When it comes to running, there’s no off-season. All around the country, people are legging out those miles to clear their heads and strengthen their muscles. This is especially true for long-distance runners, many of whom participate in marathons. In order to perform their best, runners have to be fully prepared physically, mentally, emotionally and - perhaps above all else - nutritionally.
It's a pretty simple formula: energy in, energy out. In other words, running the full 42.2 kilometres burns a tremendous amount of calories. How many? It depends on a number of factors, but the average ranges between 2,200 and 3,600 calories. That's as much as a large pizza!
By the time runners finish the race, they weigh less than when they began. Much of this is water weight lost through sweat, which is why proper hydration is key throughout a race to avoid electrolyte imbalance.
It raises an interesting question: What are the best foods and liquids to consume in the days and hours before you lace up your sneakers? And what should you eat after a marathon to make sure the energy you spent is replaced with the proper vitamins, minerals, fats, carbs and protein?
As noted by Healthline, while all calories are ultimately units of energy, how quickly your body burns through those calories is not set in stone. This is affected by your metabolic rate, the chemical makeup of the food you’re eating and the thermic effect of food - the degree to which they increase energy expenditure. Fruits, for example, contain large amounts of fructose, a simple sugar your muscles burn through rather quickly. Glucose is also a simple sugar, but it's mainly found in processed grains like bread, pasta and rice.
If you’re preparing for a marathon, you want to eat foods that will provide you with the kind of energy that burns slowly to support your stamina. And afterwards it's just the opposite: nutrients that will sprint into your muscles and cells rather than jog or walk. Here are a few suggestions for before and after your race:
Spaghetti, macaroni, linguini: No matter which shape you choose, pasta’s a great option for powering through a marathon. That's because it’s full of carbohydrates that the body tends to burn through slower than foods with a high glycemic rate like candy. Natalie Rizzo, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition a la Natalie, told Runners World you should aim for about four grams of carbohydrates for every pound you weigh. One cup of cooked spaghetti contains roughly 45 grams of carbohydrates.
When it comes to sauce, keep it light and steer clear of creamy sauces, which can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
This is another high-carb food that's ideal for energy storage. Plus, it's easy for the body to digest so you won't have to worry about stomach cramping, as long as it doesn't have too much fibre.
Here are a few other smart pre-race options:
- Cooked white rice
- Peanut butter
- Grilled chicken
It’s not just your knees that take a pounding after a marathon - your entire body does. Quick-acting nutrients, like you’ll get from a banana, are just what you need. A standard banana runs about 200 calories and is packed with potassium, which helps replace the electrolytes lost through sweat.
The drink every kid loves is not only flavorfully sweet, it's actually a nutritional powerhouse. It contains calcium, protein and fat, which the body needs to repair and recharge. Plus, since it’s a liquid, the body absorbs it faster than solid food.
These also serve as delicious post-race eatables:
- Tomato juice
- Greek yogurt
- Raisins or Craisins
- Granola bars
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based registered dietitian and contributor for The Globe and Mail, said you should try to consume 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight after a race, ideally within the first 60 minutes of crossing the finish line.
Remember: If you want to perform at your best throughout the race and recover quickly after, give yourself the fuel you need to withstand the test.