Running a marathon: What you need to know about nutrition before, during and after a race

Tom Cragg, the UK Head Coach at Running With Us, tells us that to be a marathon runner you need to be an energy expert. Running 26.2 miles is not about speed, it’s about fuel economy. You’re aiming to run as fast as you can, whilst ensuring you don’t exhaust your tank. After all, you can be driving the fastest race car in the world, but if it hasn’t got fuel, it’s little more than an expensive park bench.

As a runner, your approach to nutrition before and during a race can make or break all those months of hard training. Follow this advice to learn how to master your nutrition and have an enjoyable marathon.

Before

Champion breakfast

Nerves can make runners lose sight of what we know works pre-race. However, there’s nothing more important than a good energy-filled breakfast. Aim to have breakfast 2-3 hours before the race and ensure you eat plenty. Porridge, toast, bagels with jam, honey and bananas are all typical choices. Ideally, eat slowly over the course of 20-30 minutes. That way, you’ll be able to take on more whilst also digesting your food better and limiting potential digestive discomfort. We also recommend having 500-750ml of HIGH5 EnergySource with your breakfast so you load up on carbs.

Bridge the gap

For many there can be quite a gap between breakfast and the race start. You need to bridge this gap and prepare yourself for the case of a delayed start. Have a HIGH5 EnergyBar about 60 minutes before the start and sip on HIGH5 EnergySource up to the final 15 minutes.

The final 15 minutes

Have your final few sips of fluid and a HIGH5 EnergyGel 15 minutes before the gun goes. Now stay calm and remember your best training sessions. You are ready!

During

Man topping up bottle with HIGH5 Energy Source

Go for gels

During the race we strongly recommend energy gels over other sources of fuel. They are convenient, easy to carry and in a controlled size. EnergyGel and IsoGels both work well but opt for IsoGels if you prefer a higher water content.

Don’t hold back

Most runners take on too little during their race and suffer as a result. We would recommend that you take a gel every 20-30 minutes throughout a race. That means some runners will be taking on 5, 6 or even 7 gels. Whilst this may sound excessive, research shows that 2-3 gels per hour is the optimum. Always try to practice this in your training so you have time to get used to them.

Sip your fluids

Many runners mention digestive discomfort when taking on gels. With a limited blood flow to your stomach when running, it can cause issues if you down your gel quickly. Sip your gel slowly over the course of 1-2 minutes. You’ll find it much easier to digest. Similarly, sip regularly on water rather than gulping. If you are well hydrated going into the race you don’t need to drink loads of water. And, if you get your gel strategy right you don’t need to take on loads of sports drinks either; you’ll have the carbs you need from your gels. If it’s very hot you’ll need to drink a bit more, you might also like to drop a ZERO tablet into your water to replace the electrolytes you lose when you sweat.

Top up the tank

Spread your gel and fuel intake evenly throughout a race and have a strategy which you practice in training. The goal is to avoid running out of glycogen stores and hitting a wall. Top up as you go rather than waiting until you feel you need it.

Caffeine boost

Caffeine can be a very powerful performance enhancer, provided you find it works for you. Caffeine gives you a mental boost. If you are going to be running for over 4 hours make sure you mix both caffeinated and non-caffeinated gels and if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure or are under 18, avoid caffeine completely.

After

Rehydrate

When you finish a marathon, it’s definitely time to celebrate, but before you do, aim to take on about a litre of fluids as soon as you can to help speed up the recovery process.

Rebuild

As part of your litre of fluids, look to take on about 400ml of HIGH5 Protein Recovery as soon as possible, and another 400ml about 60-90 minutes later. This will help you recover.

Eat well

Within 2-3 hours after a race try to eat a meal with a good balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. And, while there is temptation to get straight into the burgers or pizza, try to have some veggies and salad to get in your micronutrients as well.

Celebrate!

Post-race is definitely a time to celebrate. Whether you’re a frequent marathon runner or this is your first one, completing it is a huge achievement. So, make this an essential final step in your marathon journey!