Completing a marathon requires strength, endurance, and stamina. To be fast requires optimal training, nutrition, and mental preparation. Nutrition is one of the key components to performing well in any sporting event; however, the longer the event gets, the more important good nutrition becomes.
It is also important to remember that the race is only one day. Nutrition for training is just as important as race day. If you are not well fueled for your long runs, they won’t be effective and you won’t get the most out of your workouts. Furthermore, poor general nutrition can increase your risk of injuries. Nutrition-related injuries are due to chronic deficiencies or excesses NOT just problems on race day. I know that as the miles build up, a 20 km run may seem like a short recovery run BUT this is not the case. Anything over an hour and a half long run should be taken seriously. At the very least, this means proper nutrition and hydration the day before your long run and during your run.
There is heaps of nutrition advice out there and you can get as sciency as you wish. Counting calories, carbohydrates, protein and measuring all of your food… the reality is most of us recreators don’t have the time or inclination for that! No Baloney does feel, however, that all marathon runners should have a basic grasp of sport nutrition so we’ve posted some information on Foods, Antioxidants, Supplements, and Timing to help you be FAST!
We’ll discuss food and antioxidants this week and supplements and timing next week.
You can’t do without it! There is no way around it. All of the sport supplements, pills, drinks, and natural health products cannot make up for a poor diet. See our previous posts on general nutrition for master’s athletes, altitude training and cold weather training.
Here’s the quick spiel on energy for your workouts. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats fuel your workouts. Carbohydrates and fats should be your primary source of energy; whereas, protein is used for building and replacing muscle and supporting your immune system. Vitamins and minerals are important for many reasons but of primary interest to the marathon runner: energy production, bone health, and a healthy immune system. As briefly as possible here are the recommendations…
Note: they are general guidelines, play around with them to see what works best for you. Track how you feel during your runs and your diet and look for connections.
- Total Calories: 19 to 26 Calories* per pound of body weight (1). Gauge your needs using your body weight. If your weight is low or decreasing (and it shouldn’t be!), eat more; if your weight is too high or increasing, eat less.
- Carbohydrates: 6 – 10 g/kg of your body weight (2)
- Protein: 1.2 – 1.4 g/kg body weight (2)
- Fat: 20-35% of your total calories. Make sure you get the omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids, limit the trans and saturated fats. (2)
Here are some “Super Foods” that we think everyone could benefit from including in their diet, especially athletes.
In one cup of cooked quinoa** there are 176 Calories, 6.44 g of protein, 4.1 grams of fibre. Use it as you would rice or in place of flour in baking. Check out our beet and quinoa chocolate cake recipe if you need some inspiration!
Beets (All vegetables though – you can never go wrong with colourful veggies)
Beets are a natural source of nitric oxide which may have performance enhancing abilities. See our previous post Root Down, Beet Down for more info on this.
It’s unlikely that you would see results by adding a few beets to your diet but they certainly won’t hurt and have many other nutritional properties. We love them just as they are – peeled and grated on any salad. Add 1/2 a cup of beets** to your salad for 31 Calories, 234 mg of potassium (you’re muscles will love you), and 78 mcg of folate.
Its primary claim to fame is that it provides vitamin B12, which is typically only found in animal products. We use it to thicken and improve the taste of sauces. Check out our Cheesy Cauliflower recipe as an alternative to the traditional mac’n’cheese to see it in a cooked sauce. Canadian Living has the recipe from Whitewater Cooks for their Glory Bowl that uses nutritional yeast in the amazing salad dressing that goes with this dish. We also have a sneaking suspicion that it would be wonderful in miso gravy but are still playing around with the recipe; please share if you have one that works.
Possibly one of the most under-rated foods around. A half a cup of lentils** has only 170 Calories and 0.56 g of fat but a wholloping 13.21 g of protein, 6.2 g of fibre, 4.88 mg of iron, and 265 ug of folate (the RDA for most is 400 ug/d). We love them in soup, especially as the winter snow storms persist throughout March and April.
Salmon is our go to but others work. If you are concerned about mercury you can check out Health Canada’s website for more information. There really is no better source for the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. One Food Guide serving (75) g of salmon** has 136 Calories, 19.08 g of protein, and 1.9 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (the adult recommendation for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 g/d for males and 1.1 g/d for females) .
A 1/2 cup of yams** has only 83 Calories, 19.74 g of carbohydrates, 52 mg of beta-carotene (antioxidant properties), and 8.7 mg of vitamin C. Yams and quinoa are also excellent sources of gluten-free, complex carbohydrates. Yams are absolutely incredible baked. The fries are becoming a staple in many restaurants but we prefer them baked in thick wedges – crispy on the outside and soft on the inside – not deep fried. To create this magic cut them in thick wedges and coat with a small amount of olive oil. Season with coarse salt or use Italian seasoning for a low sodium option. Bake at 425F until crispy on the outside and soft in the middle about 35 – 45 minutes.
Antioxidants are thought to play an important role in health by reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and a whole host of other chronic diseases. Antioxidants serve to neutralize free radicals, which are produced by the body’s metabolism or through environmental exposures. When you exercise your body produces more free radicals. This is not an excuse to stop exercising!
With exercise your body also becomes better at producing its own natural antioxidants (3). Antioxidant pills (supplements) – such has high doses of vitamin C may inhibit the body’s natural antioxidants; however, foods that are high in antioxidants appear to be beneficial (3,4). All fruits and vegetables will be helpful but here are a few we like because of their antioxidant AND other nutritional benefits.
- Coffee/Green Tea – watch the sugar and cream as these can bump up the calories quickly. As for other benefits, newer research suggests coffee can also reduce the risk of diabetes (5).
- Berries – many are high in antioxidants, the classic being blueberry of course, but feel free to experiment with pomegranates, raspberries, and goji berries.
- Walnuts** – high in antioxidants and in protein… watch the fat though. 60 ml (1/4 cup) serving has 199 Calories and 19.84 g of fat.
- Red Peppers – high in vitamin C, a free radical-scavenging vitamin.
- Chia Seeds** – 60 ml (1/4 cup) has 212 Calories, 13.29 g of fat (of which 7.58 g is omega-3), and 16.3 g of fibre. Combine 1/4 cup chia seeds with 250 ml of unsweetened almond milk and a mashed banana; let sit in the fridge until solid and you have a modified rice pudding!
No Baloney’s advice. Sport Nutrition can be complex if you really delve into the science; however, the reality is that foods that are healthy for everyone work for most athletes as well, with just a little tweaking. Eat your complex carbohydrates, veggies, and lower-fat, high-protein foods and you should be good to go. There are some supplements that can be beneficial and some tips and tricks for meal timing. Check back next week and we’ll give you the scoop!
- Dada, JH et al (2010) Marathon Fueling – Runners need proper nutrition and hydration for the 26.2-mile stretch. Today’s Dietitian 12(3):36.
- Rodriguez NR et al (2009) Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Am Diet Assoc 109(3):509-527.
- Peterneil TT et al (2011) Antioxidant supplementation during exercise training: benefitical or detrimental? Sports Med 41(12):1043-69.
- Braakjuis AJ (2012) Effect of vitamin C supplements on physical performance. Curr Sports Med Rep 11(4):180-4.
- Cano-Marguina A et al (2013) The impact of coffee on health. Maturitas pii: S0378-5122(13)00047-9. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2013.02.002
* This recommendation seems reasonable and is from a qualified dietitian but I’ve not see it other places.
** Nutritional information obtained from the Canadian Nutrient File using quinoa-cooked, lentils-boiled, salmon Atlantic wild baked, yam boiled drained or baked, beets raw, walnuts English or Persian dried,