What should you eat during the last week of your training? And how much? Now is not the time to diet, but avoid bingeing on junk foods too!
Stick to familiar foods
During the last week of training for a marathon or half marathon, it’s natural that you may be worried about what foods to eat. Make sure you avoid trying anything new so that you’re less likely to suffer from bloating or gas, especially as your stomach may be a little bit unsettled due to pre-race nerves. Steer clear of high-fibre or spicy foods, such as lentils, peas, bran and brown rice in the final week before race day. Stick to plain foods such as pasta so that you’ve got the energy you need for the race without increasing the risk of an upset stomach on the day. Sensible low-fibre foods that will give you energy include pasta, rice and bagels.
If you’re running a half marathon, remember that your body can store enough carbohydrate to keep you going for 90 minutes, before it switches to stored fat for energy. So, if you’re aiming to run a half marathon in around two hours, you won’t need a great deal of extra carbohydrate the week before the race, though a pasta meal the night before is a good idea. Nutrition experts advise increasing your carbohydrate intake by around ten per cent three or four days before the race. You’ll be tapering at the same time, so this means you should start out with the maximum amount of glycogen your body can store. Avoid high-fat carb choices such as crisps, chocolate, croissants and creamy foods. Good choices include oats, rice, pasta and wholemeal toast.
Avoid processed foods and sugar
Stick to a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods or junk foods and aim to consume foods high in healthy, slow-releasing carbohydrates such as fruit and veg (see above for low-fibre healthy choices). Ideally, around 70 per cent of your total calories should come from carbohydrates to make sure your glycogen levels are fully stocked for race day. Don’t eat too much sugar as high consumption can mean your body may release a large amount of insulin which could cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels – including a possible drop in blood sugar – before the race.
Drink lots of water in the final week before race day, or even sooner. Drink water while you are tapering, and make sure your urine is pale to light yellow which indicates that you’re well-hydrated. Avoid alcohol and cut back on caffeine, which will dehydrate you. At the same time, try to avoid guzzling loads of water the day before the race. Make sure your water intake has increased and is consistent in the weeks leading up to the race – don’t leave it until the night before the race to start your hydration strategy – otherwise you will simply find yourself running to the loo.
Nitrates are compounds found naturally in certain foods. These are found in foods like beets, lettuce, carrots, spinach, parsley and celery, and can increase blood flow to the heart and muscles. This means that your body will become more efficient at producing energy from oxygen, which will make it easier for you to run on race day.
Avoid eating too late
Don’t have a very late meal the night before the race. Try to eat an early dinner and make sure it’s high-carb and low fat so that your body can digest it. Avoid red meat, which can take longer to digest, and have chicken or fish with pasta. Eat foods low in fibre the night before the race. Avoid high fibre foods such as wholegrain rice and beans.
Stick to your usual breakfast
On the morning of the race, remember not to try anything new. Eat a tried and tested breakfast that you’ve had during a previous long run that you know works for you, around two to three hours before the race. Make sure you eat the same breakfast you’ve had before long training runs and take on fluid (around two cups) around two hours before the race. If you usually have coffee every morning, then it’s OK to do this on race day and you may find that it will help you go to the loo before you run, which is what you want!