Don't swallow outdated marathon nutrition advice

It’s what you don’t eat in the week before the race that could make or break your Canberra Virtual Marathon experience.

Australian Catholic University exercise physiologist Andy King has tackled one of the greatest myths facing amateur endurance athletes – that you need a long week of carb loading in the days leading up to an event.

“The old idea of this sustained period of carb loading is just that – an old idea,” said Dr King, from ACU’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research.

“It’s misleading to think you have to run yourself empty then eat like a horse in the week before a race. Yes, carbohydrate is important for prolonged exercise, but the body’s carbohydrate stores only have a limited capacity, and the right strategy can provide a top up before race day.”

Research shows carbohydrate is the preferred fuel source for the working muscles when it comes to high intensity, prolonged exercise.

Runners could in past rely on race organisers to provide electrolyte drinks or other hi-carb nutrition at aid stations to help fuel performance demands.

With the marathon going virtual due to Covid-19, competitors face a significant challenge in planning and executing their own effective fuelling strategy.

Nutrition is often overlooked, but with a little planning you can give yourself the best chance of enjoying your marathon experience, according to Dr King.

Recent research from the Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research has shown that endurance exercise is impaired by high fat diets in well trained athletes, and this is not recovered by using a ketone drink. Ketones have become somewhat of a hot topic in recent years in endurance athletes looking for another nutritional edge.

Runners can benefit from consuming the right amount of carbohydrate on the day before the race, and by taking carbohydrate drinks, gels and food during the run, including carbohydrate hydrogels, which a recent ACU paper showed doesn’t appear to act any differently to traditional supplements. “This will likely far outweigh the effects of ‘carb loading’, but be careful not to take on any nutrition that you haven’t tried in training,” Dr King said.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated. The best thing you can do is eat well in the 24 hours before a race, include a good carb-friendly breakfast, and stay hydrated.”
Dr King recommends the following approach: “In the day or two before a race, increase your carbohydrate intake to 7-10 g per kilogram of body mass. For a 65kg runner that would be 325 g carbs per day.

“It doesn’t all have to be pasta either. Potatoes, rice, and grains like couscous are really good alternatives.”


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