If like me you’re sat with your feet up watching some of the fittest endurance athletes in the world run the Virgin Money London Marathon today, then no doubt you’ll respect what these guys and girls put their bodies through! The discipline this race demands starts with the months and years of preparation the athletes put in to both their training and nutrition. Seeing the likes of Mo Farah and reigning champion Tsegaye Kebede battle it out amongst the men, and Priscah Jeptoo and Edna Kiplagat for the Women is a sight in itself, heck this year could throw out a new winner! And who could fail to notice the incredible arm and aerobic endurance on display from Britain’s David Weir, who is aiming for a record 7th London marathon title…Australia’s Kurt Fearnley had better not try to get in his way this time!
What makes the difference during a marathon
I have to concede that I’m in no position to answer the question from a strategic perspective, although the pacing and mental preparation of a marathon is of obvious importance. In a race of such epic proportions compared to the likes of the 100m, you’d think the athletes have a comparatively large margin for error when it comes to getting it right…but you’d be wrong. If you’ve ever hit the ‘runner’s wall’ or the ‘the bonk’ during and endurance race then you’ll know just how catastrophic this can be! A 100m sprint comes down to hundredth’s of a second, with a marathon you’re talking minutes so you’ve got to get things right over a longer period of time. It is my opinion that the athlete’s chances of success will all boil down to nutrition, granted you have some out and out favourites for this marathon, and clearly the amateur and recreational runners will not feature in the top times irrespective of their nutrition…however, this is entirely relative! Take one amateur athlete and pitch him/her against another amateur of a similar standard, give one athlete a diet with a 60 : 20 : 20 carb, protein and fat ratio and another a 40 : 30 : 30 ratio and see who wins…my money would firmly be on the 60 : 20 : 20 athlete lasting the distance, especially if they get the intra- race nutrition right. This point is even more pertinent when it comes to the elite runners who are running just shy of sub 2 hour races!
So what’s best nutritionally?
It is beyond the scope of this article to provide a complex macro meal plan for a marathon runner, but what is for sure is that the outcome will depend heavily on getting all aspects right at the same time…and this will definitely include nutrition. Eberle, (2014) concisely explains that an athlete would be wise to consume a diet that delivers 60% Carbs, 20% Protein and 20% Fat. Fat loading (as previously thought) isn’t recommended for a marathon, carb loading (within reason) is. In the months building up to a marathon or endurance race which may require around 2-3 hours of training a day, a carb intake of 10-11g of carbs per kg bodyweight, 1.2-1.7g protein per kg bodyweight, and approx 1g of fat per kg bodyweight is ideal. These are guidelines and do not translate to actual foods, however it is prudent to know what the body needs in order to get around a 26.2mile course, and this is the absolute minimum the amateur and elite athletes will need!
Eberle, S, G. (2014). Endurance Sports Nutrition. 3rd Ed. Fuel your body for optimal performance. Optimal intake of energy nutrients for peak performance. IL: Human Kinetics.