The Dos and Don’ts of Hydration and Nutrition for Long Runs

Last week I posted about Rob Young, Marathon Man UK, and his amazing record-breaking Forrest Gump style running journey.  However, even if you’re not planning on running every day or covering those sorts of distances – if you’re training for a Half Marathon or a Marathon then you need to be aware of the demands that you’re placing on your body.

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To be entirely blunt, when I was marathon training I was perpetually hungry.  I could easily put away a decent sized portion of supper and then be ready for a snack not long after.   Whilst you don’t have a golden ticket to eat whatever you want whenever you want for four months straight, you do have increased energy demands and you need to support your body properly if you’re going to get through training and give your best performance.

Most people know about carb loading and think of pre-race spaghetti bolognaise.  I’m unashamed to fit the stereotype and say that is my night before a long run meal of choice (I make a great one).  However, there is so much more to hydration and nutrition for a long run than pasta.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts for thinking about hydration and nutrition:

DO: Practice your race day strategy

If you want to use gels during your marathon or half marathon then you must try them before the day on a training run.  If you stop reading now then at least remember this.  This is because beyond whether or not you like the taste or practicality of carrying the product, the ingredients may not necessarily agree with your stomach whilst exercising.  This is really something you’d rather know when your time doesn’t count and there aren’t hundreds of people lining the streets of your run.

Think about what you will use – will it be energy gels, chews, a sports drink, sweets etc, and when you will use it.  Lucozade Sport even do special jelly beans that I definitely don’t eat on the sofa whilst not exercising….

DO: Plan your breakfast

Think about what time you will start running and factor that in to your pre-race breakfast and training.  If I’m going out for a long run normally then my breakfast would be something like peanut butter on toast, but with the time lapse between leaving the house and starting a race I’ll either increase the amount of this or I’ll swap in some scrambled eggs.  However – this is what I have found works for me.  Have a play around and find out what works for you.  I promise I’ll stop talking about this soon, but much with the issue with gels during the race, anything that is linked to your digestion is something you want to practice.

Priming the body with carbohydrates at breakfast is one way to ensure that your  performance does not suffer during your training run. Porridge, toast, cereal, bagels are all popular meal choices.

Keep fibre and fat to a minimum when having your race day breakfast as these can cause upset stomachs during the race.

DON’T: Just leave it to meals

Every runner is different: if I’m running a half marathon I wouldn’t take on any  extra nutrition until around mile 9, whereas during the marathon I started at mile 6, but if you’re running any long distance you will need to take on energy during the run.

This is because Carbohydrate stores in your body can deplete during your run. Consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution can help maintain endurance performance. One size does not fit all.  Faster runners may need more carbohydrate during their training runs, while slower paced runners may need less. Aim to consume between 30g-60g of carbohydrate per hour. This is equivalent to 1-2 Lucozade Sports each hour of the run.

When I ran the London Marathon I used four energy gels and this worked well to keep me energised without overloading me.

DON’T: Get the wrong balance with water

Staying hydrated is essential to good performance, but you can also risk over-hydration – not to mention drinking too much during the race and needing to find a portaloo.

Weigh yourself before and after a training session to see how much fluid you are losing in sweat during a training session. Use this to inform your fluid intake for a race. But the first simple rule is drink when you are thirsty both before and during the race. Try to avoid taking on large amounts of fluid throughout the race. Drinking little and often is a much smarter way to keep hydrated during training sessions and the race.

DON’T: Forget to have a post-race meal or snack

It’s important to refuel your body after what it’s just accomplished, and I should advise you to go for a mix of carbohydrates and around 20g of high quality protein, and you should.  However, you’ve just run a long way – eat whatever you want so long as you remember to eat something.  I ate a burger after the London Marathon and it was pretty much the most delicious thing I felt I’d ever had.  Stick to the above rule about a balanced meal during training certainly, but don’t forget to treat yourself after the race.  You’ve earned it.

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Thank you so much to Lucozade Sport for inviting me to run with Rob and providing the nutritional information for this post – it’s good to have my own experiences backed up with a little science!

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