TOM SERIES: NUTRITION & HYDRATION GUIDELINES FOR BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER TRAINING & RACING
- Annie Bothma, IOPN Sports Performance Nutritionist (EQF Level 7. Masters), Running Coach and Elite Marathon Runner
With the upcoming Two Oceans Marathon (TOM) on the15th of April 2023, I will do a series in collaboration with the MAKING A RUNNER PODCAST that will aim to help you prepare for the start line, covering all you need to know when it comes to nutrition.
In this week's podcast, Nic & Davey talks with me, about the basic sport nutrition for ultra-running. In this blog post, I outline the three stages of nutrition and hydration: what to do before, during and after training and racing.
NUTRITION GUIDELINES FOR TRAINING & RACING
THE DAYS LEADING INTO THE RACE
There is evidence that higher than normal pre-exercise muscle glycogen contents increase the time to exhaustion and performance in time trials lasting over 90-minutes in duration. This means higher glycogen concentrations in the muscle results in less fatigue and better performance! Since the late 1960s, several carbohydrate-loading regimens have been developed to enable athletes to store supra-normal amounts of muscle glycogen. This is called the carb-load.
Most athletes don't realize just how much you actually need to eat to truly carbo-load or super compensate your muscles with glycogen. We can store around 300-600g of glycogen in our muscles, depending on the size and training status of the individual. But to achieve fully saturated muscle glycogen strokes you have to be willing to eat carbs all day long those last 2 days before the gun goes off!
THE RECOMMENDED AMOUNT OF CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE IN THE FINAL 1-2 DAYS BEFORE THE RACE:
10-12g of carbohydrates/kg of body weight
For a 70kg runner this means 700g-840g of Carbohydrates!
70kg x 10g = 700g or 70kg x 12g = 840g
To put that into context: If one banana equals 25g of carbs...that is how many bananas!!?
Now you understand that it is not as easy as it looks. If you want to effectively carb-load, you have to be willing to eat quite a lot of carbohydrates. But don't stress, it can be definitely done! Plus, the payoff may be worth it if you get that shiny new PB!
However, you have to be strategic and smart about your food choices. Stick to foods that will give you the most bang for your buck without making you feel uncomfortable! Because eating more carbohydrates does not mean overeating or eating as much as possible! In fact, when increasing carbohydrate intake it means you have to decrease your intake of other macronutrients coming from fat and protein.
TIPS TO MASTER THE CARB-LOAD:
Think pasta, white rice, potatoes, white bread, sports drinks, honey, jam, jelly sweets, energy bars, low-fiber cereal, etc.
For these 1-2 days it is okay to not eat super healthy and consume whole grain products.
You want food choices with a high GI (glycemic index) that will promote maximal muscle glycogen storage.
Split your carbohydrate intake between main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), and add snacks in-between as well as carbohydrate containing fluids like sports drinks which will also give you some electrolytes.
Rather have the last large meal at lunch time the day before and have a lighter meal in the evening. So you don't wake up the next day feeling uncomfortable and full. You need to be able to replenish liver glycogen after the overnight fast with some breakfast.
Practice your pre-race meals before hard workouts and long runs, so you know what works well.
Important: Just like your race nutrition plan, this is also something you should practice in the weeks before or when you have a smaller race coming up. If you have not tried it yet, rather stick to what you have done!
Note that every gram of carbohydrate is stored with approximately 3-4 g of water, which means that storage of 500g of carbohydrate is accompanied by an increase in body mass of approximately 2 kg. So, it is completely normal if you gain some weight before the marathon. It is only water! Don't even get on the scale!
THE MORNING OF THE RACE
Eating carbohydrates before training has been shown to improve physical performance and cognitive function in athletes during training and racing.
The goal of the meal before exercise or racing is to top-up muscle glycogen stores and replenishing liver glycogen levels, since liver glycogen concentrations are substantially reduced after an overnight fast. Consuming carbohydrates before training or racing will also contribute to the maintenance of blood glucose concentrations during the exercise. Stabilizing blood glucose is important, since it will help reduce the potential of developing hypoglycemia that may occur if blood glucose levels drop too low.
Aim to have your breakfast 2-4 hours before the race to allow for digestion. The recommended meal should consists of carbohydrate-rich sources that are low in fiber/residue, fat and protein and can be easily consumed and digested. The goal is to ensure that carbohydrate targets are met and to avoid any GI discomfort before or during racing.
THE RECOMMENDED AMOUNT OT CARBOHYDRATES IN THE 1-4 HOURS BEFORE EXERCISE:
1-4g of carbohydrates/kg of body weight
Porridge made with low fat milk or dairy free alternative, banana, honey and cinnamon.
Bagel with nut butter, and sliced banana.
Low fibre cereal with milk and a glass of orange juice on the side
White toast and jam or honey and nut butter.
READY, SET...BEFORE YOU GO
Consider adding in a gel or sports drink, right after you finished your warm-up about 5-15 minutes before the gun goes off!
This is a strategic way to get a bit more carbohydrates in before the race, especially if you struggle to consume enough food in your pre-race meal.
It will also help stabilize your blood sugar levels and may reduce the likelihood of developing hypoglycemia.
FOR AN EXTRA BOOST ADD A BIT OF CAFFEINE
Caffeine could also be a useful way to enhance endurance performance and help reduce central fatigue. It is suggested that caffeine may increase glucose absorption and increase the delivery of carbohydrates to the muscles and resulting in higher exogenous carbohydrate rates. If you chooses to consume caffeine along with a carbohydrate rich meal prior to the training session this could be an added performance benefit. Experiment with it in training, do not try it for the first time on race day!
