Before you think that you are getting first hand advice from an elite athlete I need to make it clear that the only thing that the true marathon runners and I have in common is that we both have two legs and are running, variably at different speeds. If you were to compare my running style to a race horse I would be more aligned to a Clydesdale than a Thoroughbred. This is not to down play my efforts I put 100% into my running and proud that I can run 21 kilometres without being carried off on a stretcher. This year was my fourth entry into the Sydney half marathon and at 42 years old I made my best time, 2:02 hours, told you I wasn’t elite.
As a very average runner and a nutritionist I can give a few good tips in surviving a half marathon or similar long distance event. Remember that not everyone is built like a gazelle and we should listen to our bodies when they tell us we stressed.
Here is a short video celebrating at the finish line outside St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney.
Here are some of my tips for the ordinary athlete, not the elite to support them through their next big goal.
Diet: Having a training goal such as the half marathon is a good reason to clean up your diet and cut out the rubbish that hinders our bodies performance. Remove all inflammatory foods from your diet such as refined sugars, fried foods and processed foods. Inflammatory foods reduce our bodies ability to repair itself after exercise.
Protein: is essential for all our bodies functions, including our ability to recover and repair. As we are working our bodies pretty hard in training for a big run we need additional protein to assist in rebuilding muscle, tendons and cartilage. The night before the race I typically do not eat much protein as it may weigh me down the next morning. During the week before I consume more fish as it is lower in Arachidonic Acid, which means it is a low inflammatory source of protein. Post-race I am in for a good steak to help with the body bounce back.
Carbohydrates: are an athletes preferred fuel for endurance events. “Carb-loading is upping intake of carbs prior to a big event. The nutritional wisdom of carb-loading is often taken out of context and translates to “carb-gorging”. In the week before a half marathon you are generally tapering your training, and if you are overdoing the carbs you will unfortunately end up on the day of the race not in the best condition. The idea of increasing your carbs is the night before have a plate not a basin of pasta. The morning of the run 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and banana, or vegemite. Your approved carbs are not donuts, croissants, brioche or cheap sugary cereals. Be carb smart.
Essential Fatty Acids: are essential to training as they assist our energy production. They are needed for every cellular function in our body. Cutting out essential fats during training reduces our output and reduces our recovery. The addition of fats with carbohydrates assists in metabolising carbohydrates more efficiently.
Carotenoids: I know I often mention this group of foods, because they are so good for us. Carotenoids contain beta-carotene which are the building blocks for vitamin A. Found in abundance in fruit and vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, beetroot, spinach, capsicum and berries to name a few. The benefit of athletes consuming carotenoids is they reduce the oxidative stress associated with intense exercise. They also assist the body in healing the muscles and connective tissues. As vitamin A has a vital role in our immunity carotenoids may prevent athletes from becoming depleted and prone to illness.
KETO FOR MARATHONS?
Ketogenic diets are currently the new way to eat for optimal fitness. The basis for a keto diet is that you are drawing on your fats for energy instead of carbohydrates. Ideally your metabolism shifts into a state of ketosis which is optimal for burning fat. Recently I have met people who are using keto diets for not just CrossFit and F45 training but for endurance events such as marathons and triathlons. As a novice runner and nutritionist I am a little doubtful whether this is the optimal diet for endurance events. Simply, our bodies do prefer carbohydrates as fast available energy for long distance events. In our bodies effort to produce ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate, our key energy molecule) we use more oxygen using fat than carbohydrates. Sure we need fats, I don’t skimp on them but the balance of the fats with the carbs for me is far more efficient than fats and protein solely.
In considering your pre-race meal, think about how your digestion will carry you through the event. I personally don’t still want to be digesting lamb shanks or bacon and eggs while I am running 22 k’s. At the end of the race I am not starving but feeling more deserving a good meal.
Keto diets do hold their place in fitness, and mental health but I am still yet to see or hear evidence of them being optimal for endurance events.
Supplementation can assist pre-race and post-race wellbeing. The supplements I use to support training include:
B-vitamin complex: to assist in adrenal support and energy synthesis. The body uses B vitamins in its production of ATP. (1)
Vitamin C: to reduce cortisol levels and immune support. Vitamin C is also vital for our collagen synthesis as it supports the health of our connective tissues, yes I am talking about ligaments and cartilage. (1)
Glucosamine: to support the wear and tear on the joints. Glucosamine has been shown in experimental studies to stimulate joint tissue production and rebuild damaged cartilage. (2)
Magnesium: supports athletic performance in a number of ways. It increases the utilisation of glucose to the cells, therefore increasing energy. Magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant reducing muscle soreness post exercise. (2) Additionally, magnesium supports training by reducing the stress on the adrenals and supporting the brains production of GABA. This is why magnesium is often prescribed to assist sleep and relaxation. (2)
SPAGHETTI WITH ROAST PUMPKIN, FETTA, WALNUTS AND SPINACH
This is the pasta dish that I have made for the past few years before a half marathon. It is delicious and easily digested. It is packed with beta-carotene, vitamin E, folate, calcium and good carbs.
1.2 kilos of butternut pumpkin peeled and chopped to 2cm cubes
1 bunch of English Spinach, washed thoroughly and chopped
¾ cup of walnuts pan toasted and chopped
150 grams of fetta
2 tablespoons of olive oil or more if needed
4 cloves of garlic
250-gram pack of spaghetti or linguine
2 red onions sliced thickly
1 cup of fresh basil chopped
Roast pumpkin, unpeeled garlic and onion on baking paper sprayed with olive oil. Check on onion and garlic as they will be done first. While vegetables are roasting bring a large saucepan to the boil. Cook pasta and drain reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water.
Heat olive oil, and chopped roasted garlic and onions then add spinach and cook until wilted. Mix pasta, pumpkin, basil and add cooking water and mix until heated through and well combined. Serve onto 4 bowls and top with fetta and toasted chopped walnuts.