Fueling for Peak Marathon Performance

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Have you ever started a long run feeling amazing only to suffer tremendously towards the end of the workout? Perhaps your muscles felt like they were experiencing a migraine headache and every slight incline in the road felt like you were climbing Mount Everest. Even those typical downhill blessings felt horrible, almost as if someone were hammering your legs into the ground or stabbing your muscles with a blade.

Most runners have had at least one or two less-than-desirable long training runs throughout a marathon-training program. Fortunately, these "bad" days can be minimized through careful planning of dietary and fluid needs during longer training bouts. Below, I provide three essential fueling tips to help you on your way to peak marathon performance.

More: What to Eat Before a Run

Load Your Fuel Tank Before Starting

While runners can get away with not eating before moderate-intensity training bouts lasting less than an hour, performance tends to decline if food is neglected prior to exercise lasting longer than an hour--especially if the exercise occurs in the morning after a prolonged fasting state.

The food consumed prior to longer training bouts will restock liver glycogen stores (helping to stabilize energy levels during the initial stages of training) and increase fuel efficiency due to sparing of muscle glycogen. Runners who fail to fuel prior to long training will "bonk" and start depleting their muscle glycogen stores prematurely and most likely fall prone to the performance declining "wall."

As a general rule, for every hour prior to exercise, athletes should consume about two calories per pound of lean body weight, aiming at one gram of protein for every four grams of low-to-moderate glycemic-index carbohydrate.

More: How to Carb-Load for Race Day

For example, a 150-pound runner with a body composition of 15 percent (85 percent or 127.5 pounds of lean tissue), requires approximately 255 calories one hour prior to training, which would be equivalent to consuming an energy bar.

In addition, athletes should drink approximately 16-24 ounces of fluid in the one to two hours prior to starting to help aid in digestion. A salty beverage (e.g., sports drink) provides additional anti-cramping benefits for the marathoner. High-glycemic carbohydrates, which include most sport drinks, are appropriate for consumption within an hour prior to starting, but should not make up the majority of a meal eaten more than one hour prior to starting a workout.

More: Measure Your Sweat Loss for Optimal Hydration

Foods rich in fiber (>5 grams per serving), protein (>15 grams) and fat (>3 grams per serving) should be avoided in the pre-workout meal since these nutrients cause a diversion of blood, oxygen and water flow to the stomach to aid in digestion, thereby leading to a "dead-legged" feeling and a frantic search for a restroom.

Runners should try several different pre-workout meals during training to determine which helps them perform and feel their best. New foods should NOT be experimented prior to important races. My personal pre-race fueling regimen includes a Pure Fit Bar (www.purefit.com), coupled with eight ounces of 100 percent fruit juice, two hours prior to race start. Then I'll sip on 16 ounces of my customized sports drink (www.infinitnutrition.com) as a means to salt load and top off my glycogen tank before I take off running.

More: 5 Best Carbs for Athletes