There is no doubt that, in recent years, people have become more health conscious. Events like a 5k, 10k or longer runs such as marathons have become hugely popular.
Completing a marathon of more than 26 miles is a sporting feat that many dream of, but, due to the scale of the challenge, don't always manage. It takes planning, both from a training and nutrition perspective. If you have decided to complete the Dublin Marathon later this month, getting your nutrition strategy right should be a key focus.
To help you with this, I will focus on essential nutrition required to train effectively and perform to your best on race day. This week's article will focus on the key considerations for the novice runner, and during the coming few weeks, I will cover performance nutrition for elite runners, nutrition on race day and appropriate recovery.
MATCHING NUTRITION TO TRAINING DEMANDS
During the first phase of training, you will most likely aim to slowly build your aerobic fitness base.
Running a distance of two to five miles at a moderate pace will burn roughly 250-500 calories, depending on body weight. If you are running close to 10 miles a day, the energy cost could be 1,000 calories daily. If food intake remains consistent, or is carefully managed, this exercise will create a calorie deficit.
Creating a moderate energy deficit is desirable for those aiming to reduce body fat and get into better physical shape.
As you get fitter and leaner, then these calories should be fully replaced with appropriate foods based around natural, fresh and whole food sources.
ARE ALL THOSE CARBS NECESSARY?
There's no doubt that carbohydrate is the primary fuel required by athletes completing regular bouts of high-intensity exercise, including the marathon.
In simple terms, high-intensity running means running at three-quarter pace or just below a sprint for a sustained period. This is not something novice runners are doing when preparing for a marathon for the first time!
Fat is the primary fuel used during slow/moderate intensities of exercise such as walking and slow jogging. At this pace, the body's energy system relies much more on our fat stores rather than circulating sugar and glycogen (the body's carbohydrate stores).
For this reason, the focus on consuming high volumes of carbohydrate foods is often greatly overstated, particularly in the case of novices. In fact, the novice may benefit more from only eating carbohydrate-rich foods on training days. This approach not only forces the body to utilise fat stores as a source of energy, but also allows for more efficient use of carbohydrate when it is consumed around training.
Certainly, sports drinks, energy bars, snacks and other high carbohydrate foods are not necessary when completing training runs – even if they are quite long.
The nutrition goal for novices should be to establish a consistent and balanced eating pattern that ensures you are providing your body with sufficient energy, a variety of micronutrients, essential fats, antioxidants and consuming sufficient fluids. Eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds, while avoiding processed foods as much as possible, will allow you to recover from your training and effectively meet your energy and nutrient requirements.
NUTRITION AROUND TRAINING
The aim should be to consume foods that provide the body with a steady supply of energy.
Carbohydrate needs can easily be met from whole foods like oats, root vegetables and fruits. On training days, it's advisable to eat a moderate amount of carbohydrate from foods like porridge at breakfast, fruit and nuts for snacks and some sweet potato or quinoa for lunch and dinner. You should eat your last meal at least 2.5 hours before you train. Small portions consumed often will meet your energy needs for training. After training, a fruit smoothie or a balanced meal with vegetables and a lean meat will promote optimum recovery.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE NOVICE MARATHON RUNNER:
• The majority of your carbohydrate needs should be met on training days.
• Aim to eat a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to meet your nutrient requirements.
• Consume a quality protein source with each meal to provide your body with the building blocks to support recovery.
• Food choices should be based around slow-digesting carbohydrate-rich foods.
• Aim to consume a minimum of 2.5 litres of fluid daily and closer to four litres on training days.
• Avoid all sugar-containing foods where possible, like sweet cereals and drinks with added sugars.
In the early stages of preparation for a marathon, the key focus is getting your body used to the training load and improving your body composition to improve running efficiency.
Despite what you might see and hear in the media about the increased needs for carbohydrate foods, particularly things like sports drinks and high energy snacks, there is no extra requirement for these foods for most novices.
When your training volume and intensity increases, you can then focus on increasing your intake of fresh, wholesome, natural foods that will allow for optimum recovery and ensure you are meeting your energy and nutrient needs.
Daniel Davey BSc MSc, CSCS, NEHS is a performance nutritionist
For a typical training day
This meal plan anticipates an intake of 2,800 calories per day, but portion sizes would obviously have to be adjusted based on your individual energy needs.
• A medium-sized bowl of porridge with milk of choice
• A half-cup of mixed berries
• A cup of tea
• Chopped apple with 1 tbsp of almond butter
• Cup of green tea with fresh lemon
• A large salad with butter beans, spinach, two boiled eggs, tuna, mixed peppers with an olive oil, wholegrain mustard and balsamic vinegar dressing.
• A large jacket potato
• Handful of walnuts, pumpkin seeds and almonds
• Two fresh wild salmon darnes
• Roast chopped carrots, parsnips, broccoli, red onions flavoured with olive oil and mixed spices
• Small bowl of cottage cheese blended with raspberries, flaked almonds and a cup of ginger tea