Donegal nutritionist Thérèse Laverty shares expert tips for eating and drinking right before, during and after a marathon.

The Donegal Marathon gets going on Sunday, 20th August 2017, are you ready? Whether you’re taking part this year or doing a long-distance run in the future, take note of these tips from nutritionist and Sport Development Officer at Donegal Sports Partnership, Thérèse Laverty, for getting your energy right for race day.

Keep Hydrated

It’s important that people consider fluid intake not only on race day but also in the weeks leading up to the event. In my experience people tend to underestimate fluid requirements, failing to meet their recommended intakes. Maintaining hydration is crucial for marathon runners and a strategy for this should be included in an overall nutrition plan. 

Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, headache and fatigue, and even small losses (2% body mass) can impair performance. During training, the easiest way to monitor hydration is by urine colour; pale straw colour generally indicates adequate hydration whereas dark colours are suggestive of dehydration.  Another useful tool is for athletes to weigh themselves pre and post training, replacing every kg of weight lost with 1.2-1.5L of fluid.

On race day, drink regularly throughout the race consuming 150-200mls every 15-20 minutes, sports drinks (isotonic) are a convenient way of maintaining/replacing fluids whilst providing fuel in the form of carbohydrate and also supplying electrolytes.  Consider also climatic conditions with sweat rates often higher in hot conditions. 

Fuel your Body

Optimising nutrition during the race helps prevent fatigue, maintain fluid and electrolyte balance and maximise the distance and intensity at which you can run.  Fuel is provided via muscle and liver glycogen so during the race you should ensure you have regular access to food and fluid to help top this up.

The recommended intake is 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour (600-1000ml sports drink), this can be achieved by consuming fluids or food. As mentioned, isotonic drinks provide fluids, carbohydrate and electrolytes.  Consider small and practical foods which are available at stations throughout the course and can be eaten on the run (sports bars, fruit, dried fruit, and sports gels).

Sports gels and bars provide carbohydrate in a compact format which can be easily carried by athletes making them a convenient source of fuel for events at high intensity lasting 60 minutes or more. It is important that athletes don’t experiment on race day, refuelling and rehydration strategies should be practiced in the weeks leading up to the race.

Athletes should stick to fluids and foods which are familiar and can be tolerated; this will help prevent gastrointestinal upset which may hinder race performance.

Carbohydrates are not the Enemy

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding nutrition and people find it hard to source credible information.

Carbohydrate is not the enemy, it is a crucial fuel for marathon running. Body carbohydrate stores (liver and muscle glycogen) are limited and when the stores are insufficient to meet the fuel requirements of an athlete’s diet there will be consequential results including fatigue, inability to train hard and reduced performance. 

As training and distance covered increase, so too does the requirement for carbohydrate. Intakes should be planned around key training sessions and meals based on foods and snacks that are high in carbohydrate.

Eating large amounts of carbohydrate can be a challenge so you need to be clever; include carbohydrate rich healthy snacks in your overall training diet (fruit/smoothies/cereal bars). 


Race Day

The aim of pre-race preparation is to top up body fuel stores with food whilst also trying to achieve adequate levels of hydration with fluids. Compare your body to a car: you are essentially filling your tank for a long journey.

In the few days leading up to the event there will be a general decline in training. During this time, ensure you eat regularly, consuming a little extra carbohydrate with each meal, but be careful to avoid overeating at mealtimes.

On race day timing is imperative, the pre-event meal should be consumed 2-4 hours before the race (high carbohydrate breakfast – cereal and milk/fruit and yogurt/beans and toast) and a top up snack (fruit/cereal bar/isotonic drink) can be consumed one hour in advance of the event, if necessary. 

Some people struggle with solid foods for a variety of reasons including nerves, so liquid meals such as smoothies may be a more suitable option, find out what works best for you. Remember foods should be tried and tested during training to avoid experimenting on race day.

After the Race

Marathon running results in nutrition stress including loss of nutrients, fluid losses and damage to muscles. Recovery should focus on refuelling with carbohydrate (replenishing body glycogen stores), repairing and rebuilding your muscles with protein and rehydration with fluids and electrolytes.

After finishing a race consuming adequate fuel to optimise recovery may be difficult due to diminished appetite so select foods which are easy to tolerate including liquid meals. 

Within 20-30 minutes after completing the race, muscles are very receptive to rebuilding glycogen; eat a carbohydrate rich snack combined with a source of protein e.g.  Flavoured milk and fruit, yogurt and nuts/cereal bar, smoothie or fruit milkshake in order to maximise refuelling.

A more substantial meal should then be consumed within 2-4 hours, again this should be carbohydrate rich and with a supply of protein e.g.  Chicken stir fry and rice, spaghetti bolognese, fajitas, jacket potato with tuna/beans and salad. 

Rehydration is also crucial, so ensure you replace fluids gradually over the 24 hours following the race and don’t wait until you are thirsty. Celebrations may be in order after completing a marathon but before consuming alcohol ensure you are fully rehydrated and have consumed a substantial meal. 

The Donegal Marathon takes place on Sunday 20th August at 9.20am. Online registration closes on Friday 18th at 5pm and runners and walkers can register via Children of all ages are also invited to take part in the inaugural Donegal Marathon 1K Kids Fun Run.