Written by guest contributor, 2016 ambassador Jordan Allen.
Whether you’re training for your first marathon or your fastest, it is important to develop a proper nutrition plan. Training and race day nutrition is not the simplest thing to figure out and there is definitely not a one-size-fits-all plan.
I have been running competitively since I was 12 years old and always knew what I ate was important, but it wasn’t until after I ran my first marathon at age 22 that I truly grasped just how much my diet was directly correlated with my success as an endurance runner. I found that I have a horribly sensitive gastrointestinal (GI) system and running for hours on the foods I was taking in was not going to cut it.
A few months after my first marathon and shortly after graduating from NC State with a degree in Nutrition Science, I began working for Viva Raw, a local cold-pressed juice company in Charlotte. I started becoming more in tune with my body and noticed that a mostly whole foods, plant-based diet was providing more energy and making me a stronger athlete. I didn’t feel so sluggish, or even more so, “intestinally challenged” anymore. While I don’t follow a perfect 100% plant-based diet, I do focus heavily on eating more vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, quinoa and tempeh. I try to drink up to two liters (67 ounces) of water a day and I incorporate Viva Raw cold-pressed juices into my lifestyle as a supplement for added nutrients. I avoid the standard Western diet of meat, dairy, refined carbohydrates and processed foods as much as possible and it makes a world of difference.
I am not here to promote a vegan diet; I am just sharing what I find works best for my marathon training. As I said before, it is not a one-size-fits-all plan. I know you are probably thinking “but how does she get enough protein to sustain herself on a run?” Well, fortunately that is not a problem for plant-based runners like most think it is. In actuality, the average person does not need so much protein, especially animal protein. Dark leafy greens, beans, nuts and tempeh are all great sources of complete protein that will do the trick. Look at Scott Jurek for instance, one of the greatest ultra-marathoners of all time. He won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven years in a row after going totally plant-based and even set a new American record for the 24-hour run, logging over 165 miles. Mindful eating is a beautiful thing for distance running. It goes against the societal norm, but can do wonders for your body and your marathon performance.
With all this being said, here are five food and nutrition tips to take with you when prepping for a marathon:
- Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more — Water is KEY during marathon training, especially in these very warm summer months. Women should be drinking two liters per day during training, men should be drinking three. Come race day, drink 12-18 ounces of water about an hour before the race. Do not over-hydrate the morning of. Once the race starts, do not skip the water stations early on. You might not think you need water at the moment, but the dehydration can creep up on you quickly.
- Beet juice can improve stamina — Beets are a rich source of healthy nitrates, which our body metabolizes into nitric oxide. This in turn increases dilation of the blood vessels and improves blood flow, making it a great natural performance enhancer. I drink one bottle of Viva Raw’s Beet Boost about an hour and a half to two hours prior to long runs or races. The benefits are astounding!
- Carb load for two days before the race — Carbohydrates are a crucial fuel source for distance runners so it is important that we prepare a few days before a big race. Fruit, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, steel cut oatmeal and cold-pressed juices are all good options to pack in the necessary carbs. On the eve of the race, you are most likely going to eat a pasta dinner. Make sure to eat with the early birds, around 4-6pm, so your food has plenty of time to digest and if you are anything like me, eat the blandest pasta ever. I have a hard time processing all the alfredo and marinara sauces that are typically drowning the pasta noodles at a restaurant so I opt for a sauceless, and therefore, quite flavorless pasta instead.
- Don’t try anything new on race day — Hopefully you have at least one or two chances to simulate the marathon on a long run day. That is the perfect opportunity to determine what works best for you when the real day rolls around. Stick to what you eat before and during your practice run on the actual race day. My go-to breakfast the morning of a race is one bottle of Beet Boost, one banana, a Brüks Bar (Cherry espresso flavor, always. It has bits of Counter Culture coffee beans so it gives an extra little jolt.) and a water. This combo has worked for me every race and will probably never be changed. Photo courtesy from Instagram: nourishcharlotte
- Utilize your spectator family and friends — I always pack extra snacks, cold-pressed juices and water into my race bag and give my bag to my mom. I don’t care for the gels that are handed out later in the race as they tend to cause much GI distress so instead I plan out where I will see my parents along the race course and they have whatever I need on hand. (Side note: I will forever have a banana readily available in my bag now after I cramped up big time at mile 17 of the former Thunder Road Marathon in 2013 and was in dire need of any potassium-rich food.) Having family and friends spread out along the course can help tremendously, not only for your dietary needs, but for motivation as well to make it through 26.2 of the toughest miles you could do.
Best of luck to all the runners out there as you embark on this marathon journey. It is an exciting and fulfilling time. There will always be ups and downs in training, especially when it comes to your food and nutrition. Most importantly, just remember to be connected and in tune with your body. This newfound awareness will naturally lead to improvements in your diet.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns at all, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear any thoughts on this topic — I am always learning too!
Also, if you have not yet signed up for the race, please shoot me an email to receive my tracking code when you go to register. This code goes towards helping me raise money for The Humane League, an amazing organization that advocates for factory farmed animals.
Stay tuned for our next blog by our ambassador Aaron Hewitt on Cross Training!