All these weeks of strenuous physical training has been crucial to getting you ready for the New York City Marathon. But equally important is what you are fueling your body with, and at two weeks prior to the race, you have to get it right. “Think of it as filling up a car with gas,” says 11-time marathoner, Blair Boyer. Make sure to fill yourself up with the right things, at the right amounts, and at the right times, for optimal performance. These are some basic tips on how to do it.
During the two weeks before the marathon, most runners will be going on shorter runs, allowing their bodies to recover and rest. Though you will be tapering your output, maintain a high carbohydrate diet four to five days before the marathon, advises Heidi Skolnik, a senior nutritionist at the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. This is an important period to do so because your body is expending less energy than in prior weeks, and will be better able to store what’s taken in for when it will be needed most. But beware of certain temporary changes to the body as a result of this. “Do not freak,” cautions Skolnik. “You will gain weight.”
Hydrating should start a few days before as well, with the day and night before being particularly important. This holds true for your practice runs too. Drink steadily throughout those important runs, usually 12 oz or so per hour of running, depending on your body size and sweat rate. “Everyone’s sweat rate is different – so take note of urine color around training time,” notes Slotnik. “It should be the color of lemonade” with any darker shade indicating dehydration, and anything too light indicating the opposite.
Keep in mind also that by the time you feel thirsty, your body has already become dehydrated so try to compensate more than adequately with water intake when this happens. However, Slotnik warns to be careful not to drink too much, because that can lead to hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when the level of sodium, an essential electrolyte in your blood, drops too low from over-dilution. So make sure to up your intake of sodium and other electrolytes such as potassium and calcium (contained in many sports drinks) in advance of an energy-expending run.
The proper amount of carbs, proteins and fats will be essential, and this is a key period to go over your diet carefully. Carbohydrates break down and are stored as the glycogen your body needs to burn for energy. On a daily basis, carbs should make up between 55% to 60% of your total daily intake. For someone who weighs 100 lbs, they should be taking in 300 to 500 grams each day in carbs. Great sources include breads, rice, quinoa, and pasta of course! But lesser-known carbohydrate-rich sources are fruit, milk, yogurt and beans.
Proteins should be 10-15% of your total dietary intake. So for 100 lbs, that would mean 60-70 grams of protein daily. They are broken down into amino acids which help repair and build up the muscles in your body. Good sources include meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, dairy products, beans and nuts.
Fats should constitute 25% to 30% of your diet – but make sure they’re healthy or “good” fats (think omega 3’s). These are used by the body for energy as well – we’ll get to cravings next – but excellent sources include fish, nuts, and flax seeds.
As for supplements such as energy bars and gels, check out how many grams of carbs are in them to gauge how much you should take. Skolnik’s rule of thumb is that 60 to 80 grams are oxidized every hour, or 1.24 to 1.4 grams of carbs a minute. But not everyone needs or can burn that much; you should see what feels right to your body by trial and error. Most gels contain 25 grams of carbs. Power Bars have almost double that amount. Both should be accompanied by water to get them down and digested, in addition to ensuring adequate hydration. Sports drinks too are helpful in keeping you going, with Gatorade having 15 grams of carbs per 8 oz. Try to determine what the right combination of all these supplements is for your body.
And do NOT start to experiment with anything new the week of the big race. “Stick with the things that brought you to the dance,” advises Boyer. You don’t want any unpleasant surprises from your body during the marathon.
Many runners get cravings. These are natural since your metabolism has accelerated along with the pace of your training. Try to eat larger, regular meals but listen to your body and snack when it tells you to. It knows when you need more calories. The challenge is to stick with healthy treats like fresh or dried fruits and a variety of nuts, yogurt, protein bars – though some are so good, with flavors like coconut-chocolate chip, that they’re almost addictive. Periodically, pints of ice cream may seem to be calling your name, but try to stick to downing no more than one at a sitting and at least try to remember that excessive fats will not be going towards building up your lower areas in any useful manner. Still, nothing beats hot chocolate – bad fats and all – after a good long run in chilly winter weather.
As you get closer to race day, pay attention to how your body processes food, supplements, liquids. Your body is becoming quite a running machine at this point. Eat and drink well now, fine-tune what works best for you and in what amounts, and you will have a well-oiled engine, gunned and ready, come Marathon Day.
Yuki Kaneshige is a native New Yorker and freelance multimedia journalist. She will be running her first marathon in New York City with Team for Kids, an organization that raises funds for youth running programs.