Whether you are preparing for a major marathon or a local 5k, being smart and precise with your nutrition will literary help you go the extra mile. While it is normally quite easy to obtain sufficient carbohydrates in your diet, it is best to plan ahead and load up prior to running. While popular diets have scared people away from carbohydrates, they help provide energy to sustain peak performance. Athletes require a reservoir of energy for prolonged periods of exercise and getting your carbs in beforehand can aid in always having enough in the tank to carry on.
Why marathoners need carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for the production of energy, which is what boosts your performance and allows you to train hard 6 days a week. When carbs are stored in our liver and muscles, they are known as glycogen. Marathon training increases glycogen stores and expands their storage capacity enabling glycogen to supply much of the energy essential for running long distances. Carbs should be the foundation of your every meal if you are distance training. Research-based suggestions for optimal sports nutrition from the International Olympic committee includes far more carbs than you might think. In fact, they indicate that you should be eating 3 to 5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight, depending on the intensity of your workout (See the next subheading).
Medium to long distance runners can store sufficient glycogen to provide between 1800 and 2000 calories, and roughly, one mile consumes 100 calories. Hence, you can deplete your glycogen stores after about 18 to 20 miles (which is not bad for half-marathoners who only run 13.1 miles). Once you deplete your glycogen stores, it means there is no instant source of fuel for your muscles. If you have no fuel source, you will hit the wall. Hence, it is best to go into your marathon well fueled.
How to determine your daily carbohydrate needs
Calculating your daily carbohydrate needs depends on mainly two things: your bodyweight and level of activity. Therefore, the first thing you should do is step on the scales. Then you need to determine whether your training is moderate or high. Of course, your activity level may shift as you increase your long runs. If you do moderate exercise for about an hour a day, then you should consume 3 grams of carbs per pound of your bodyweight. If you engage in extreme workouts 1-4 hours a day, then eat 3.5 to 5.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. Carbohydrates ought to make up 45 to 55 percent of your total calorie intake daily. For instance, if your total calorie intake is 2500, then about 1125 to 1375 must come from carbs.
It is essential to replenish your tired muscles with carbs after a run, preferably within 30 minutes. Scientific research indicates that some injuries runners experience such as achilles tendonitis might be due to insufficient post-run nutrition. Your exhausted muscles at the end of a vigorous workout might be compared to a dry sponge. As you refuel and rehydrated, they soak up fluids and nutrients becoming like a fresh, soft and supple sponge. The hardest part about refueling is that runners normally do not feel like eating for a couple of hours after a tough workout. In this case, recovery drinks might help.
What carbohydrates to eat
There are two basic types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. The simple carbs are easy to digest and are easily absorbed into your body. They include all sweet-tasting foods such as honey, table sugar, yogurt, candy and sweet fruits. Complex carbs are rich in fiber and do not digest easily. They include things like whole grains, green vegetables, pasta, oatmeal and whole-grain breads. During your training, you should aim to consume high quality complex carbohydrates not only to meet your carb needs but also to acquire vital nutrients and fiber essential for keeping your fat low.
Nevertheless, for three to four days leading up to your marathon, you should raise your daily carb intake to 70 percent of your total calories per day – this is called carb-loading. Focus on simple carbs during this period because they are easy to digest and do not contain fiber, which has been proven to cause GI distress as you run more miles.
Please note, as you concentrate on taking in adequate carbohydrates for an increased fuel source, do not neglect your protein consumption. Your body requires sufficient protein to repair and rebuild muscles tissues. We found this great video that may give you some good ideas of what you may want to add to your diet on the day of running.