Running a marathon is no joke, especially if it's your first time. When you've been training for months, the prospect of running more than 26 miles at a stretch might not seem so daunting, but you still want to make sure you plan for success.
This means not just training well in advance and getting the right shoes and other gear, but also thinking about the nutrition required to get through the race without having to hit every restroom along the course, or worse, collapsing mid-run. Here are a few nutrition basics for newbies interested in running their first marathon.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
This cannot be stressed enough. You don't necessarily need to drink gallons of water before the race - this will only lead to frequent bathroom stops. However, you do need to make sure you have enough fluid going in to counteract what you lose through sweating.
Most experienced runners advise drinking water before, during, and after the race. Start with 8-16 ounces about an hour before the race starts and then make a point of stopping at every water station along the course. Drink plenty of water afterwards, as well.
Your body can help you to determine if you need more. If you feel parched, you may have waited too long. And your urine tells a tale, too - pale urine and frequent bathroom trips denote excess water in your system, while infrequent urination and dark yellow color are dehydration territory.
Over time, you should be able to get a handle on how much water you need during your runs. Just remember to bump it up if your race is on a particularly hot day or you're running a more difficult course (more hills, for example) than you're used to.
Avoid Sugar Overload
Many marathon runners have discovered that water just isn't enough to keep them energized throughout the race. Sports drinks, gels, and bars are made for just this purpose, but in addition to electrolytes and other nutrients, many have a lot of added sugar.
This can actually help to give you a boost of quick-burning energy mid-race, but be careful. Ingesting too many of these products can give you an upset tummy or even cause frequent pit stops.
Don't Eat Right before the Race
You're definitely going to need energy to get through a marathon, but eating a huge meal right before you start running isn't the best idea. Whatever you normally do for practice runs, you should stick with it for your marathon. For most people this means a light meal well in advance, gel packs or bars during the race, and a bigger meal after the fact.
Understand Carb Loading
You may not be able to eat a hearty meal on race day, but you can definitely load up on energizing carbs the night before. Carb loading is a practice that many distance runners employ and it's a good way to prep your body for the rigors of a marathon.
Simply add some extra carbs to your evening meal the night before your race. Don't stuff yourself silly; just increase your portion of carbohydrates to give your body extra fuel for the coming expenditure of energy.
Avoid Medications and Alcohol
You may not know this, but alcohol can be dehydrating, especially when imbibed in large quantities. Chances are you don't plan to get wasted the night before a race, but since you want to be in good form, it's probably best to avoid any alcohol the day before your big run.
It's also a good idea to skip NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and aspirin the day of the race, too, since they can cause upset stomach and other issues. If you're suffering aches and pains, opt for acetaminophen instead.
Develop a Plan
In terms of race-day nutrition, having a plan can make a world of difference. Have your plan for food and drinks nailed down well before the race and don't try anything new the day of your marathon.
You should also do some research on the course and weather conditions, which can make a difference in how much food and fluids you need. Make sure you know where water stations and toilets are along the course, as well. Having a plan in place can help you to successfully complete your first marathon and those that follow.