Marathons, Half-Marathons, Fun Runs and Sporting Events
There's nothing worse than hitting a wall during a sporting event or big run. Your legs become heavy, you feel dizzy and lightheaded, and suddenly you start feeling more tired than usual.
Bowel Cancer Australia nutritionist, Teresa Mitchell-Paterson says eating well before you exercise can make a world of difference.
"When you exercise, carbohydrates from food and muscle tissue break down into sugar to feed the muscles and the brain. If you eat adequate carbohydrates after exercising this sugar is stored back into the muscle, which stops the body from using muscle to fuel itself," she said.
So whether you're training for your first marathon or you've just registered for a fun run, make sure you last the distance by fueling your body with the right foods.
Bear in mind, there are a number of factors affecting your particular carbohydrate needs, such as the type and duration of exercise, training background, weather, performance goals and so on. Therefore the following advice is a guide only. For individual advice, speak to your doctor, or expert Sports Nutritionist or Dietician.
Fueling for activities less than 90 minutes
On average, most people consume enough carbohydrate to fuel events that are an hour long or under 90 minutes.
A small healthy breakfast three to four hours before the event containing some carbohydrate and protein, with a snack after the event, should do the trick.
However, if you find you're constantly exhausted during or after medium intensity activities, like Pilates, yoga, light to medium jogging or walking, you may be in need of a glycemic boost. Try one of the below high glycemic foods an hour or two before your next workout.
High glycemic foods include:
- Apple and fruit sauces in natural juice or in syrup
- Fruit juice
- Honey, jam, syrups
- Mashed potato, no skin
- Boiled rice
- Lebanese bread
- Pita pockets
- Filled fruit biscuits
- Plain sweet biscuits
- Gluten free rice bread
- Rice cakes and honey
- Fruit roll ups
- Corn tortilla
- Rice bubbles, cornflakes, instant oats and low fibre cereals with a little skim milk
- Glucose lollies
- Sports drinks or gels.
As a general guide, avoid high fat carbohydrate meals before any exercise regime (chips and anything deep fried) and stick to smaller portions before your workout.
Half Marathons or activites up to 2-3 hours
For longer duration activities, start carbohydrate loading around 2-3 days before the big event.
To do this, work out your average daily calorie intake and swap some protein or fat for carbohydrate.
A guide for carb loading:
- Light intensity low duration half an hour a day 3-5g/kg/day
- Moderate intensity moderate duration an hour a day 5-7 g/kg/day
- Endurance exercise one to three hours a day 6-10g/kg/day
- Extreme sports endurance more than 4 hours a day 8-12 g/kg/day
Also try to have the bigger meal at lunch not dinner so you have enough time to digest properly before race day.
Make sure to pay particular attention to low and high glycemic foods. For example, before race day prioritise low glycemic foods for lunch and dinner.
Low glycemic foods enter the blood stream slowly and release sugar slowly thereby sustaining energy for a longer period. This is largely to do with their fibre content and the type of sugar in the food. This makes them suitable during pre-event diets but unsuitable if you are eating close to an event, say under two hours. If consuming food under two hours before an event they may cause a stomach ache. This is because they take a while to digest and a lot of your blood is focused on achieving this task, therefore diverting blood away from your muscles.
Sports drinks and gels are good if fueling closer to the event and if you need to take on more carbohydrate as you are running in longer duration exercise.
Low glycemic foods include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Whole meal bread and pasta
- Fruit with skin on
- Most vegetables with skin on
- Animal proteins
- Cheese and full fat milks, and yoghurts
- Beans and legumes
- Tofu, tempeh
- Gluten free Low GI bread
On race day, avoid heavy breakfast options such as high fibre oats, nuts and seeds or egg and whole meal breads.
It's best to eat high glycemic foods or a combination of high and low glycemic foods before exercise. Stop eating low glycemic foods at least 3 hours before a race or consume high glycemic foods if the event is 2 hours away.
A good way to test if you are consuming enough carbohydrates is to do some trial runs and see if you maintain your energy – if not consume more.
Marathons or activites up to 3-5 hours
Start carbohydrate loading 6-7 days before the event.
On race day, avoid heavy low glycemic breakfasts such as high fibre oats, nuts and seeds or egg and whole meal breads.
A breakfast low in fibre and high glycemic index will ensure faster absorption and less stomach discomfort. See the high GI food list.
Food and drink suggestions:
2-4 hours to go:
- Baked potato with skin on and baked beans or low fat cottage cheese/ricotta
- White rice or plain pasta with a low fat (tomato or capsicum) pasta sauce
- Sandwich white or whole meal (not seeded or multigrain) a little meat or vegetarian protein (25 grams) and a little lettuce
- Chicken or fish with noodles and light vegetables such as bok choy
- Low fat, fruit or plain yoghurt with fruit salad
- Crumpets or English muffins with jam/honey plus blended fruit smoothie
- Cottage cheese on rice cakes with a glass of low fat milk
- Toast with jam, honey or rice syrup and a sport drink
- Light high GI breakfast cereal with low-fat milk topped with fruit in its own juice, in a stub, stewed or tinned
- Commercial sports bar, Power Protein drink
- Cottage cheese and glass of milk
1-2 hours to go:
- Sports drink
- High GI Cereal, commercial muesli bar or rice bubble bar plus ripe banana
- Commercial sports bar, Power Protein drink, sports gels, sport drinks and water
- White sandwich with vegemite, honey or jam plus apple juice
Less than 60 minutes to go:
- Sports drink
- Sugar cordials
- Carbohydrate gels
- Specialised low fibre sport bars
- Glucose lollies
- Replace fluids every 15- 20 minutes whether you are thirsty or not, particularly in humid and hot weather
- If running longer than 75 minutes you could include a sport drink
- If you are running for longer than 90 minute, start refueling with sports drinks, gels (30-60 grams of carbohydrates) within the first hour of training and top up every hour.
What about natural forms of sugar – aren't they better?
Generally, yes. Lollies and sports gels are considered nutrient poor carbohydrates and should not be a major part of your diet, but they are useful during exercise. On the other hand, fructose from fruit sugars are nutrient rich but can cause a tummy upset and gastric pain, if taken just before a race. So it is best to stay with pure glucose or sugar when fueling just before or during the race.
This advice has been developed by Bowel Cancer Australia in conjunction with our resident nutritionist as a guide only and does not replace medical advice. For individual advice, speak to your doctor, or Sports Nutritionist or Dietitian.