Wondering what to eat during your marathon training cycle? Getting your training diet spot on will help you go that extra mile says our Guest Columnist, Shailja Sridhar.
The commitment needed to train for a marathon usually means that you will be running a lot more regularly and the mileage increasing with each run. It also means that you need extra rest and nutrition to recover from all that training you undergo.
Achieving your Ideal Race weight
Most often, you are not at an ideal racing weight and it becomes all the more important to watch what you eat and how much you consume during the training cycle so you get that optimum balance and do not gain weight.
Losing too much weight has an adverse effect on your ability to manage your training runs. It is good to have a fair idea of the weight you want to lose and build a training plan and the nutrition required to achieve your goal. At first, check your current weight and calculate the ideal racing weight you want to be at. This helps in tracking how many calories you burn during your workouts to get a daily minimum calorie count. One should realize that creating too much of a calorie deficit can harm the performance and recovery.
Fulfilling your nutrition needs during training
There are some general guidelines you need to keep in mind during the training cycle to ensure you fulfill your nutrition needs and also feel energized for the training sessions. Now is the best time to try out different foods and other supplements to understand how your body adapts to new foods and plan accordingly for the race day.
A high protein breakfast with some carbs on the days of training would be a good start. That third slice of toast might be good on the long run days but should be avoided as part of your regular diet as carbohydrates tend to get stored as fat in our body if not utilized properly.
There are various sources of protein which could be a part of your diet. Eggs, amaranth, peanuts and oats are all good sources of protein. Adding a handful of nuts and seeds (like chia, hemp, sunflower or flax) to the bowl of oats or amaranth porridge is a good way to increase the protein intake. The best way is to closely watch your diet and plan the meals right from the start of your training cycle so it becomes a becomes a habit eventually.
It can be very tempting to indulge in junk food cravings especially after a run but one should realize that it is not really a good idea to do that very often. You don’t really burn that many calories while running because your body gets efficient over time.
An average runner burns about 100 calories per mile of running and it does not depend on the speed of the run. It can vary a little depending on the current weight but not too much. The empty calories in junk food will neither help in recovery nor will they be good for you in the long run.
Timing your food intake
Another essential part of training is to time your food intake and most people tend to ignore it. There is a 30-minute window after a workout when your body is very receptive to replenishment of its glycogen reserves and consuming some simple carbs and proteins will aid recovery for your next workout. The electrolytes we lose during the workout also need to be replaced else you end up getting a headache or experience excessive fatigue. I have often suffered dehydration headaches as I failed to replenish my body with lost electrolytes post my workout session. You experience this more in cooler climates where you don’t feel the exhaustion after a run or aware of the extent of the loss.
A healthy diet with lots of green vegetables and fruits is necessary for our long-term goals. We need good fats and enough protein to aid muscle recovery and carbs to fuel our long runs.
The use of commercial products is not necessary but certainly more convenient to manage the post workout nutrition and recovery. There are various options available with varying levels of protein and carbs but choosing one that suits your needs is important. It is always good to be picky when choosing supplements. We should always be picky about things we are putting in our bodies. Eating high-quality real food is essential and do not only rely on sports nutrition supplements to fulfill your dietary requirements. Nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, and veggies are better for us as they are a part of a complete wholesome meal plan which keeps us feeling full for longer and reduces hunger pangs and food cravings.
My personal diet plan
My food habits are not the best but I try to eat clean most of the time. My breakfast is usually two or three egg omelette with some peanut butter toast or a ragi dosa with chutney and fruits. Oats/lentils savoury pancakes is another regular favourite breakfast item. Sometimes I like a nice hot oats porridge with nuts, berries and pomegranate seeds to sweeten it. I eat a huge bowl of seasonal fruits with my breakfast without fail. Hot cooked breakfast is usually a given for me.
I have a few different recipes of salads that I make regularly for my between the meals snack and they contain a good mixture of soaked, occasionally sprouted and boiled lentils, and lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds to add taste. I am constantly hungry and it is important to fill myself with something that I like which satisfies my hunger cravings and provides the nutrition I need. Carrot and cucumber sticks are another regular snack with some dip or hummus or cream cheese if want to indulgence a little.
Half my plate is usually veggies or salad during mealtimes and it wasn’t easy when I started but it has become a habit with time. Veggies, salads, lentils, soup and some meat occasionally are my main meals while training for a marathon.
Few pointers to keep in mind while training for a marathon:
- Make a plan for nutrition along with the training plan and stick to it. Please remember that good nutritious meals are an essential part of training.
- Check your weight regularly and keep track of the changes. Get a blood test done to ensure that there are no deficiencies.
- Fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, lentils, and grains usually have everything we need to fulfill our body’s requirements.
- Use sports nutrition during the training to get the body used to it for the race day. Good idea to experiment in the training stages so that there are no nasty surprises later.
- Protein and carbs are essential for recovery and the ratio depends on the weight and the goals of training. High protein diet is good for muscle recovery but a good store for carbohydrates is necessary for the endurance runs.
- Junk food has to be strictly controlled and monitored. An occasional treat is acceptable but as long as the calories are taken into account when planning your meals.
- Use sports drinks and electrolyte-rich drinks after a workout to recover quickly for the next day. There are lots of options available in the market and it is good to check the nutritional information on the label in detail before consuming them.
Fuelling options a day before and on race day
I usually have a very sensitive stomach so I keep it very simple before the marathon. I try to stay extra hydrated for a few days before the run. Heavy breakfast on the day before the race, a carb-rich lunch (usually bland pasta) and a light dinner consisting of soup and a light salad or just a dinner roll work best for me. Not everyone is the same and I have runner friends who eat a proper carb-rich meal for dinner too and manage pretty well. Marathon day breakfast is a bagel or toast with some peanut butter and some black coffee. I carry a banana to the start line to eat about half an hour before the run starts.
Wholesome natural meals are always a good idea and mindfulness helps in several ways. The rules of good nutrition remain the same for everyone and it makes a big difference in the way your body responds to the increased training load. Having a constant check on your weight and paying attention to your meals helps us see those changes you want to see in your body.
It is always good to start slow and make gradual changes to move towards the kind of diet you need and soon eating healthier meals becomes a habit. Try not to compare with others because each person is different and there is no single ideal diet you could follow. It might seem difficult to keep track of so many things at first and follow the training plan but it gets a lot easier with practice.
Shailja is a mother of 2 kids and a part time model for a sustainable brand close to her heart called www.kinche.com. She’s either running after the kids or running to stay sane.