From a year of new normal, we are gradually progressing towards restoring normalcy, a clear sign of which is that marathons are once again being held across the world. In a four-part series by marathoner and coach Tarun Walecha, we will cover how to train for a marathon and the journey between the start and the finish line. Read Part 1, Part 2 on a marathon training plan and Part 3 on strength training.
The experience of running a marathon remains to be a mystical one for a runner, unfolding more than one thought one seemed to know before the run. It is therefore sensible to ensure that all known aspects are well dealt with as a part of the training itself. So far, in preceding blogs, we have talked about training plans and strength training as two primary aspects. Nutrition is the fine thread which ties it up together. It brings to the fore the best results from the effort put into the training plan and strength sessions.
What role does nutrition play?
To the simplest of the mind, nutrition is the food we eat as a basic necessity, but a little deeper insight unravels how critical it gets to ensure not just a balanced intake but to know the role each of the micro-nutrients plays. When we talk about running a marathon, or any physical activity other than the regular chore, we are talking about our muscles to be performing at their best, and also ensuring faster recovery without causing much wear and tear. It is thus very critical for us to be aware, and ensure that we not only supplement our training with adequate and correct nutrition, but also know the right portions to consume and timing of the same. The role of nutrition though doesn’t just end while we are training, but during the run, where our body is constantly getting depleted, and after the run when our muscles have gone through the damage and our energy reserves have exhausted. To understand nutrition better, we first need to understand the different sources of nutrition, and the role each one of them play in different stages of our training, race day and recovery period.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the easiest source of energy available to us. They provide and store energy in the form of glycogen. Our blood uses glucose as the primary source of energy to carry to various parts of our body. Another source for it being amino acids which is synthesised from protein in our muscles in the event of depleted glycogen level. To prevent the same and cause any damage, our body requires at least 50g of carbs every day. It is thus important, that as a runner we ensure adequate carb intake.
Protein: Protein is the primary necessity for building muscles and tissues. Amino acids present in protein are also responsible for providing energy through ketosis in the state of lack of sufficient energy from fats and carbohydrates. It is best to be avoided as an energy source as it takes longer to recover and comes at the expense of damaged muscles and tissues. Hence one must maintain an adequate level of carbs and fat reserves.
Fats: Fats are another form of energy stored in our body, it is denser when compared to carbs and helps us with energy during lean time. In simple words, they are the slow-release source and allows us to operate for a longer time. They pack the energy without water and thus are able to store much larger amounts which in return helps us carry out long sustained activities. Together with carb, they help us sustain longer physical activities without causing the muscle to wear out.
Training: As much as it is important to maintain a disciplined routine with our workouts, unless supplemented with the right diet, we may not be able to give our best and yield good results. Throughout training, it is important that we ensure that we fuel ourselves with timely carbs and fat to fuel our workout and protein to ensure good muscles and tissue build up. Each one of them plays a role to help us sustain our training load and stay stronger.
Race Day: Race day is primarily the day of redemption, for all that one would have put in training would show the results. This holds good for nutrition also. All your energy reserves come into play and take you through. But what you may need in addition, is a good consumption of easy carbs to ensure higher glycogen levels, and during the race to keep refueling with gels, chewy, etc. to keep providing you instant energy.
Recovery: Post-race dilapidated state not only needs fuel to rebuild but needs it rather quickly to prevent any further damage. A protein-rich diet soon after a tough workout or a race, is a must to ensure all the damage done due to ketosis is redeemed, and all the depleted glycogen levels need to be replenished with carbs and fat. A good diet is a way to fast recovery.
Hydration remains to be the bedrock of all our nutrition needs. While we may focus on what we eat, hydrating ourselves regularly as per the climatic and bodily needs is critical. To compensate regularly for fluid loss, and to ensure there’s a balance within, during all the course of training, running and recovery one must ensure adequate consumption.
Being the thin thread as mentioned earlier, nutrition plays a vital role as convergent for all our efforts. While we may need to figure few things as per individual needs, making sure all the essentials are appropriately consumed can do wonders to the entire experience of marathon running.