Nutrient timing: When it comes to eating for health or weight loss, meal and nutrient timing is largely irrelevant. However, when you are training for an event such as a marathon it becomes more important. I’m going to use the lead up to marathon day as a practical example but remember that these pre/post workout strategies are applicable to most training sessions.
The key areas I would focus on are:
The lead up to the big race: In the 2-3 days before the race, we want to maximize our fuel stores (muscle glycogen) and maintain hydration levels. To do this increase the amount of carbohydrates you consume by adding an extra scoop of oats at breakfast, an extra few rice cakes at snack time or an extra potato or two at dinner. Don’t get too bogged down by technical strategies, remember to keep things simple and familiar.
Pre-race meal: Aim to have your pre-workout meal 2-4 hours before your race. Ideally, make it high in carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein and limited fat and fibre. My favourites would include porridge with Greek yoghurt and banana, scrambled eggs or baked beans on toast or something like a spaghetti bolognaise or shepherd’s pie. A smoothie can be a great idea if you struggle to eat a meal or find your appetite is low. It’s also important to start your race hydrated so be sure to get some fluids in too.
Pre-workout snack: Aim to consume a high carbohydrate snack 30-60 minutes before your race in order to help balance blood sugar levels, boost carbohydrate stores and maintain hydration. Why not try fresh fruit and yoghurt, a handful of dried fruit, a granola bar or some rice cakes with peanut butter and banana. If you are using caffeine pre-race then include that now, trial this outside of important races first.
Intra workout: For a run lasting less than 60 minutes water should be sufficient. However, for sessions lasting more than 60-90 minutes, aim to get some carbohydrates in together with your fluids to help maintain performance and delay fatigue. Guidelines recommend 30-60g/hour with 30g looking like a handful of raisins and water, 1-2 bananas and water.
Post-training: Focus on the 3 R’s: Re-hydrate with fluids and electrolytes, Repair your muscles with protein and Refuel your energy stores with carbohydrates. Aim to consume this snack within 30 minutes of finishing your session. A great option is milk, specifically chocolate milk, or a protein shake with a banana. You can then top up with a proper meal 2-3 hours later, for example, chicken and rice with veg, beef mince with pasta and tomato sauce or turkey burgers with sweet potato wedges and salad. Replace fluids and electrolytes by drinking fluid slowly over the next 24 hrs. If you’re planning on having a few post race celebratory drinks try to ensure you have rehydrated first.
Supplements: The last part of the picture is supplements. These make up the last 5% and for most of us may not be necessary. From a health perspective, I would recommend looking into a good omega 3 and vitamin D supplement and from a performance perspective perhaps things like caffeine and whey protein. There are so many other aspects that will have a role to play in your recovery and performance such as sleep, stress management and balancing your training load to avoid over-training and injury.
Remember what works for one person may not be applicable to another. If you feel you need further help or support then please get in touch with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian who will be able to work with you on a 1-1 basis and help you achieve your performance, health or body composition goals.