The benefit of consuming carbs during training is that it helps spare muscle and liver glycogen levels, maintains stable blood glucose levels, and keeps carbohydrate oxidation rates stable.
There is convincing evidence from numerous studies indicates that carbohydrate feeding during exercise of about 60-minutes or longer can improve endurance capacity and performance. In fact, even exercise of shorter durations can be improved with rinsing a carbohydrate solution and spitting it out! Although this will not have any effect on the glycogen availability, since glucose is a key substrate for the brain, it may help reduce central nervous system fatigue.
This shows ergogenic benefits of carbohydrate stretches beyond maximizing endurance performance through the mechanism of adequate muscle and liver glycogen stores and blood glucose levels, since it has also been linked to the activation of brain centers involved in motor control. It may even help reducing the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) an athlete is experiencing.
FUELLING FOR 21KM VS. FUELLING FOR 56KM
The duration of the race, the pace, and the level of ability will play a role in fuelling strategy. For longer, slower races, runners are often more likely to tolerate solid foods. However, the faster the pace, the more challenging it becomes to consume solid foods, and that is where quick and easy fuel sources, such as sports gels, might be your best bet!
It is a good idea to plan ahead and check where the aid stations along the course will be and what fuel will be available on race day. This allows you to practice with the foods ahead of time during training or you can choose to carry your own fuel.
RECOMMENDED CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE PER HOUR FOR ULTRA MARATHONS
Exercise lasting greater than 2-2.5 hours: 60 - 90g of carbs/hour
NOTE: Often elite athletes take beyond the 90 g of CHO/h, but it is important to gradually increase your carbohydrate intake during training to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort. Start where you are right now and increase incrementally over the course of weeks leading up to your race.
RECOMMENDED CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE PER HOUR FOR HALF-MARATHONS
Exercise lasting 1-2 hours: 30 - 60g of carbs/hour
NOTE: If you are running a half-marathon over 2-hours, you may want to consider moving up to the 60 - 90g of carbs/hour to ensure you can complete the distance and finish strong!
Blocks or chews
Dates or date balls
Other dried fruit like raisins
Jelly babies or other candy
Boiled baby potatoes seasoned with sea salt
Fruit like bananas and oranges
Baby food pouches or fruit puree
A big part of recovery, aside from getting enough sleep and managing your stress load, is nutrition. You may have heard a lot of debate about the post-exercise window for fueling and if it is truly that important to eat and drink within 30-60 minutes after completing your workout. Truthfully, recovery starts the moment you press the stop button on your watch! Therefore, the quicker you can get some nutrients back into your body, the better and the sooner your body can start repairing and recovering before the next training session.
The nutrition goals after exercise is to rehydrate, refuel, repair & remodel.
Collectively this is known as the 4Rs of post-exercise fueling. The appropriate amounts of fluids, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein should be ingested to accomplish the goals defined by the 4Rs to achieve maximal recovery.
REHYDRATE: Get in those fluids and electrolytes.
GOAL: TO RESORE FLUID & ELECTROLYTE LOSSES
Replace 150% of fluids lost through sweat in exercise over a period of a few hours after exercise. See below how to determine your individual sweat rate. Practically that would mean that you need to consume 1.5 liter over the course of a few hours, if you lost 1 liter of fluid during exercise. Remember, 1kg loss in body weight after exercise equals 1 liter of fluid.
The classic chocolate milk
REFUEL: GIVE ME THE CARBS!
GOAL: REPLENISH GLYCOGEN STORES
Aim to consume 1-1.2g carbohydrates per kg/body weight in the hour after exercise.
Bread or Toast
REPAIR & REMODEL: DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE PROTEIN
GOAL: TISSUE REPEAR AND ADAPTATION TO THE TRAINING STIMULUS.
0.3g/kg of protein or around 25-40g of protein from a complete protein source containing all the essential amino acids.
Whey isolate protein powder
Soy isolate protein
Protein powder mix (brown rice and pea isolate)
Rice and beans combined
FIVE PRACTICAL WAYS TO MANAGE YOUR DAILY HYDRATION AROUND TRAINING & RACING
1. Develop good daily hydration practices
The aim is to develop fluid practices over the day and consume extra for the sweat losses from exercise or when training in hot environments. As your losses change, so should drinking practices - some days you may need more, others less. It is better to spread fluid intake over the day rather than trying to play catch up at the end of the day. Drinking more than you need in the later part of the day can mean you'll interrupted sleep due to toilet breaks.
2. Start the session well hydrated.
If you are passing urine less often than normal, you may be dehydrated. If urine color becomes darker then what is normal for you, then you may not be drinking enough.Take note that the color pigments of certain fruits and vegetables, as well as certain vitamins (like B-vitamins), may effect your urine color. The aim should NOT be for your urine to be as pale as possible. Drinking too much can be harmful and lead to hyponatremia (diluted blood sodium concentrations).
3. Develop a personalized drinking plan for training and competition that is right for you.
Your plan should be based on several pieces of information including your typical sweat losses, the opportunities to hydrate along the race course, GI comfort and thirst sensations.
If you need help developing a hydration plan that is right for you, consider working with me. I offer individualized fuelling & hydration