Top Ten Marathon Nutrition Tips to eat like a Flying Pig
by Robin Pendery, MS, RD, LD
- Eat Breakfast - After an overnight fast, your body and brain are in dire need of food and water. Skipping breakfast can be a big nutritional mistake. Concentration and performance will suffer without fuel.
- Have a Snack - Snacking is sometimes referred to as grazing, or munching. The marathoner has high energy needs. However, overeating at meal times can leave you feeling very full and lethargic. Snacks or "mini-meals" can be a terrific way to meet your increased energy needs and provide needed nutrients. Small, frequent meals help keep blood glucose levels and energy from fluctuating. Keep fresh fruit, baggies of dry cereal, pretzels, yogurt, trail mix or energy bars (cut them in half ) handy for quick easy and nutritious snacking.
- Take Five (at least!) - Be sure to include lots of colorful and delicious fruits and vegetables every day! These foods can also be seen as your vitamin pills. Many fruits and veggies have powerful illness-fighting micro-nutrients called phyto-chemicals and anti-oxidants. Their health-enhancing capabilities are no better in large supplemental doses than in the amounts found in a diet that includes at least 5 servings a day of a variety of fruits and vegetables. No single isolated nutrient is a wonder pill, so be sure to get your 5-a-day from the produce section. These foods also have a great benefit that every athlete wants… fiber to help keep you "regular."
- Pump Some Iron - Iron is necessary for transport of oxygen to the blood. Low iron levels can make you feel tired and fatigued. Best sources are from lean red meat and organ meats ( beware of cholesterol, however). Iron fortified cereal and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli are also good iron sources. Non-meat sources of iron are absorbed better when they are consumed with a source of Vitamin C. So have some orange juice with your cereal, or tomatoes on that spinach salad!
- Hydrate - Water is important for proper muscle function, blood flow, metabolism, just to name a few. Stay well hydrated by aiming for 4-8oz every 15-20 minutes of exercise. Thirst is not a good indicator of hydration status. So, don't wait until you are thirsty. Pale urine rather than dark concentrated urine is a better indicator of hydration. Even in cool weather, your body loses sweat, and if not replaced, it can affect your performance and be potentially dangerous and unhealthy.
- Refuel Your Empty Tanks - Your muscles are most receptive to reloading within the first hour after exercise. You may not feel hungry yet but it is very important to reload for future workouts. Sports drinks and light meals or snacks are a great way to rehydrate and reload. You need about .5gms of carbohydrate per pound of weight. Protein, in the presence of carbs appears to enhance the muscle's ability to store glycogen. Try low fat yogurt, cheese, tuna, peanut butter, etc along with that bagel and banana.
- Curb the caffeine and alcohol - Part of your commitment to your marathon training should be the total care of yourself. Be aware that alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating. If you have a race or big workout, try to back down on these. For any serving of alcohol or caffeine that you do consume, be sure to have a full glass of water as well. Moderation and good sense will help you make the most of each mile.
- Avoid Crashing into The Wall - You must provide some energy to your muscles during those workouts that last more than one hour. Aim for 25 grams of carbs every 20-30 minutes after the first hour. START NOW! Don't wait until race day to experiment with different products or timing of eating. Try different flavors of energy gel, bars, hard candy, fruit, crackers, granola, etc. Be certain to drink water if you use gels or bars to dilute the concentration of carbohydrates entering your stomach. Keeping the muscles fueled and hydrated can help you avoid that dreaded "wall" and march right past it.
- Don't be a Glutton - Just because you are training for a marathon, does not mean you have carte blanche to eat anything whenever you wish. You should be eating healthier and ever as a marathoner. You may not turn into a pencil-thin Kenyan runner, but you WILL be full of lean muscle mass, oxygenated blood, AND be a healthy person with the same set of genetics and potential that you started out with. Be the kind of pig that can FLY!
- Don't Obsess - Do not get so caught up in your body fat, weight and eating that you become obsessive and unpleasant to be around. Try hard to make good choices from all food groups. Follow these tips and listen to your body's signs of hunger and fullness. Fuel yourself smartly but don't go off the deep end.
Robin Pendery, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Nutrition Council of Cincinnati