Fuelling Endurance Performance

There's nothing like learning a harsh lesson in the heat of a Marathon – just like I did at Blackheath back in 1998. Seven days before the event I was tapering down my training load, which was a nice relief to be honest.

However, I took everything far to casually, ignoring good nutrition and basically just stuffing down a plate of pasta with a little bit of chicken every night – my prep was that bad as I grabbed my trainers and headed for the start line with a flash new pair of trainers.

In reality, the race should have be the only thing on my mind during the prep week – that's why it's called 'preparation' because if you don't prepare – you fail at some point over a gruelling 26.2 mile slog. For me, I hit the wall at 18 miles and had to grind it out slowly and painfully to the finish.

Fortunately, I have never made the same mistake again and now know exactly how to fuel-up scientifically for any race from 10K to a Marathon. See how to avoid 'hitting the wall' during training and events....

Carb-up failure
To the human body, 26.2 miles is a seriously tough challenge. In fact, the human body has a fuel capacity of around 2500 calories from carbohydrate; 450 calories less than the energy needed by an average 70kg runner to complete a gruelling marathon! In addition, carbs are also essential for nervous system function, so carbohydrate depletion can rapidly lead to fatigue, weakness, dizziness and low blood sugar. So you can see, if your carb stores aren't primed to go and you fail to top-up the tank on the go – hitting the wall early is inevitable!

Filling the fuel tank
Endurance athletes require a carbohydrate rich diet every day. However, in the 72-hours prior to an event, carb intake becomes 100% critical – hence the phrase 'carb loading'.

How to carb load:
> Taper your training down 2 weeks before the race to ensure you are only running a few miles per day
> Eat a high-carbohydrate diet for 3-5 days pre-race.
> Maximise carb loading by drinking a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate and protein (3:1 ratio), as found in Recovermax immediately after training sessions. This is the scientific way to boost glycogen storage due to the fast digesting combination of carbs and whey protein. In fact, in 2004 researchers found that adding 10g of protein to a carbohydrate drink led to 33% less Doctor visits, 28% fewer bacterial or viral infections, 37% fewer muscle treatment, 83% less episodes of heat exhaustion and reduced muscle soreness after exercise, compared to a carbohydrate only drink.

Recovery drinks and smoothies
Here are three recovery drink and smoothie options which are ideal for carb loading, post-training recovery and post-race replenishment.

> Choose 2-3 fruits and add 200ml of juice and blitz in a blender
> Add 1 scoop of Protrient protein powder for better carb uptake and recovery support

My favourite:

  • 1 banana
  • ½ apple
  • 200ml banana & strawberry pre-mixed smoothie
  • 1 scoop Protrient

Sports Nutrition Recovery Drinks
While shakes and smoothies taste great and are an option I like regularly, scientific sports drink mixes are the way to go for quick and optimised recovery. What's more, these formulas can not be replicated by eating regular food.

For example, a drink mix like Recovermax is packed with maltodextrin and dextrose for rapid and on-going glycogen replenishment, along with whey protein to assist carb uptake and trigger the recovery process. It also contains a level of the amino acid glutamine which is proven to support immune well being in athletes (especially serious endurance athletes). It even contains performance nutrients like electrolytes, phosphates and electrolytes to help replenish nutrient stores and support enhanced performance.

Whether you prefer the smoothie or drink mix option, always make sure you eat again 90-120 minutes after your recovery drink. This is essential to take advantage of optimal energy replenishment and repair. It's easy to skip the recovery drink and post-training/event meal – but you'll get dramatic benefits if you make it part of your routine.

Calories and carb loading
It's essential to carb load with sufficient carbohydrates on a daily basis during your race prep. While some people may not be eating enough and need to boost their calorie intake, for most it simply means cutting excess fat from the diet and increasing their percentage of energy intake from carb rich foods. When carb loading, approximately 70% of your calories should come from carbs – but stick to complex carbs rather than too much sugary food. The signs of a successful carb load are feeling a little bloated/full and gaining a few 2-3lbs (every gram of glycogen contains 2.6 water for storage).

Getting ready to race
By the day of the marathon you should be primed to go with full to the brim carb stores. So, only a light high-carb breakfast is recommended (300-500 calories is ideal, such as 2 slices of wholegrain toast spread with marmalade and a banana). Make sure you eat it at least 2 hours pre-race to maximise your liver glycogen levels and support a steady blood sugar level (energy drinks/gels can be taken closer to the race time). During the race you should take on carbohydrate gels/drinks, but ideally you will have experimented with these during training to know which drinks suit you and how much of a product to take on-board per hour. For serious runners, playing around with drinks/gels you have never tried before is a risky proposition mid-way through a race you've been training very hard for!

Keeping your glycogen stores full
Here are 3 key fuel-up tips to remember during the race:

  • To stay hydrated
  • To drink/eat extra energy
  • To replace the salts you lose when sweating

60 mins pre-race > sip a 500ml sports drink like Viper Active mixed with a 5 – 6 % concentration over a 40 minute period,
20 mins pre-race > stop drinking all fluid twenty minutes prior to the start.
30-40 mins in-race > start drinking 500-850ml of fluid per hour of your event. Within your fluid intake, aim to get 60g of carbohydrates; note, a carb drink will give you about 30-40g carbs per hour with a typical 500ml sports drink, so opting for a gel like Viper Active can be a better way for some to get more carbs with less fluid. For example, 600ml water plus 2 gels would be a good option.

Salt – essential for marathon runners!
It's very important to select a sports drink that is rich in electrolytes. Relying exclusively on plain water runs the real risk of diluting sodium levels due to prolonged sweating during extended endurance events or training. Signs of this problem include nausea, dizziness and at the extreme end – even coma and death. Of course, the latter symptoms are very extreme, but it does mean that electrolyte drinks are important. Electrolyte drinks will also reduce urine output, which is great if you want to avoid mid-race toilet breaks!

Viper Active Gels are fortified with electrolytes in addition to carbohydrate so are perfect ideal to replace the essential salts lost during endurance events, as is Viper Active drink. The Gels can be combined with 250-300ml of water every 30 minutes and during the late stages of racing are very beneficial. If you're a real pro, you'll take in a small amount of gel with a swig of water, and slowly repeat the trick every couple minutes to prevent any chance of digestive distress. Practice this strategy during training until you get it spot on!

So there you have it – the key tips for avoiding marathon failure like I experience back in 1998! Hopefully you'll get a long way before you see the wall....and if you feel it, a Gel and water could see you to the line without hitting it! Good luck.

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