Fuel Your Running

Fuel Your Running

Someone asked on Twitter the other day, "Can you fuel a marathon on Jelly Babies". The answer is yes. How do I I know? Because I've tried it. The question could also be phrased, "Should you fuel a marathon on Jelly Babies and if not, why not" and until Thursday evening I didn't know the answer to that.

On Thursday evening I was very lucky to be invited to the Science in Sport (SiS) Marathon Kitting Out event at the Good Housekeeping Institute, London. The evening comprised of lots of nutrition chat, a tempo run and a delicious post-run dinner.

I've had so many messages and questions about the event I thought it might help if I shared what I learnt from the event. I'm in no way trying to give nutritional advice as I'm not qualified to do so but these are the key things that I took away from the event.

If you just want to read the take home messages scroll straight to the bottom and they're summarised in a few bullet points.

‘Fuelling for Marathon Day’
We started the evening with a brilliant presentation from Dr James Morton, the nutritionist for Team Sky and World Class Knowledge Director at SiS. In order toteach us how to fuel for marathon day James first taught us how energy is stored within the liver and our muscles and how we tap into the energy sources when we exercise. There were some very scientific charts and graphs with the upshot being that our bodies are carbohydrate dependant within a race. Therefore, we have to make sure we have fuelled our bodies with enough carbohydrates: James advised that we need 100g per 10kg of bodyweight. So if you weigh 70kg you need to be fuelling yourself with 700g of carbohydrates.

Don't worry, you don't eat all of this in one go, the 700g is consumed over the course of a day.

One big thing we were reminded about was that you don't have to eat all of your carbohydrates. You can get a lot in drinks too. SiS do a range of gels and electrolytes which will help you to easily get 20g in one go.

However, another common mistake is not fuelling up early enough. If you have a Sunday morning race James advised that we need to be eating a carb high diet from Friday night at the latest but ideally 48 hours before.

Previous London Marathon runners have been profiled and we were shown their stats. There was a clear drop off for those who hadn't had enough carbohydrates and their finish time.

The best thing to do to practice this pre-race routine is to test it out every weekend on your long runs. Make sure you up your carbs each Friday and throughout Saturday and see what impact it has on your training runs.

So that's Pre-race nutrition sorted, what about on race day? James suggested eating breakfast 3 hours before the race starts and again that's something to test out pre-race. One thing that I found really interesting was about ensuring that we don't leave it too late to fuel in the race. The liver empties it's energy reserves after an hour of exercise and our muscles empty theirs after 2 hours. For most of us that means we've got another 2-3 hours of fuel to find.  And how are we going to do that? Well apparently we need 60g/hr so on the basis that there are 20g of carbs in an SiS gel that means 3 gels an hour. This to me sounds like loads and I definitely don't start my races with gels like I've seen some people doing. Don't forget though, you can add combination electrolytes to your water so you can get energy on board that way, without having to have so many gels. We were advised not to let yourself run out of energy before adding more fuel.

‘Fuelling for your run’
Next up was a food demonstration and talk with Performance Chef Alan Murchison. Alan has a tonne of impressive cooking credentials and I was so excited to taste his food post-run that I'm sure it made me run quicker.

My key take-home piece of advice from Alan's talk was that we should be treating our nutrition in the same way as we do our physical training plans. I bet pretty much everyone reading this is following a plan to tell them how many miles they need to be running on a Sunday morning. But I bet there aren't even five of us who have a nutritional plan! I definitely don't but what Alan advised is that meals should have a purpose just like each session. 

Another key take home message was go back to basics. We considered the history and developments in running, the gains (or losses) you can make with great kit and by trying altitude training. However this was put into stark perspective when we were reminded that despite the advances in technology the last time the UK men's marathon record was broken was back in 1985 by Steve Jones. Therefore, don't get too sucked in by marketing blurb and stick to the core ingredients. Train smart, buy better quality food and get plenty of sleep. Most importantly though, practice your race nutrition each weekend before your longrun and ideally throughout the week too and adapt to what works and what doesn't.

After all the talking it was time for some action in the form of a 5k Pace run with Max Willcocks, SiS Ambassador and Running Coach. Max led us on a fast run around St James' Park and Green Park with tips on how to run faster and ease the pain in our bodies in endurance running.

To finish there was a ‘Post Run Recovery’ with James Morton + a Q&A. James talked us through post-run fuelling as we tucked into the most delicious dinner prepared by Alan. I wish he could cook dinner for me every night. I am definitely going to start eating more quinoa (power grain) and adding cashews to my chicken dishes.

I asked why I should use gels. I explained that although I run a lot I would consider myself a beginner when it comes to race nutrition and gels and what they were suggesting seemed to me to be pretty pricey. Naomi was fantastic and her answer made so much sense. She advised that it's totally optional how someone fuels their running. She confirmed that you can get by without using gels. However, the first thing she asked was whether i get injured. By fuelling a muscle properly you stop it from getting fatigued and, in time, damaged. When we're running our muscles are likely to keep going even when they're empty but to protect them from damage and help them to perform you've got to give them fuel.

The taste test: I tried my first SiS gel in my next long run and I was prepared for the worst. On Thursday I was told that whilst other gels may taste a bit nicer SiS gels have been designed to create provide performance. The science has gone in first and taste had taken second place, another reason why I like SiS, honesty always wins. The raspberry gel was just fine it wasn't yucky and I didn't feel sick afterwards. I actually ran my 16 miler faster than my 14 miler but I'm not sure I can attribute that totally to the gel. Although I did feel a lot more confident going in to my run as I had eaten well beforehand.

In summary:

  • Fuel your body properly at least 48 hours before a long run. Practice this each week.
  • The carbohydrate is King
  • Put as much effort into your nutrition as your training runs.

A massive thanks again to SiS for a fantastic evening and for kitting me out with a massive stash of race nutrition goodies.

I know this is a bit of a long one but would love to know your thoughts or any tips. Just drop them in the comments below or come and chat on Twitter or Instagram @lucy_fitness

Lucy x