Whether you’re training for your first marathon or getting ready for your third Ironman, nutrition and fueling can be confusing for endurance athletes at any level. We asked Amy Klassman, a Registered Dietician from Roche Dieticians, to answer these often debated, nutrition FAQs to ensure you’re not stressing too much about nutrition before race day.
Q: Why am I gaining weight when increasing my training mileage?
A: Weight gain during marathon training is something that is super common during those last couple of weeks/months when mileage is at an all-time high. Weight gain occurs when energy input is greater than energy output, which in non-scientific terms, means that food intake outweighs the calories burned during those long runs. Higher mileage and energy output means increased hunger, which means that we tend to be more lenient and liberal in what we eat; we don’t feel as bad reaching for that extra piece of chocolate or joining a friend for an alcoholic beverage. We justify the extra calories through the extra mileage. The problem is that those extra calories add up to gradual weight gain as marathon training progresses. The key to preventing the weight gain is practicing moderation—enjoy that extra piece of chocolate or beer, but do not make it a daily habit.
Q: When should I incorporate fuel into my training? How do I start doing this?
A: Start incorporating fuel right away during the beginning of your training. It’s important to treat every long-run and workout as you would the day of. Train with the products you will use for the big race—some people choose to use the fuel sources available on the course, whereas others will carry their fuel with them. Whatever you do, you want to make sure that your gastrointestinal tract is not the reason your race does not go well.
With fueling for your training runs/day off, follow these key guidelines: Fuel is not needed for workouts of 30 minutes or less. For exercise lasting one to two hours, you will need to consume about 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Runs lasting two to three hours require about 60 grams of carbs per hour, and runs longer than that may require up to 90 grams/hr. An average packet of energy gels contains about 20 to 25 grams of carbohydrates, a medium banana has about 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrate, Gatorade has about 15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 fluid ounce serving.
Q: Will carbo-loading before a big race help me?
A: Only if done properly! The traditional idea of eating a big pasta meal the night before a big race can actually do more harm if you do not eat properly up to the event or expend too much energy. It’s important to balance the carbo-loading to multiple meals and start two to three days prior to the actual event. Carbo-loading days require eating 10 to 12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight, which means that a 125-pound individual would need to eat 570 to 680 grams of carbohydrate for the two to three days leading up to an event.
The type of carbs you choose also make a difference! Now is not the time to increase your fiber intake through a new-found interest in whole grains. Choose carbs that will not drastically affect your gastrointestinal tract functions. Pasta, bread, bagels and rice are easily digestible items that can be incorporated into your pre-race diet. Be careful to not radically increase your fat intake pre-race through the popular cream and cheese based sauces/condiments that accompany many of these popular items. The spike in fat intake could lead to sluggish feelings and performance if you are not used to eating these foods regularly. Try not to binge on carbs the night before to prevent cramping and sluggish feelings. As with all things in training, practice before the big event!
Q: Is drinking coffee before a run harmful?
Coffee ingestion is not necessarily harmful unless you drink an entire pot prior to every run and do not hydrate through other means. Contrary to popular belief, coffee does not necessarily dehydrate you, and when taken properly, might actually improve athletic performance. Given coffee’s ability to “get things moving,” it’s important to not drink it too close to the start of the race to not cause gastrointestinal distress (i.e. don’t give yourself the runs).
New research is showing that caffeine may be more beneficial for performance than previously thought. Caffeine may help depress pain mechanisms, which can assist during those long workouts or races. Many popular energy gels have caffeine in them and may help increase overall energy and decrease pain (or at least help our mind think that). Current research is also examining the ideal timeframe to consume caffeine in order to promote ideal performance (i.e. stay tuned!). Until there is concrete research, make sure to hydrate with water or electrolyte beverages when consuming coffee.