With the Mumbai Marathon just under two weeks away, the city’s streets and lanes are abuzz in the early mornings, while marathoners prep for the 21- and 42-km races. And, as with so many amateur athletes, they fall into two camps – those who understand the importance of nutrition when it comes to athletic performance, and those who don’t.
The running community adheres to some constantly-evolving rules of nutrition when it comes to deciding what works best before a big run, but one constant in recent years has been the concept of carb-loading before a race.
The Science Behind Carb-Loading
Most runners know they should eat pasta, rice, potatoes, and other high-carb foods before a half or full marathon. After all, carbs are a great source of energy, and you need a lot of energy to cover the kind of distances involved in a race like this. However, not everyone knows what happens when you pack your body full of carbs.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when you eat carbs, they are converted into glucose and then stored in your muscles and liver in its hydrated form, glycogen. Glycogen is your body’s most easily accessible form of energy. However, during a half or full marathon you burn both glycogen and fat, but fat isn’t the most efficient source of energy, which means your body has to work harder to convert it into fuel. When you run out of glycogen during a race you hit “the wall.” Your body has to slow down as it turns fat into energy and it takes a toll on your usual performance levels.
A paper published by the department of Exercise Science in the University of Minnesota Deluth claims that, “Carbohydrate loading before a race along with intermittent intake of carbohydrates between training runs has been shown to promote restoration of muscle glycogen during the endurance run along with help the runner to train harder, and recover optimally after long runs.” This implies that eating mostly carbs before a race fills your muscles to their capacity with glycogen, which will help you push ‘the wall’ further back if you run smartly and prepare well beforehand.
Watch What Goes Onto Your Plate
Look for carbs which are easy to digest. Rice, oatmeal, bread, rotis, pancakes, waffles, parathas, bagels, yogurt, and juice are all excellent options. Just make sure to leave out any extra fibre which can wreak havoc on your digestive system mid-race. Luckily for us, the Indian diet is so carbohydrate-dense that it isn’t too much of a problem for us to make this work.
Fruits are another excellent option for carbs, but a little trickier since many fruits are also high in fibre. This can be worked around by removing the peels of apples, peaches, pears, etc. to remove excess fibre sources, or you could resort to the humble banana – the foremost low-fibre fruit choice.
As Indians, we have a headstart on carb-loading
Ditch the Rest
Fats and excess protein are the enemy if you’re training for a marathon. While they’re usually great forms of energy, both nutrients fill you up much more quickly and are far more difficult to digest. And since fats take much longer to convert into energy, it’s best you leave them out of your diet to a reasonable extent.
It only takes some small, but calculated, dietary alterations to substitute carbs for your usual fats. For instance, you could use jam on your toast instead of butter, a simple tomato sauce instead of rich pasta sauces, and fruits or yoghurt instead of regular creamy desserts.
Listen to Your Body While Carb-Loading
It’s impossible to properly carb-load from just one meal, so the process should ideally begin two or three days before the race. And since you’re typically not training too hard in this lead-up to the race, the excess energy is stored in your muscles as glycogen. At this point, approximately 70-75 percent of your calories must originate from carbs.
An article by Mayoclinic iterates that the convention is to eat approximately 10-12gms of carbs per kilogram of your body weight. So, if you weigh 77kgs, you should be getting at least 770gms of carbs to achieve 70 percent of your dietary intake – or 3080 calories – just from carbs, per day.
However, it’s important to remember that each person’s body and metabolism is unique to them, so adjust the intake according to what you determine to be your peak performance. Don’t be worried if you put on a little weight during this process, since that’s just an indication that you’re doing it right – remember when we said that glycogen is stored in your body in its hydrated state?
This is all the better for you, since this means that your body will be both properly fuelled and hydrated while running.
It’s All About That Timing
You didn’t think we’d tell you all this and not indicate what to do before race day to ensure you’re perfectly fuelled, did you? Here’s a simple meal schedule to help you better prepare.
Two weeks prior: practice carb-loading
Tinker with your diet and begin to ingest more carbs. Around this time is when you should do your last big run, because from now on you’ll be running less and less so that your body can go into its carb-loading phase. Check which foods work for you and which don’t, taking measures to eliminate those foods which mess with your digestive process.
Two or three days before: switch to carbs
At this point, 85 to 95 percent of your diet should be carbs. It’s extremely important to remember to eat after smaller runs, because this is when your body is primed to store glycogen.
Night before: don’t stuff yourself
Dinner should be small but carb-heavy. Eating early in the evening will give you plenty of time to digest your food. The key is to wake up hungry for breakfast and not full from dinner the night before.
Race Morning: Have breakfast
Three hours before the start, eat 150gms of carbs, ideally a sports drink and a bowl of oatmeal for easy digestion. And since the Mumbai marathon kicks off early, that means you’ll have to eat by 3am, to make sure that you’re properly fuelled and won’t face indigestion problems during your run.
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