One of the things I've had to work really hard on whilst running a lot of races and in particular in the lead up to the marathon, is nutrition. Eating enough has been as much a challenge as eating the right things and before I go any further with my post, a short disclaimer:
I am not a sports, nutrition or medical professional. All opinions are my own unless otherwise attributed.. I am sharing my personal experience and am not advocating or discouraging dietary, fitness or lifestyle changes or choices. You should ALWAYS seek advice from a relevant professional if you are making major changes to your diet & nutrition or levels of activity.
One big conundrum whilst training has been balancing the need to maintain high energy levels to not feel like I'm washed up and dying on my arse after every run with wanting to lose some weight (I wrote about my body image issues earlier in the year in this post). Long story short, I couldn't have it all and the priority had to be making sure I was strong enough and well enough to run. This from the girl who had never heard of 'carb loading' 3 months ago!
If, after all my whinging, you're still thinking a marathon might be for you, get familiar with bananas, peanut butter, sweet potato and nuts. You know how protein seems to be all anyone ever talks about (aside from going paleo, but that's another whole rant...), get over that too. Protein IS an incredibly important part of the human diet- we need it especially after exercise to help us build and repair muscle, but did you know that we can't store excess protein very well? Excess protein is stored as fat and we need water to help breakdown protein so if you're already dehydrated, prepare to feel worse still! Carbs on the other hand, the enemy if you believe modern media, are an essential fuel for the human body and carbs can be stored as muscle glycogen which we burn when exercising- ie running a marathon.
So carbs... all the carbs. If you read my post about why I'm not going gluten free this year, you'll know I don't eat pre-prepared bread products. They make my digestion really very angry, so I had a head start. Wholegrains and unprocessed carbs are some of the healthiest ways to get that essential energy. Some of my favourite dishes for high energy eating have been:
This stuffed sweet potato...
(tomato sauce, spinach, tomatoes, onions, garlic, sriracha chilli sauce and feta)
Butternut Squash curry with brown rice
And my preferred pre-race breakfast:
Peanut butter & Jam sandwich. Really!
Something else I learned through this process is that many of us do not eat enough fibre. The NHS recommend you should get through around 30g of fibre per day to help keep your digestive system healthy and help with satiety (feeling full) and avoiding cravings for things that might not be so great for you one way or another. You can only find fibre in foods that come from plants- no fibre in meat or fish, vegetables and fruit for the win! Some foods that you might find surprising for the high fibre content include: raspberries, blueberries, broccoli and avocado. Whilst getting enough fibre is important to keep everything moving properly digestion wise, it is for this very reason that I've taken to keeping my fibre intake well below the recommended 30g the day before long (over 1 hour) runs. Think about it, think about it.... yeah. Not a problem I care for....
Goodbye sweet fruity goodness
And water. A bit like protein, everyone seems to bang on about drinking more water. And I guess, if you only drink a couple of glasses per day and/or you drink tea and/or coffee more than once a day, this is super important. But there is such a thing as drinking too much water. I know, right. This is the very first thing that was pointed out to me when I started to struggle with training in the warmer part of July. I was drinking between four and five litres of water per day. If you're not great on weights and measures that 16-20 glasses to the 8-10 recommended daily intake.
Water is super important for basically everything, but if you drink too much water you start to dilute your system for want of a better description. All those minerals and electrolytes you need like sodium and potassium are washed through your system and so it wasn't really surprising I felt like crap. I've weaned my way down to around the three litre mark. Less than that and I struggle with crippling thirst which leaves me binge drinking water in the afternoons. But I also supplement with an electrolyte drink each day- you buy sports ones, those little tabs that fizz in water (my favourite are Zero ones as they don't have added sugars and things) but the geared towards your immune system (Berocca or similar) also contain all the fabulous electrolytes, so don't feel like you suddenly have to spend your life waiting for a sale on the Wiggle website. TL;DR... If you drink lots of water, make sure you replace some of what you're washing out. Oh and see my little rant about protein, because a high protein diet will mean you need to drink loads too.
MY kind of flavoured water... darling
To be perfectly honest, marathon eating- not just the days before the race or the race itself, but the weeks and weeks of training, has been a massive ball ache. In August I got quite down about needing to spend so much time thinking about, planning and eating food. And I like food. I had a huge period of adjustment because I started out eating not enough food all round, as well as not enough carbohydrate (by a substantial amount). To completely change how you view food is not easy. But it becomes the most difficult in the time before a race or event. Back in July I cycled the Rapha Women's 100 (I blogged about it HERE) and had my first ever experience of carb loading.
Carb loading basically does what it says on the tin- eat ALL the carbs for three days to load up your muscle glycogen ready to for asking your muscles to perform for a long time. Here's what they don't show you in the Pintrest posts showing cute littler runner girls and boys scoffing cake...
Yes, you get free reign to eat all the carbs, but for it to have it's desired effect and so you don't puke and/or have diarrhea in the first 1 hour of your event, kiss goodbye to protein- I cut my down to a third of usual intake when carb loading, because protein requires more energy to digest than carbs do. And fibre. See above, but I MISS fruit and vegetables when I'm carb loading because I get through maybe 1 portion of fresh. And fats. Step away from the nachos because fats can get your digestive system moving way too fast. Also, your carbs need to be quality. Whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, brown rice, all good. Refined white bread and pasta, take-out pizza, chips.... see you on the other side. Luckily for me, I can't and don't eat preprepared bread products so I tend not to miss too much, but there's nothing worse than craving a crisp golden chip when you know you can't have one!
So... More TL;DR if you're thinking of running a marathon, bear in mind that you'll need to make adjustments to your diet, you will very likely get sick of carbohydrates, and protein isn't the be all and end all that ridiculous adverts will try and make you think it is. Oh, and significant weight loss is difficult too, unless you want to feel worn out and crabby all the time.