Your race day eating plan


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This article was published in Medibank Privates be. magazine (Spring 2017 edition) and Live Better website in the lead up to the 2018 Medibank Melbourne Marathon. Check it out here!

Fuel up and give it your best. Sports dietitian Tim McMaster shares what to eat before, during and after a fitness event.

Race day has arrived, but do you have a plan? All the effort in training can be undone very quickly with the wrong nutrition on race day, especially if you try anything you’re not used to. A good strategy is to break race day into three main segments – pre-race, during and post-race.

Pre-race

The aim of the pre-race meal is to top-up the fuel storage, or carbohydrates, in your body. It’s best to have foods that are familiar to you, as the pre-race meal can make or break your opportunity to reach that personal best.

About 90-120 minutes before, begin with a carbohydrate-based meal that is low in protein, fat and dietary fibre. We cut these down because at this stage they delay digestion, taking blood away from the working muscles and into the intestines. If you add the jolting movement that comes with running, you’ve got a recipe for disaster!

Easy to digest options can include yoghurt and fruit with the skin removed, a small bowl of ‘low-ish’ fibre cereal with fresh fruit, a couple of slices of toast, pikelets or dry biscuits with jam or honey. If you’re feeling the pre-race jitters, homemade smoothies, yoghurt or sports drinks can also be a great option.

Make sure you’re well hydrated leading up to the race. It’s a common mistake to overdrink on the day so avoid the unwanted toilet stops by only having small amounts of fluid before the start gun.

During the race

If you’re running for less than an hour there is generally no need to consume any carbohydrates during the race, but you will if you’re doing the half or the full marathon. This is because the body has only enough carbohydrate fuel to last around 60-75 minutes of exercise.

The key is to delay the burning of energy as long as possible by adding fuel to the stockpiles in your body. Sports foods like carb gels/confectionary and sports drinks can help here. They are designed for rapid digestion, sending glucose through the bloodstream and into exercising muscles.

It’s important to note that timing is crucial, as carb gels need to be taken with 100-150 ml of water to help speed up digestion.

Have a plan of attack and spend some time analysing the course map, highlight the points of the track where you will need to take on added fuel. As a starting point, aim for a minimum of 30 g of carbohydrate or roughly one gel every 45 minutes.

Keep hydration in the back of your mind, as getting in enough fluid and electrolytes is important. However, it’s a fine line between rehydrating and overhydrating, so watch the pace your body hydrates and plan how much water you’ll have during the race.

Post-race

Now that the race is over, it’s time to focus on properly slowing down your body into a healthy state. The best way to do this is to follow the Four Rs to Recovery:

  • Repair and refuel by consuming protein and carbohydrate, within 30 minutes of finishing.
  • Rehydrate with water or milk, as milk will help replace fluid, carbohydrate, electrolytes and some protein.
  • Rest up! It’s important to practice any nutrition a number of times to see how your body copes, then choose the pre-race meal that suits you best. Remember, not trying anything new is essential when being prepared for this big day!

The best food to fuel your fitness training


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This article was published in Medibank Privates be. magazine (Spring 2017 edition) and Live Better website in the lead up to the 2018 Medibank Melbourne Marathon. Check it out here!

What should you eat to stay strong, fit and nourished? Sports dietitian Tim McMaster shares his formula.

Whether you’re training for your first fun run, or aiming for that personal best in the marathon, you’ve no doubt developed a program to achieve your time goal. But do you have a nutrition plan to complement your hard work?

Distance runners require lots of energy for stamina, especially during demanding training. Feeding the body with the right nutrition for each training session will reduce early fatigue, allowing you to work at a higher intensity for longer. Come race day, this puts you in the best position to delay fatigue as long as possible, and achieve your time goal!

A good nutrition approach has three key focus areas:

  • Fuel and refuel
  • Repair and recover
  • Support immune function

Fuel and refuel with carbs

If you think of your body as a sports car, the food you put into it is the fuel. Without the right fuel, your performance will significantly decline. The right fuel includes healthier carbohydrate foods, like whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, dairy and legumes.

While previous ways of thinking about fuel meant constantly loading up on carbohydrates, recent research leans towards ‘carbohydrate periodisation’. Put simply, carbohydrate periodisation means prioritising carbohydrate foods for training sessions that require the most fuel.

For example, increase carbohydrate intake around high intensity (HIT) sessions that last longer than 90 minutes, and reduce carbohydrates around recovery and low intensity (LIT) sessions. Once the LIT sessions are completed, increase your carbohydrate intake for your next HIT, and the cycle continues.

This allows the body to train different energy systems (both carbohydrate and fat fuel sources), which improves efficiency and potentially delays fatigue when competing.

Repair and recover with protein

Immediately after a training session (while the body is most sensitive), there’s a 30 minute window where getting in the right nutrients will help speed up recovery. This will increase your ability to perform at a higher level for the next training session.

We all know protein plays a key role in muscle recovery, but the amount of protein is most important. 20-25 g is the ideal amount within that 30 minute window, with studies showing that consuming higher amounts of protein has no extra benefit to muscle repair and recovery.

So what does 25 g of protein look like?

  • 100 – 120 g uncooked meat/chicken/fish
  • 4 eggs
  • Small tin tuna
  • 1.5 tubs high protein yoghurt
  • ¾ cup of unsalted nuts

Adding carbohydrate to this recovery meal will refill the tank for the next training session. This can be achieved by eating a meal like breakfast or dinner just after the training session, or suitable snacks between meals.

Boost immunity with fruit and veggies

Getting sick isn’t an option when training for a marathon. Illness limits training, which leads to a decline in fitness. While it’s tempting to go for multivitamins or
super-green supplements, it’s important to nourish the body properly – not go for a bandaid fix.

Real and wholesome food, such as a wide range of fruits and vegetables, will provide an array of vitamins and minerals to give your immune system a superior
advantage. Aim to get in extra nutrients, such as vegetables with each main meal, and fruits for mid-meal snacks.