As the New York City Marathon is fast approaching I’ve been getting many questions about what to eat during race week. I think a lot of people get nervous (which is absolutely normal!) as race day nears and start to over analyze what to eat leading up to the big day. Here are my thoughts on race week and race day nutrition.
In the week leading up to the marathon you simply want to eat how you normally eat. Since you are tapering and running fewer miles your body will naturally top up its carb stores. Remember from my previous blogs that when you eat more carbs than you need it will be stored as fat. Carbs also retain water and you don’t want that heavy and sluggish feeling heading into the race. When you are 3 days out from the race it’s wise to make an effort to avoid foods that may bother your stomach. This is individual to you - it may be spicy food, garlicky food, gluten, dairy, etc. On the day before the race eat several small meals. Also make sure to eat dinner early; you want to be able to go to bed early and get some sleep the night before running 26.2 miles!
On race morning keep it simple. Have something that you normally eat before running like a bagel, oatmeal, banana or energy bar. Pack snacks in the bag that you are bringing to the start.
Now, let’s talk about how many calories you actually need to get through this marathon. Your body stores approximately 1600 - 2000 calories (400g - 500g of glycogen) in your muscles and liver. You’ll burn around 100 calories per mile (this doesn’t change much whether you’re running 6 min or 10 min miles, but a person carrying more weight will burn more calories), requiring around 2600 calories for 26 miles. The number of calories that you’ll need to take in during the race will vary with the amount of fat vs carbs that you are burning for energy, your weight and your metabolic rate. Below are my suggestions on how to utilize what’s out on the course to create your best fueling strategy.
Here’s what will be available out on the course in NYC:
Water (At every mile starting at mile 3)
Gatorade Endurance Formula Lemon/Lime (At every mile starting at mile 3, except mile 17)
Per 6 oz:
PowerGel (Mile 18)
Flavors: Vanilla (No Caffeine), Strawberry Banana (25mg Caffeine), Berry Blast (25 mg Caffeine), Tangerine (50 mg Caffeine)
110 Calories each
27g Carbs each
Hydration Goal: 50 oz water
Over the course of the race plan to take in 50 oz of water. Both Gatorade and water count as part of the 50 oz. Hydration is critical for your performance as a 2-3 % loss in water weight can have major effects on body function. Another thing to be aware of is hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when blood sodium drops too low. This is why it’s important to take in electrolytes both before and during the race. Common symptoms are sloshing in the stomach, worsening/severe headache, nausea, feeling puffy or bloated in hands & feet, and wheezy breathing. If you experience these symptoms stop drinking until you need to stop and use the bathroom.
Calorie Goal: approximately 500
These calories can be in the form of sports drinks, gels, energy blocks, energy bars and even real food. In general it will take approximately 20 minutes from the time you consume these calories to go through your stomach and on to the working muscles for fuel. This time will be longer for the more complex bars and foods - such as bananas, oranges and the like. To meet this calorie goal plan to mix and match with sports drinks and gels in the combination that is easiest for you to digest. People like myself with a high metabolic rate may need more calories, other may require less.
Caffeine: Do you take or skip the caffeine? Studies have shown that caffeine can encourage your body to use fat for fuel. You can also get a mental boost from taking in some caffeine during the race. This boost can be particularly helpful later in the race when you’re feeling both mentally and physically fatigued. I have found that it’s a personal preference - some people feel revitalized from the caffeine while others don’t. It's best to experiment with this before the race.
I hope that you have found this break down helpful. Good luck on race day - I’ll see you out there!