Next to training, proper fueling is the most important aspect to a successful race.
Written by: Linzay Logan
Next to training for a marathon or half-marathon, proper fueling is the most important aspect to a successful race. Without proper nutrition before and during a race, you are likely to hit the infamous wall, or maybe even the ground.
Eating the right kind and amount of calories starts way before race day, but in terms of performance during the race, proper nutrition the morning of and during the race is most important.
The best general rule to go with is to fuel up about two hours prior to the race and then refuel every 60-90 minutes during the race. Every study on this subject suggests different amounts of calories, carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fluids so experimenting to find out what works for you is the best policy.
Just don’t do any experimenting on race day. During the race do not go for anything you don’t know your body can tolerate. The morning of a race is not a good time to find out the texture and taste of energy gel for the first time and then not have a water station in sight. The shock of this completely foreign chemical-flavored gooey substance might even make you spill your cookies. During one of my sister’s last long runs she tried a gel for the first time and couldn’t believe the texture. She called me furious later that day because I hadn’t warned her about it. She also made the mistake of letting the gel sit in the car to warm up before she choked it down. I would definitely recommend avoiding warm gel.
In addition to trying energy gels during your training, drink water and several different types of sport drinks to see what your stomach handles best. Find out what drinks and energy gels the marathon or half-marathon you are running will be supplying along the course and try them out on your long runs. Also, try out different pre-race snacks such as energy bars, toast and oatmeal. Once you find your ideal breakfast and race fueling techniques do not stray from them on race day. Eat and drink what works for you.
I have found what works best for me is to drink 12-16 ounces of Gatorade and eat one or two pieces of toast with peanut butter two hours before a race. To refuel during the race I drink a cup of water and eat a Gu or some Honey Stinger energy chews every hour or so. This method keeps me hydrated, but not too hydrated, and fueled with just the right amount of calories, caffeine and carbs.
At the end of the day, the best policy to follow is to listen to your body. If you are thirsty, drink some water. If you are feeling a little depleted, take in some calories. Hopefully with proper nutrition and fueling you won’t get to the point where you feel your thirst or need for calories, but if you do, now you know what to do. These specifics may seem like a lot to experiment with and maybe even a little scary considering what terrible kinds of things can happen (remember, there are almost always port-o-potties along the course!), but it certainly it is all worth it come race day when everything you have trained for is finally put to the test.
Linzay Logan is the copy editor for Competitor magazine and cares about punctuation probably a little too much. She particularly loves to avoid commas as well as add exclamation points whenever she can get away with it! She also loves to run marathons and half-marathons—probably a little too much. Don’t let her small size fool you; she’ll still try to outrun you anytime. Even though chances are she probably can’t.