Thursday, October 27, 2011

What to Eat the Week Before a Marathon

Ten days before a marathon, your training is essentially done, with just one run of 8-10 miles at a moderate pace, plus a handful of shorter runs, left. The inactivity makes you anxious. You wish there was something that you could do to improve your chances of running your best on race day.

There is one thing.

You can plan your diet for the next ten days. 

When you’re about to drive your car on a long trip, you probably visit Jiffy Lube to make sure all the critical fluids are “topped off.” In that same vein, you have to figure out what you can eat in the next ten days to make sure that your body goes to the starting line with full stores of all essential vitamins and minerals, and with muscles that are ready to fire when asked.

How can you do this?

  • For the first three days, you can more or less eat your normal diet, presuming that your normal diet is generally healthy, with a good mix of carbs, proteins, fruits and vegetables. If you don’t have these on hand in your home, go food shopping today. If you eat most of your meals out, only visit places where you eat smartly. Tell your favorite fast food joint goodbye until after the race.
  • For the second three days, it’s time to take down the carbs – that’s right, take down the carbs – a few notches for three days, to 60% of calories on Monday, 50% on Tuesday, and 40% on Wednesday. This prepares your body to “carbo load.”
  • Finally, for the three days before a race, it’s time to carbo-load with low glycemic carbs, and, particularly on Friday and Saturday, max out on fruits and veggies, with a decent amount of protein as well. NOT ALL CARBS ARE EQUAL. Low-glycemic carbs (whole wheat pasta, vermicelli, vegetables, fruits, Sweet Potatoes) are much better than high-glycemic carbs (white potatoes, white pasta, white bread) because they help you release a slow, steady stream of energy, rather than a short, rapid burst.
For the final two days before the race, make sure to avoid spicy meals that may upset your stomach the next day. Also avoid red meat or anything else that you think may impact your gastrointestinal system during the race.

Also during the last two days, focus heavily on potassium – Sweet potatoes (with the skin on), coconut juice, orange juice, bananas and all other fruits and vegetables are handy sources that likely won’t sit too heavily in your stomach. Getting adequate potassium is essential if you want to avoid leg cramps on race day, particularly if you have large leg muscles.

The night before the race, keep eating lightly right up until bed time, especially if you're race is at 7 am and you won't be able to eat much in the morning. You can't have a last meal at 6 pm and think it will continue to power you pas the 20-mile mark around 10 am the next day.

When you wake up on race day, eat the same foods you’ve eaten before all of your long runs – this is not a time to try something new. Ideally you'll eat 3-4 hours before the race but also eat something light, such as pretzels, past that point. You need a lot of energy today. Continue to hydrate – without overdoing it, as this can be more dangerous than under-hydrating – right until race time.

If you ate light foods during your long runs, do so during the race; pretzels or other snacks in small bites can stave off hunger and provide much-needed energy.

A wonderful NYC restaurant to enjoy your pre- and post- marathon meals is Tir na nOg which has two incredible, authentic Irish pubs; one is at 5 Penn Plaza (33rd/8th) and the other is at 315 W. 39th St., west of 8th Ave. They have a brilliant Celtic-American menu are both close to Penn Station and Times Square and area hotels. They also show all European and American sports all day long.