Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon
Flying Pig Wellness Team

Eat well, run well for your fall marathons

Runners and walkers throughout the area are in the final stages of preparations for their fall marathons and half-marathons. Congratulations for all the work you’ve already put into your events! Now make sure you will be in peak condition by having the right nutritional plan. Robin Pendery, a registered dietitian who is a member of the Flying Pig Wellness Team, answers your questions on how runners and athletes can fuel their bodies as they prepare for their events:

Should I significantly change what I eat during the final weeks before my marathon?
Only if what you normally eat is junk. Hopefully your training is ‘in the bank’ and the final weeks are spent getting a well-balanced diet of whole grains, lean protein, lots of fruits and vegetables and plenty of healthy fluids. At this point all of your input should be nutrient-dense and easy to digest.

Everyone talks about carbo-loading. Does that mean I need to start eating spaghetti every day?
The traditional carbo-loading involves an intense phase of a very low-carb diet combined with high intensity workouts to deplete the muscles of glycogen (fuel). The next phase includes very little activity and a high carbohydrate diet in order to super-saturate the muscles with lots of extra fuel. Current research supports a milder version of this, where athletes follow a diet rich in complex carbohydrates throughout their training.

Light workouts and rest before a big event, along with a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, can achieve the same results of loading those muscles up with good fuel. While spaghetti is a superb source of carbohydrates, give yourself variety with other whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, barley, beans, fruits, veggies and sports energy bars.

What about what I drink? Do I worry about that before long training runs, or just the day of the race? And what about sports drinks versus water?
Fluid needs vary individually as well as by weather conditions. Proper hydration is critical to not only your performance, but your health during training as well as race day. Experiment with what works for you BEFORE race day. One good rule of thumb is that in sweating conditions, an athlete needs about eight ounces of water before a workout and roughly four ounces every 15 minutes during the workout.

The key here is to experiment with your own needs. Thirst is an indicator that you are already dehydrated. In workouts longer than an hour, you will need to have some energy and electrolytes with that fluid. That’s where sports drinks can be very helpful, but always try them first. And water is most helpful when taken as a drink and not as an impromptu shower at the water aid station.

The morning of an event, I’m pretty nervous, but I need to get something in my stomach before I start. What do you suggest?
It’s best to get some energy into your system and into your muscles about an hour before the race. Be sure it’s something easy to digest, whether it’s whole wheat toast and peanut butter, or an energy bar. Be sure to allow enough time, so it doesn’t give you an upset stomach. Once again, start during training to try out what works for you. An Egg McMuffin on the way to a race is a good idea ONLY if you’ve done it many times before, and it works for you.

Once I’m finished with the event, most everyone offers bagels and fruit. Is there something else I should eat post-race to refuel?
The first 30 minutes after a workout or race is the time when your muscles are most receptive to refueling. It’s best to eat something easy to digest that contains BOTH carbohydrates and protein for optimal recovery. So the bagel and fruit are good, but adding string cheese, yogurt, protein bar or a handful of nuts is best. The very best post-exercise fuel is low-fat chocolate milk. It has the perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein, and it takes terrific!

The Flying Pig Wellness Team is a panel of health, wellness and exercise experts offering advice to runners and walkers on nutrition, mental preparation, cross training and injury prevention. Find out more about the Flying Pig Wellness Team here.