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Congratulations! You’re ready for NYC marathon day. You’ve done all your training runs, have been eating according to the plan, sleeping well, and now can’t hold your excitement for your big day. It's time to look like Shalane Flanagan when you make it to the finish line.
With less than a week leading up to one of the most exhilarating days in your life, you’re probably focused on fueling up and wondering which foods and strategies are best to call it a success. And that’s why I am here. To help you optimize what, when and how to eat and drink before, during and after your big race.
Ideally, you’ve been eating lots of high-nutrient, real foods, and very little or no processed sugars. And you know you should to stick to what has worked so far and not try anything new. The best you can do now is to fine-tune what you’ve been doing and enjoy the big day. Without further ado…
48 hours before marathon day
For ideas on food combinations, READ: EATING RIGHT PRE AND POST WORKOUTS
- Eat the same quantity of food and replace half of the protein with carbs. I am a big advocate of adjusting the carbs to protein ratio instead of the traditional “carbs-loading” approach. Overeating carbs can make you feel sluggish, and that’s the last thing you need when running a marathon.
- Avoid raw veggies and high-fiber foods such as beans, granola bars, and bran cereals. Fiber slows down both your digestion and the absorption of carbs.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you’re experiencing headaches, that can be a sign that you’re not drinking enough fluids. Drink a few glasses of water before you blame your symptoms to something else.
The night before marathon day
- Eat a carb-focused dinner with very little protein, skip fiber, and stock up on fluids and salt to pre-hydrate.
- Even if you think you don’t have a problem with dairy, go easy on it as it can slow down your digestion.
- Sleep well. Don’t let your excitement prevent you from 8-10 hours of quality sleep.
- Eat at least 3 hours before the race.
- By the time you wake up, your body has used a lot of your stored carbs to support your nervous system. Have a carb-focused breakfast to make sure you have enough fuel. Avoid also high-fiber, high-fat, and high-protein foods.
- Drink enough fluids but don’t force it. We, humans, can’t store extra water as camels do. If you overdrink, you’ll need a lot of bathroom breaks and will feel bloated. The color of your urine is an excellent indicator of your hydration levels. The lighter, the more hydrated you are. 12-16 ounces a few hours before the race is the general recommendation.
During the race
The 3 most important sources of fuel you need are fluids, carbs, and salt. Where can you get that from?
When and how often should you eat and drink?
- Try bananas and coconut water before anything else. Bananas give you lots of energy, a good amount of electrolytes, and are easy to digest. Coconut water (without added sugar) is a pure source of electrolytes and a much healthier option than sports drinks.
- Gels and blocks are ok if you really need a quick fix. Not my first choice, but listen to your body and make a decision based on how you respond to that.
- Snack bars take too much effort to eat, are too dry, and many of them are not the healthiest. Replace them with dried fruit or nuts or choose those without agave nectar or safflower oil. READ: FOOD LABELS AND HEALTHY CHOICES MADE SIMPLE
- It's better not to have any sugary snacks from the race stations for the first 20 miles. Processed sugar will give you an incredible boost, but it’ll be hard to keep it going for the full 26.2 miles.
- Have your first snack 30 minutes into the race, then every 60 minutes or whenever your body asks for it.
- Drink only when you’re thirsty. Too much water can deplete your salt levels and cause headaches and cramps.
After the marathon
You’ve done it! Congratulations! Such an amazing accomplishment!
It takes your body up to 3 weeks to recover from a marathon. Here are some strategies to accelerate your recovery:
What do you think? Are you now super ready to fly through those 26.2 miles of heaven? You're going to rock it!
- 30 minutes to an hour after your race is when your body is primed to absorb nutrients most efficiently and prevent further muscle breakdown. Hydrate with water/coconut water and refuel with protein, fruit, veggies, and anti-inflammatory foods. Healthy ideas: eggs, fish, bananas, berries, nut butter, hemp seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, hummus.
- Take an ice bath (half body) for 20 minutes to reduce inflammation. Epsom salt can amplify its anti-inflammatory benefits and give you a significant boost of magnesium.
- Go for a short run the next day to avoid the “runner’s blues”. When you run you produce endorphins that reduce your perception of pain.