Are you preparing for your first major race and you are confused about what to eat and drink during a marathon? Here are simple guidelines.
With so much science and information available, it’s often hard to decide for yourself what you should be doing. The choice between sports drinks and water can be tricky, particularly if you aren’t sure what you will be offered or how often. Sports drinks are an excellent source of carbohydrate and fluid; however, many of them are too concentrated and can cause stomach problems.
Check what drinks will be available on the race and try them out on your runs in advance. If the drinks have more than 4% carbohydrate (this is 4g per 100ml on the label), it would be a better idea to alternate water and energy drinks at each aid station or simply stick to water. If there’s a specific during-exercise hydration drink available, then you can take this at every aid station.
The amount of fluid you need varies a lot and depends on your pace and weather conditions. It’s best to use your thirst as a guide; but keep in mind that it’s better to drink little and often, and avoid large amounts at once because this can give you a stitch.
If the temperatures are low then 200-400ml may suffice, rising to 400-800ml in warmer conditions. Even if the temperatures are very high, you should avoid drinking much more than this because it can lead to hyponatremia, a potentially very serious condition where your body loses its ability to control salt levels. It’s normal to cross the finish line dehydrated to some extent, and in many ways our bodies are better at dealing with dehydration than excess fluid consumption.
The best way to take in additional calories is by having small bites of an energy bar or energy chews every 20-30 minutes.
Keep it as simple as possible and practise your nutrition and hydration strategy as often as you can on your long runs. Eat or drink more if you feel you need it, and always listen to your body.