise their performance during training sessions and to recover quickly afterwards. In this article today we will explore the role of Carbohydrates pre-event.

Race preparation should include strategies to store muscle glycogen (it is a stored form of glucose) in the amounts in proportion with the fuel needs of the event. For races < 90 min duration it is enough to normalise the glycogen concentrations associated with endurance training, which equal to Carbohydrate (CHO) intakes of 7-10 g/kg body mass for 24 h.

In the marathon and ultra-marathon where glycogen can become limiting for race performance, protocols which super compensate glycogen are beneficial. This means that as a runner you need to assume a higher dose of CHO involving 36-48 hours of intakes targeting 10-12 g/kg/d. In addition, runners are advised to undertake a low-fibres diet, which may reduce potential gut issue during the race.

Further contribution to fuel availability can be provided by a PRE-EVENT CHO focussed meal, and a small CHO (e.g. sports gel or drink) during the race warm-up.

This is particularly important for events undertaken in the morning where CHO intake can restore liver glycogen following an overnight fast as well as provide an ongoing supply of CHO from the gut.

Athletes should also consider fluid needs to achieve optimal hydration status for the event and specific race conditions. 

Dehydration and inadequate electrolyte levels are associated with heat illnesses which can occur during the race even if the weather is not necessarily hot. These include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat cramps can be painful but can be treated relatively easily by replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat and stretching the affected muscles.

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