How to fuel your marathon training
Marathon nutrition and hydration
As the months tick by and your training is progressing you will start to think about how to fuel your marathon training. Now without wishing to state the completely obvious here, don’t forget that the more you run the more you are going to need to eat in order to sustain the level of training you'll be doing.
Written by Scott Overall
Scott is a British long distance athlete who represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon PB is currently 2:10:55.
With marathon training I find the most important thing is what you eat after training. You need to replace what you’ve lost within an hour to get the most out of your recovery. I like to go for something like a protein shake or even just a chocolate milkshake which will have the correct blend of protein and carbohydrate. Get this down you after a run or training session and then have a proper meal within a couple of hours. You’ll find this will get you ready for the next run and will really help you recover properly.
During a long run of more than 15 miles having water or an energy drink beforehand might not be enough, so it is a good idea to take a gel or even some sweets to maintain your energy levels. It is important that you have something to eat before the run (especially a long run) as this is what is going to get you through the session and then keep topping up along the way, which is where the gels and sweets come in. Think of your muscles as a petrol tank in a car, the longer you run the more stores you are going to use. No one is going to be able to store enough energy to run the full 26.2 miles without topping up at some point. They might be able to run the whole way without taking anything, but not maintain the same pace. The elite athletes will take fluids on board every 5km during the marathon and the general rule of thumb is 15g of carbohydrates every 15 minutes.
Your long runs provide a good time to practice what you will do on race day, and it will give you the chance to experiment with different types of gels, liquids and even jelly babies! If possible it might be an idea to do a looped course long run as this means you can leave a drinks bottle to pick up on the way round. Again, this is good practice for when you’re running the marathon for real. In terms of your choice of drink find something that works during your long runs and then stick to it during the marathon. Don't be tempted by something else the morning of the race, always go with what you know. If you are going to carry gels with you during the race, make sure you have somewhere to store them which won’t cause you problems while you're running.
Caffeine is also worth considering when running the marathon. There is research to show that it blocks the pain signals the brain receives while running - especially the pain you might start to feel at around 23 miles! A lot of the gels will now have options that include caffeine and using them can be very beneficial to your marathon performance. Like the normal gels, you have to practice with them in training and remember that it will take around 30-40 minutes for the caffeine to have an effect. This means you will need to take it fairly early in the long run but it will help in the latter stages.
Hydration levels are important before, during and after running. Keeping your hydration levels as balanced as possible will allow you to perform to your potential. Just downing pints of water after running isn't going to replace the salts and electrolytes that you’ll have lost during the run. Water certainly plays a part in hydration but it is good to bear in mind it isn’t all the body needs.