Fuelling a Virtual Marathon

Whether you are training for your first ever marathon or you have lost count of how many times you have covered 42kms, Marathon events this year are a new experience for everyone. The lack of crowd encouragement and the absence of hundreds of others running around you may be out of your hands which makes it more important than ever that you control what you can. Although this won’t impact the days leading up to the event, it poses a number of challenges and opportunities during the race itself. You can also begin your recovery immediately as you potentially finish at your front door. Our official Training Partner Science in Sport have some tips for fuelling a virtual marathon.

One week to go

One week out from the race you should have already trialed your race day strategy. If you are a few weeks out make sure you have a session planned for this. Use your second to last long run to trial exactly what you plan to do on race day from your carb load all the way through to your last kilometer. The purpose of this is to reduce the risk of any gastro-intestinal distress or worry caused by unfamiliarity on race day itself. If things don’t go to plan use your last long run to adjust your strategy. 

As you taper down your training during race week, your intake should reflect this, in terms of overall calorie intake and particularly CHO intake daily. However, you should be used to this by now as you have spent the last few months getting used to fuelling runs of varying distance and intensity. You don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary until 48 hours before the race.

48 hours to go

Your fuelling strategy as mentioned previously is critical and this doesn’t begin on the start line. This begins well in advance. Events lasting between 90 minutes and 3 hours require only 24 hours of loading, whereas for anything longer you need to carbohydrate load for 48 hours. Therefore, unless you are a very experienced runner you need to carbohydrate load for 48 hours. This involves taking on 8-10g per kilogram of bodyweight of carbohydrates every 24 hours.

For example, if you weigh 75kg, aim to consume 600-750g of carbohydrates each day on the two days prior to the race. This may seem like a lot and the truth is it is in comparison to what you will be used to consuming daily. This further highlights the need to trial your strategy in preparation for training runs.

The purpose of consuming carbohydrates in this quantity is to increase your stores of muscle glycogen. During a marathon you use your fat stores and carbohydrate stored in the muscle and liver as a fuel source. The higher your muscle glycogen stores are on race day, the longer they will take to deplete. This increases the length of time it will take for your body to become reliant on its fat stores and carbohydrate consumed during the race. Ultimately this will delay fatigue and lead to a faster time.

When it comes to the practicality of intaking such a high quantity of carbohydrates, stomach discomfort can be barrier to this. Avoid this by consuming carbohydrates high on the glycemic index (GI). High GI foods are digested faster and absorbed by the muscle more effectively. Whereas low GI foods such as pasta, brown rice or rolled oats are often higher in fiber and taking on these foods in high quantities can lead to gastro-intestinal discomfort. Therefore, consume plenty of simple low fiber foods such as white rice, mashed potato (without the skin) or white bread to make hitting your carbohydrate targets possible.

Also consider your hydration strategy the day before the race. As well as ensuring you go into race day fully hydrated, drinking plenty of fluid will also aid the absorption of carbohydrate into the muscle. You can kill two birds with one stone by having a couple of glasses of fruit juice the day before a race. I also recommend making sure your salt intake is increased the day before a race. You can you do this by having a SiS Hydro tab with your meal. This will ensure your sodium levels are higher prior to the race, as you will lose salt through sweating on race day.

Race day

As most marathon events this year are virtual, this is a huge opportunity to fuel exactly as you have planned. Firstly, assuming that you are running from your front door, you won’t need to deal with fuelling at awkward times whilst travelling to the event. This is a chance to get everything spot on.

Assuming your race starts at 10:00, aim to consume your last meal 2-4 hours prior and take on high carbohydrate snacks in the build-up. The key thing with regards to both timing and contents of the meal is familiarity. Eat what you are used to eating before a long rung. As you have already carbohydrate loaded, the primary purpose of the pre-race meal is to top up energy stores you have lost overnight, so there is no need to go overboard with regards to portion size. Prioritise an easy to digest carbohydrate source, such as a bowl of porridge with banana as well as a protein source, which could be a low-fat Greek yoghurt. Make sure you also top up your fluid and salt stores by having a Hydro tab with this meal.

Up until the race, consume small amounts of easy to digest carbohydrates, such as flapjack, ricecakes or Go Energy Bakes. You can also take on carbohydrate here in drink form by sipping on a bottle of Go Electrolyte. Once again, familiarity is key. Only eat and drink tried and tested food and drink prior to a long run.

When it comes to the race itself, you have an amazing opportunity to time your carbohydrate intake exactly when you need it. Consider having friends waiting every few kilometres to hand you your fuel and fluid for example. If you are running a lop a few times, products could even be left outside your own home, again saving you from carrying them on you.

Aim to consume at least 60g of carbohydrate every hour. Practically, aiming for 20g every 20 minutes is a helpful target. It is important that you consume carbohydrate in this quantity from the first hour. Although you may not feel like you need it initially, you will thank yourself when you enter the last 10km. Whether your strategy involves a gel every 20 minutes or a Go Energy Bake every 30 minutes it is important to be flexible. Although this strategy should be tried and tested having alternative products available is a luxury that you may not have had during races before when carrying all your own fuel. If you can’t stomach another gel, have the option of a bar or drink available.

During the race you should aim to lose no more than 2-3 % of your body mass. As a strong starting point aim to take on ~500ml of fluid per hour but bear in mind that your requirements will increase in hot weather. Once again, the flexibility that competing in this Marathon virtually allows you to have poses an opportunity. If the sun comes out and the temperature increase 2 hours into the race you can easily switch to Turbo+ powder, which will help you feel cooler and make it easier to maintain performance levels.

Recovery

Following the race, you can begin the recovery process immediately as you are most likely at or nearer to home. Although a celebratory pint with all your family and friends in the pub may not be possible this year due to restrictions, it is so important to unwind and enjoy yourself after such an incredible achievement.

However, your body will thank you the next day if you prioritise recovery for the next few hours as well as enjoying a meal out or a few drinks to celebrate. When it comes to recovery, focus on the 3 R’s: Rehydrate, Refuel and Rebuild. This will reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

Rehydrate

Weigh yourself after the race an aim to replace 150% of the wight you have lost through sweating. For example, if you have lost 1.5kg, aim to consume 1500ml of fluid on top of meeting daily guidelines of 2.5-3 litres daily.

Refuel

Replacing carbohydrate stores you have lost is also a priority. Aim to replenish these stores with a portion of 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates every 3 hours for the next 12 hours.

Rebuild

Always aim for at least 1.5g/kg of protein daily. This is particularly important following a marathon, as protein plays a vital role in repairing muscle fibers damaged during exercise.

Consuming a REGO+ shake immediately after your race will help you tick these three boxes immediately. If you are eating out or getting a takeaway to celebrate following the race, simply aim for a big portion of carbohydrate, protein and make sure you rehydrate. Whether it is chicken and rice from Nando’s or Fish and Chips, if you do those three things you will be well on your way to recovering. Bear in mind how many calories you have just burnt. Consume high calorie foods following a marathon is not an issue, in fact it is a priority. Best of luck with the marathon and remember to keep things simple, familiar and do all you can to capitalize on the opportunity of a virtual marathon

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