• Last minute nutrition tips for Marathon runners

        This weekend I was had the pleasure of mingling with an amazing group of runners in Brighton who have given up their time and energy to run the Marathon with Jack the Lad from the Heart Breakfast Show. They had all been moved by Jack’s support on air for my lovely friend Matt and his family who lost their beautiful 6 year old son, Felix, to Neuroblastoma – a rare form of childhood cancer, last August. This incredible team of over 160 runners, many first-timers, are in training as part of Jack’s Have a Heart team to raise vital funds for the Neuroblastoma Alliance which generously funded much of Felix’s treatment.

        In return I hope I was able to give them some practical last minute nutrition advice to help them along the way. Here are some of the most common questions that came up today and which I promised to upload for them.

         Should I be doing anything different with my nutrition in the last few weeks?

        A:  The key thing is to ensure you are hydrating well and starting to get used to storing carbohydrates, but most importantly practise what you are going to do on the day.

        If you are yet to do your final long run, use that as a dress rehearsal. Aim to get up at the same time you will have to on Marathon day and eat your breakfast around the same time (ie c 3 hours before the run starts). That will give you a realistic understanding of how your digestion might feel and cope on the day. Make sure you eat the type of breakfast you are likely to have on the day and also take on board the same fluids and carbs during your run to make sure they agree with your digestive system. Check with whichever Marathon you are running to see which brands will be available on the day and try them beforehand. If they don’t agree with you, find an alternative you like and make sure you have supplies or someone to hand them to you on the course.

         What should I eat the week/night night before?

        A: A good carbohydrate rich meal is important to top up glycogen stores. The week before your Marathon, aim to consume about 60% carbs with each meal, since these will be your primary energy source. Essential fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds and avocado should make up c 25% of your diet to support a healthy metabolism, and lean protein the final 15%. This protein is vital for muscular and tissue repair and to support your immune system. Load up with plenty of brightly coloured vegetables which will be rich in antioxidants and can help support against tissue damage.

        The night before, ensure your meal is carbohydrate rich but avoid too much fibre or saturated fat since these can be harder to digest.

         What about breakfast on the day?

        A: This is your last chance to load up your carbs for last minute glycogen stores. Porridge with some honey is a great breakfast; alternatively toast with honey or jam, cereals with a banana or even scrambled eggs on toast. Toasted bagels with cream cheese are a good carb rich but low fat choice, but if you really can’t stomach anything, keep a fruit smoothie or carbohydrate-rich shake handy – this is better than nothing. Again, avoid too much fibre or saturated fat since these can sit in your stomach and make running uncomfortable. Keep a small banana handy to have just before you run for a last minute top up of carbs and potassium.

          How about my fluids?

        A: Start hydrating from now –don’t leave it until the last minute. Sip water regularly through the day with the aim of drinking c 2 litres or six large glasses a day – more if you are still running. Don’t drink alcohol the day before, and on the morning of the run, try to drink c 3-400ml of water on waking and then another 150ml just before you start. Take fluids on board regularly whilst running and ensure that includes some sports drinks; particularly in the latter stages when your glycogen stores will be depleted. It is the electrolytes in these which are vital since you will lose these through your sweat (even on a cool day) and it is important to replenish them.

        If you are unsure if you are hydrating enough, check the colour of your urine after a training run to see how hydrated you have been. If your urine is dark you may need to take on more fluids, but if pale straw coloured, that suggests you are getting it right.

        Coconut water is a great fluid to try – high in carbs, very low fat but most importantly very rich in key electrolytes. Try it before or during one of your training runs.


         What can I do to help my body recover quickly?

        A: Immediately after the run, ensure you rehydrate with c 500ml of fluid within half an hour. Coconut water is good for this, as is chocolate milk. Also eat a high energy snack such a jelly babies, crisps or malt loaf. Keep sipping water for the rest of the day and within a few hours enjoy a good meal including both carbs ( to replenish glycogen stores), and protein (to help repair muscle and counteract tissue damage).


         Why am I cramping after training or during the run?

        A: Cramping suggests your electrolytes or ‘salts’ (ie calcium, sodium, chloride, potassium and magnesium) might have become depleted and this can affect the efficient contracting and relaxation of your muscles – including those in your gut. Ensure your diet is rich in these, particularly leading up to the run. Ladies can be particularly deficient in magnesium, often a major cause of cramping, so aim to eat plenty of pulses such as lentils, and green vegetables, avocado, nuts and seeds.

        TIP TIPS:


          Don’t do anything different the night before or on the day. Practise your meals and drinks on training days.

        Don’t skip breakfast – if nothing else, drink a carb rich smoothie or shake.

         Don’t forget that eating and drinking to rehydrate and recover afterwards is just as important as what you do before and during the run.

          Take both water and sports drinks/carbs on during the run. Your body simply won’t be able to store enough glycogen to keep you going for 26 miles, and this can help avoid hitting the wall. Keep a handful of jelly babies on you or some   carb gels.

        Most importantly, enjoy the day!


        If you want to find out more about Felix’s story, check out http://www.felixsfootprint.com

        If you are then as moved by the story as the rest of Jack’s Heart team, please follow the link on the above site to sponsor his dad, Matt, or go and cheer Matt and the Heart team along in Brighton on 15 April. You can also see part of Felix’s story on YouTube