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2020 L.A. After my first 5K I knew the marathon wasn’t going to go well for me. I was battling an upper respiratory infection that set in the week of the race, and on top of that, I was dealing with the fatigue and pessimism most runners associate with 20 miles or more. Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon feeling—I ended up doing most of my training before race day.
What To Eat Before A Running Race
In hindsight, I realized that it was not about my physical training. Since I’m obsessed with tracking running metrics like heart rate and VO2 max, there’s one number I mainly ignore: calories. For weight maintenance, according to the 2015 to 2020 edition of the USDA Dietary Guidelines, active women ages 19 to 30 should get 2,400 calories per day, while active men ages 19 to 35 should consume Up to 3,000 calories per day. for Americans. I wasn’t just eating 2,000 calories—honestly, out of sheer laziness while at the computer—and burning more would probably ruin my workouts.
Five Week Couch To 5k Training Plan + Running Food
When I realized how energetic I was, I knew I had to rethink my eating habits. Fortunately, at-home and wearable tests provide personalized tracking and insights for everyday athletes looking to improve their performance through workouts and nutrition.
“Labs are great for doing controlled experiments, but they’re really trying to push the outside lab into the real world,” says John Mercer, professor and co-director of Kinesiology and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UNLV’s Mathematical Research and Innovation Initiative.
Knowing how certain foods affect you, which nutrients you may be deficient in, and when to eat and hydrate will help you get the most out of each round.
So when preparing for the 2021 Chicago Marathon, I didn’t start training with a running plan — I started with a blood test. Six months before race day, I started wearing Levels, a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device that tracks your glucose levels (and how they’re affected by diet, exercise, and stress) in real time ($398 per month). CGM technology has long been used to help people with diabetes, and although it’s more expensive, results in non-diabetic users are nearly identical to blood tests, according to a 2015 study published in
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After a week of testing, I realized my blood sugar was almost always low. After a meal, the app rose to 85 mg/dl between what I thought was a healthy range; When I get up in the morning it’s often below 70. “If your blood sugar drops too low during the night, it’s definitely a sign that you’re not refueling, your glycogen stores are too low, or you didn’t eat enough before bed,” he says. Maddie Alm, RD, is a registered dietitian for TeamBoss, a pro running group founded by Emma Coburn and her husband in Boulder, Colorado.
This is a big problem because if you do not have enough glycogen stores, your body will not have readily available energy to burn. It leaves you feeling tired and weak, and if you run longer you’ll hit a wall with a grin at seven or eight hours, not at mile 19 or 20. Levels say I need more food more consistently, to avoid every run.
Not eating enough food increases your risk of missing out on essential nutrients. Five months before race day, I had my blood tested by InsideTracker, a lab service used by athletes like Shalane Flanagan (starting at $189) to rate 43 biomarkers and 261 genetic markers. My blood panel showed I was low in vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iron—three of the most common deficiencies, Alm says, all of which play a role in energy and stamina.
Pain says. D is important because it plays a huge role in immunity, bone health, mood, and more. (These deficiencies—along with upper respiratory infections—could be a warning sign of RED-S, aka Relative Energy Deficit in Sport, a condition caused by inadequate energy intake.)
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Finally, to get home on the water, I used the Gatorade Gx Sweat Patch, a single-use adhesive that tracks sweat rate and the amount of sodium lost through sweat ($25 for two). During a six-mile run in 80-degree heat, I sweated 1,058 milliliters per hour, and lost between 398 and 858 milligrams of sodium per liter. “That translates to one and a half 24-ounce bottles of water an hour, and one to two nine tablets of sodium an hour,” says Pain.
Until I discovered this, I drank when I was thirsty and never refueled on the run. Considering that dehydration impairs endurance and increases fatigue, prof
Are these new devices accurate? not exactly. “Tools like InsideTracker try to combine information from a variety of sources and put that information through an algorithm to see what advice they can give you,” Mercer said. Nor should you always trust an algorithm.
Also, while knowledge is power, Mercer adds, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the data. “Having someone to help interpret your data — show you patterns or give you guidance — and continue to educate you to make better decisions is important,” he says. Plus, no matter how many machines you use, you can’t override your body’s signals.
What To Eat Before Running
I don’t know where to begin with my information without the help of a nutritionist to decode the data and apply those insights to my training. But all of these awesome testing and trackers finally got me involved enough in my nutrition that I got to work putting some real fuel plans in motion.
For the last months of my training, I took nutritional supplements and, with the guidance of my pain, followed a meal plan that included eating every three hours, prioritizing fuel before and after running, and increasing my fluid and electrolyte intake. By the time I had my next blood test with InsideTracker 10 days before the Chicago Marathon, I had improved my iron levels, nearly doubled my vitamin D, and doubled my B12 numbers. But I don’t need a blood test to find out; Proof of how strong I am when I run.
Fortunately, that improvement paid off on race day. Despite the debilitating heat and humidity, I put up an impressive eight-minute marathon time. even better? She recovered faster than ever after 26.2.
Technology—nutritional or otherwise—is no shortcut to performance improvement, but without digging into my data, I don’t know what questions to ask to determine my best fueling strategy. And the knowledge you gain will last long after race day.
Runner’s Diet: Race Nutrition For Runners
Levels, InsideTracker and Gatorade Gx Sweat Patch give you insight into your nutrition. These trackers can also provide real-time guidance on updating your fuel plan.
This smart bracelet counts calories digested by tracking the movement of glucose and fluids through your body via a bio-impedance sensor. It also uses a sensor to track your “normal” hydration and gives you tips on when to drink. ($199)
In addition to standard activity tracking, FuelWise’s automatic feature calculates how many carbs you need for a workout and automatically pushes refueling and drink reminders based on your energy expenditure while running. (300 USD)
Get real-time glucose data with this device that displays information collected from the same sensor that Kipchoge wears. During your workout, it sends feedback to help you improve your fueling. (US availability subject to availability)
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Hack your diet to perform better at your next race by following these steps, which will help you get started:
Do easy exercises seem difficult? Is your heart rate higher during training or lower than normal while resting? Tired even when you’re not running? These are all signs of nutrient deficiencies that affect running. So if you answered yes, then move on to steps 2 and 3.
Your primary care physician may order a nutrition panel to check for deficiencies in key areas. Or, if you choose a service like InsideTracker, you can share the results with your doctor for more insight into any problem areas.
Contacting an expert can help you decrypt your data and determine actionable next steps. Find a registered dietitian or someone certified in sports diets. To find a certified specialist near you, check out EatRight.org.
A Complete Guide To Proper Marathon Nutrition
Ashley Mateo is a writer, editor, and UESCA- and RRCA-certified running coach who has contributed to Runner’s World, cycling, women’s health, health, shape, self, and more. She’ll go anywhere in the world once in a while – even if it’s just for a good story. Also: good pizza, good beer, and good photos.
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