With over 35,000 runners jogging the 26.2 miles Boston Marathon course and an estimated 14 times that amount of spectators lining the route, this is New England’s most watched sporting event. So what should you eat to compete?
Our Nutrition & You! Blogger, Joan Salge Blake, asked the top sports dietitians for their nutrition advice on how to fuel a runner’s body.
What’s on your training plate?
According to Adam Korzun, the high performance dietitian for the US Olympics Ski and Snowboard Team, proper nutrition is key when you are training for a marathon.
While foods such slices of fruit, fruit leathers, and sports drinks contain essential carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluids, a runner’s best food choices should be individualized and not based on marketing recommendations or what your friends are doing.
To find out which foods and fluids are best for you, Adam recommends that you keep a nutrition log when training and document what and when you eat and drink, as well as how you felt during your run. This will help you dial in your personal race day nutrition plan, so you can go into the event with confidence.
What to eat the night before
No one knows better than Joan Buchbinder, the sports dietitian for the Boston Celtics, about the importance of eating a carbohydrate-rich dinner, along with some lean protein, and plenty of hydrating fluids, the evening before the big game (or race).
“Carbs will be stored in a runner’s muscles as glycogen, which is the gasoline that will fuel you during the 26.2 mile run. If you’re not a pasta lover, load up on familiar foods, such as rice, potatoes, whole grain cereals, pancakes, waffles, French toast , veggies, fruits, and fruit juices. The night before a marathon is not the time to experiment with a new recipe.’’
The higher quality carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Enjoy baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, grilled vegetables, whole grain breads, or rice, not just pasta, the night before the big run. You could even eat breakfast for supper: pancakes, waffles, French toast, with fresh or frozen fruit, and/or fruit juices. Start the marathon with a full gas tank of the “high octane’’ carbohydrates. If you start with ½ a tank, you will most likely run out of energy and “hit the wall’’ before the race is over!
What to eat on race day
Athletes should have a race day sports nutrition plan that includes breakfast, according to Lilah Al-Masri the dietitian at the United States Naval Academy and Quest Sports Science Center and author of 100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition and Exercise.
A breakfast rich in carbohydrate (pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, bagels, fruit) and low in fat and protein should be consumed a few hours prior to the race to top off glycogen stores and allow for digestion. During the race, the athlete should consume fuels 30-60 grams (120-240 calories) of carbohydrate every hour. Choose carbohydrates that are easily digestible, such as bananas, raisins, and Fig Newtons.
What to drink?
Proper hydration during endurance sporting events is critical for optimal performance and recovery, according to Jan Hangen, the register dietitian at Children’s Hospital Division of Sports Medicine.
To determine your hydration needs, weigh yourself prior to your training events, reweigh yourself after the outing, and then calculate the difference. For each pound of body weight loss, replace with 16 to 20 ounces of fluids. The color of your urine can also help you determine your needs. Dark urine signals dehydration and crystal-clear urine can be a sign of over-hydration, which can be equally dangerous. For more on hydration, visit the Boston Athletic Association.
What should you eat after the race?
According to Nancy Clark, the author of Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions, carbohydrates are needed to refuel muscles, proteins are a must to repair muscles, and some salt should be consumed to replace sodium losses in sweat after the race. A popular choice for many: chicken noodle soup.
Nancy’s other favorites are chocolate milk and baked chips, fruit yogurt with pretzels, and even a steak with bread, potatoes, and veggies with a sprinkling of salt and some water. Look to Nancy’s new app containing over 70 recipes to help you to eat to compete.