Marathon training really takes it out of your body. When we say it, we mean everything! Sounds familiar?
All those hours of training will make you strong, powerful, and confident in your ability to race 26.2 miles, but it will leave your body in a vulnerable state as your muscles are exhausted, your energy levels have been used up, and you feel as though walking up a flight of stairs is a mission.
For this reason, when you arrive at the time for tapering, this is a critical time to fill up those glycogen stores, so you are ready for race day.
We wrote a helpful post on how to taper for a marathon for the training side of it, but today we wanted to share a nutritional guide to show you the best way to eat to prepare for the race, without putting on excess weight that you have worked so hard to lose.
Lower your caloric intake, increase your carbohydrate intake
One mistake many marathoners make is not decreasing their food intake despite exercising less than usual. A marathon taper plan should begin on the day of your last long run, around 3 weeks out from race day. After that, your volume should decrease. As you are running less miles, you need less calories.
If your average run was 8 miles during the majority of your training, but during taper time you run 5, you burn around 300 calories less.
If you keep your eating habits the same, those extra calories could be used to build your muscle glycogen stores, but you may also find that you notice the number on the scale creeping up. This can be avoided by decreasing your calories consumed, while making sure you are still consuming a high volume of carbohydrates.
To decrease calories but maintain carbohydrate intake you will have to take out some of the calories coming from fat to make room for more carbohydrates. Fat should still be 20-25% of your calories, but as your caloric intake goes down, there will be less total grams from fat.
You can cut down on fat, while increasing carbohydrate by trying one of these:
- Put maple syrup on your pancakes instead of butter
- Eat pasta with tomato sauce instead of cheese or a cream-based sauce
- Have an extra dinner roll with your Salad instead of full-fat dressing
- Take away the butter, sour cream and cheese from your baked potato, but have an extra plain baked potato instead
You want to keep a daily intake of 3-5 grams per pound of body weight (6-10 g/kg). For a 130-lb athlete this will be approximately 390-650 grams (1200-2500 calories).
We realize that is a lot of calories, so it is very important to think about how to keep that number high without going over your caloric needs. Smaller runners should try to consume the higher end of their range while larger runners should fall onto the lower end.
Runners Connect also has a great article about Carbohydrate Loading: 3 Effective Methods to Increase Your Chances of Marathon Success, where we explained that you can double your muscle glycogen stores by consuming carbohydrates correctly. We also shared how extra glycogen stores extra water, which makes runners feel like they have gained weight. Do not panic! If you have consumed enough carbohydrates in the build up to the marathon, you are likely to be 2-4 pounds heavier from that extra water stored in your body.
How do I change my protein intake?
Most of us know that protein helps your body repair itself, and reduces your fatigue during those many hours of training. During your taper you should shoot for 0.6-0.7 gram per pound (1.3-1.6 g/kg). For the 130b runner we mentioned earlier, that would be 78-91 grams of protein each day.
You can reach this number by consuming lean protein (chicken, turkey, roast beef, fish, eggs) or plant based proteins like beans, tofu, and lentils. Dairy also contains a high volume of protein and carbohydrates, which you can use.
Remember that you can also consume protein through your usual pasta and grain sources too. A serving of pasta (2 dry ounces) has about 42 grams of carbohydrate and 7 grams of protein. Two slices of whole-grain bread have about 40 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein.
Fiber Increase, Junk Decrease
High fiber foods encourage regular bowel movements, but eating too many processed foods (white bread, crackers, pop tarts) can mean constipation, especially as you reduce your training volume.
You can consume more fiber, by eating fruits and vegetables, and lots of healthy grains like quinoa and barley. Fruits and vegetables have the extra benefit of containing lots of antioxidants, which can support your immune system to prevent you getting sick the week of the race. However, make sure you do not consume too much fiber, as you will be putting yourself at risk of the runner trots, which will make you dehydrated and will affect your electrolyte balance. You do not need to consume fiber bars or foods with extra fiber. Stick with the foods you normally eat and are comfortable with.
Keep in mind that you are running less, so each calorie is important as you come into race day. Don’t use it on “empty calories” like cookies, candy and ice cream that you could get away with while training hard, but now you are in the final stretch, and want to have no regrets on race day. You can enjoy all the treats you deserve after the race!
No one wants to be dehydrated come race day, as it can have significant impact on your performance, but you can make sure you are not at risk by consuming enough water in the days before the race.
Try to sip on fluids throughout the day, rather than a large glass with meals. Water is all your body really needs, but if you need to increase your carbohydrate intake, you can consume juices and sports drinks. Just be careful of the sugar intake!
There is not really a specific method for hydration, instead listen to your thirst, and try to have enough to urinate every 2-4 hours. Your urine should be pale yellow. If it is darker, it is time for more fluid. If it is clear, you are likely drinking too much..
Day of the race nutrition
You made it! You are ready to race, and all you need to do is do your best. You have prepared well, and if hopefully you have been viewing your nutrition as importantly as your training, especially while tapering.
Finally, here are a few tips for your race day nutrition that can give you a small boost.
- Limit your fiber. Even though you want some bowel movement for race day, when you combine it with the nerves of race day, it can cause runner trots, which is not ideal!
- Avoid alcohol. There are plenty of adult beverages waiting for you at the finish line.
- Try to eat your biggest meal for lunch the day before the race, rather than having a big pasta dinner the night before. This will give your body enough time to digest, and mean you wake up ready to consume more carbohydrates, rather than stuffing it in, still feeling full from the night before. That evening, just have a regular sized meal.
- Eat carbohydrates the morning of the race to fuel your body, prevent hunger, and keep your blood sugar at a normal level. Do not try anything new, eat something that you know works with your body.
- You should already have a fueling plan for your race. Hopefully you have practiced what worked for you during your training, and you are ready to take on the fuel needed to make it through the race without bonking, cramping, or extreme fatigue.