Coming up with a race day fueling plan can be intimidating. With so many products out there, it's hard to know where to start. Proper fueling can be the difference between just finishing the marathon and setting a new PR while feeling great. Here are some tips from The Feed's Registered Dietitian and runner to help you navigate your race-day nutrition. Be sure to check out our new Marathon Fueling Pack that contains the products recommended below!
💁♀️Are you a Cyclist and not running a Marathon? Keep reading! The advice for Marathon Fueling is directly applicable to long 2+ hour training rides and races.
💧Your Hydration Plan.
Adequate hydration heading into the race and on race-day is necessary for muscle function and fuel delivery. Water mixed with an electrolyte tablet or powder is best for hydration because the electrolytes ensure that you are absorbing the water, and will also prevent cramping and stomach upset.
- 2 to 3 Days before the race: drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as one or two bottles of sports drink (such as Nuun Hydration tabs in either the Sport, Vitamin, or Immunity variety) to make sure you are adequately hydrated. I like Nuun Sport because it gives you the electrolytes you need to ensure that you are hydrated without the excess sugar found in other sports drinks.
- Morning of the race: give yourself time in the morning to drink 8-16 oz. of an electrolyte drink. Hydrating with electrolytes before the race will help you better maintain your core temperature during the race, reduce risk of experiencing stomach distress, and also prevent cramping. You can choose a plain electrolyte drink like Nuun Sport (or Nuun Sport + Caffeine for added energy), or choose one with some carbohydrates to top off your fuel stores like Maurten Drink Mix 160. If it's especially hot/humid or you're a heavy sweater, you can use a higher sodium drink mix option, such as Skratch Labs Wellness Hydration.
- During the race: if you plan to carry fluids with you, Maurten Drink Mix 320 is a great product because it provides you with carbohydrates and sodium to keep you fueled and hydrated. With it's unique hydrogel technology, you're also less likely to experience stomach upset. A good goal is to have one 500mL bottle every 60-90 minutes. We just made some new running bottles that are the same ones used by Kipchoge in all his marathons, they are much easier to run with than a normal water bottle.
💁♀️Tip: Sip on your fluids during the race, don't chug them all at once. This will prevent that sloshy, full feeling and also help you get the most from your fluids.
🏃♂️💨Your Fueling Plan
Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for your muscles during endurance activity. We store carbohydrates as glycogen within our muscles, and these stores are what will be used during the marathon. If you don't top them off beforehand, or if you run out during the race, you can experience that "hit the wall" feeling known as bonking.
- Day before the race: have a big dinner rich in carbohydrates 3-4 hours before you go to bed. This will top off your fuel stores but still give you time to digest. You can also have a light snack (like oatmeal or cereal) an hour before bed if you still feel hungry.
- Morning of the race: get up with enough time to have a decent breakfast 1-2 hours before you plan to warm up. Picky Performance Oats are a great pre-race breakfast option. You can also have something light and easy to digest, like a Honey Stinger Waffle, about an hour before the start to top off fuel stores.
- During the race: taking in at least 60 grams of carbs per hour can help you stay fueled and prevent bonking. However, most of us can only absorb up to 90 grams of carbs per hour, so it's important to know how many carbs you're getting from your sports drinks, chews, and gels to avoid exceeding this number and experiencing stomach distress. Here are some great energy sources to use while running:
- Maurten Drink Mix 320. One bottle has 320 calories and 80g of carbs. Drinking one bottle every 60-90 minutes can be enough on it's own, so it's a good option if you have trouble tolerating chews, gels, or solid food. The Drink Mix 160 is a good option if you plan to take in gels and chews because it has half of the carbs as the Drink Mix 320, so it will keep you from exceeding that 90 grams per hour limit.
- Gels. Our first choice here is Maurten 100 Gel because you aren't required to drink water with it, so if you aren't planning to carry fluids this gel is the way to go and will provide you 25g of carbs per Gel. You can use up to 3 per hour.
- Chews. Chews are similar to gels in the nutrition they provide, but they are a good alternative if you don't like the consistency of gels. You can also alternate between the two for variety. Keep in mind that a serving of chews is typically 1/2 the package, so you can have a few chews every 20 minutes to keep energy stores up.
🚀 Your High-Performance Plan
Now that you are ✅ hydrated and have ✅ consistent energy, the next step includes products that will help you finish your first marathon strong and set your PR. Here are some recommendations that are popular among many of the top Marathoners:
Sur AltRed: This capsule contains betalains extract, the nutrient in beets that gives them their bright red color. Betalains have been shown to boost endurance performance by improving the flow of oxygen to working muscles and reducing lactic acid build-up. This can help you go faster and farther with more efficiency. It also helps you recover quicker after exercise. Take one capsule 2 hours before the race, then an additional capsule right before the start.
Amp Human PR Lotion: Sodium bicarbonate has been known to boost endurance performance for decades. However, until this product, it had to be ingested, which often caused such bad stomach issues that it wasn't worth taking for most athletes. This topical sodium bicarbonate lotion solves that problem because it gets absorbed directly into the muscles, where it works to buffer lactic acid. So, you can reap the performance-enhancing benefits without experiencing the GI distress it used to cause, giving you the best of both worlds!
💁♀️Tip: The combination of Sur AltRed & Amp Human PR Lotion is the ultimate lactic buffering hack. These can help prolong the time to that burning lactic feeling, so you can push harder for longer. They are also great to use in your training as you will be able to push yourself harder and see improvements faster.
Run Gum: Caffeine is a well known ergogenic aid, meaning it has been shown in research to boost endurance naturally. Some people can tolerate a cup of coffee before a race, but many people can't. That's where this awesome product comes in! Created by a distance runner and 2x Olympian, two pieces of gum provide the equivalent of one cup of coffee, so you can still get the performance benefits without the stomach issues. You can also use it during the race to keep caffeine levels elevated throughout your run.
VitalFit Tart Cherry: tart cherries are a great anti-inflammatory, and can work as well as over the counter NSAIDs without the adverse side effects. They have been shown to reduce muscle soreness and boost recovery after exercise. Tart cherries also help boost natural melatonin production, so they're great for improving sleep quality. Take one capsule each day in the weeks leading up to your marathon to make sure you're fully recovered and ready to go!
HVMN Ketone Ester: This is becoming a very popular supplement for endurance racing. It is very expensive and taste's pretty terrible, but many athletes swear by it. HVMN Ketone Ester provides you with ketones for fuel, which can be used at a lower oxygen cost and also help spare your glycogen stores. However, it is known to cause stomach upset so it's a good idea to test this out before a training run first.
The recommended usage is to take 1 bottle right before your start, then another bottle every 1.5-2 hours, i.e. during your race. But, you don't want to exceed 3 bottles in 24-hours so you want to plan accordingly on race day.
💁♀️Tip: it's best not to try anything new on race day. I would recommend testing out these products on your training runs first, so you know how your body responds to them. In the same way that you can train your body to tolerate running high mileage, you can train your gut to tolerate taking in carbs and fluids while running. Practice your race day fueling plan on your long runs leading into the race, so you know what works and what doesn't. This will help you dial in your fueling strategy so you can feel confident on race day!
If you're interested in testing some of the products mentioned above, check out our NEW Marathon Fueling Pack which comes with 2 Free Running Bottles. If you have more questions about how to use any of these products, I'm Maddie, a registered dietitian and head of nutritional coaching at The Feed (and an All-American Runner). You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'm here to answer your questions personally.
- Maddie MS, RD