Monday, January 9, 2012

Marathon Week - Time to Fuel

Damn.  This post is reeeeeeeeeeeeally long...I should have split it into 2 parts, but I didn't so ... hopefully you can make it through the whole thing without falling asleep!!!  Let me know in the comments if you agree, disagree, and/or what your marathon week routines look like food wise! 

I would love to know!!!  Now without further adieu....

Everyone that either knows me personally or through this blog, knows that I already have issues that surround food and/or body image.  I have never disputed that, nor do I really try to talk about it much, but given the content in this post, its probably best if I state that upfront for any new readers who aren't quite aware of that.

It's tough enough to not gain weight during marathon training, something I failed at my first time around (even though I still started that 1st marathon 'lighter', not as light as I could have been if I hadn't been eating like a horse).

Since then my ED (for lack of a better term), has been off and on; taking on the forms of restriction mostly.  There were times in the past couple of years, where it would subside (usually during those times with this person...), which usually then ended up with me being depressed, and extremely critical of my body (since I would tend to 'gain' when we were together).  He ate poorly and I would follow suit ...  now though it makes me laugh to know he's gained 25lbs.  Another thing I think important to point out:  when you are with someone thats in bad shape, whether its their eating habits or their lack of activity, you tend to take that on...and since...well.. anyway...

Anyway, that's getting a bit off track..still important to the story though.

My best marathon shape was definitely before Chicago 2010 and leading into early 2011.  However, that thing I mentioned above messed me sometime around there and then I just kinda spiraled back out of control and by the time I went to Chicago for the 2011 marathon, I wasn't happy with what I had done. 

Now though I am back on track and I am really pleased with the way things are going and I think I am looking pretty darn good...  :O)

Soooooo...that brings me to how eating or not eating the last week or two before marathon can really affect your weight, your performance and derail your efforts up to that point.

I should start off by saying that I am not a nutritionist, a doctor, a coach or anything like that...and that what I am writing here is based off my opinions and my opinions only, and what I have found works for me.

This comes from 5 years of marathoning, and learning what works for me and doesn't.

And carb loading is what everyone hears, and most tend to believe as gospel and so they go about some strange things...

My belief, in a nutshell is this:  You are running less, and probably eating the same (if not more due to extreme hunger), therefore without even realizing it, you are already carb-loading without even that whole week before thing where people think they have to shove carbs down their pie-hole like it was their damn job or something!

Additionally I am of a firm belief that the number one reason runners gain weight during marathon training is because they feel like they have to carb load before every long run.  NOT THE CASE.

I don't change anything; I don't add carbs...Well I guess that might not be the entire truth...I actually am more strict about what I DON'T eat, than what I DO eat...

My typical list of foods 2 weeks out:  eggs, oats, spinach salads with grilled chicken or shrimp/oil and vinegar and pico de gallo...grilled chicken made into chicken salad, avocados, whole grain bread, lots of water, LOTS of vegetables, nothing carby/starchy and nothing that will bloat me (broc).  You get the idea.

I stay away from cheese at ALL costs, unless its parmesean.  This kills me :O)  I love cheese and my trainer will even tell you I have a problem with cheese :O)  I am getting better though!  I don't buy it like I use to.  Out of sight, out of mind.

No fast food.  Not even a cheat.  I rarely eat it anyway unless its Whataburger, so this is not hard.

All of that should give you some idea; if you want more specifics, email me to ask.  Again this is pretty much how I have been eating for the past month anyway to drop some weight, so its not a stretch.  Although I do have sweet potatoes, and a few other things in very small doses in my regular everyday/non-marathon diet.

OK, so on to the rest of it....

The theory behind carbohydrate loading is that by taking in a high dosage of carbohydrates (sugar) the day before your sporting event you'll provide your muscle with a long lasting supply of glucose (sugar) which will maximize energy. This philosophy also reinforces taking liquid glucose supplements (Gu or some other type of gel) and/or high sugar electrolyte recovery drinks (Gatorade etc.) during a sporting event.

Myth:  Carbohydrate loading always improves performance

Fact:  Carbohydrate loading offers proven endurance benefits for vigorous events or training sessions that go approximately 90 minutes or longer.  But if your exercise session isn't that long, and it's not very intense, carbohydrate loading probably isn't going to offer a performance benefit.  The reason is that shorter, less-intense exercise doesn't fully deplete muscle glycogen fuel levels.  Carbohydrate loading is only going to be helpful in situations where typical glycogen reserves would otherwise be depleted.  Again, if you are running less and eating normally you are naturally carb-loading anyway...carb loading the night before is just going to, for most people, create a stupid bloaty, gross feeling the next morning:  race morning!  See next myth...

Myth: Pasta the night before an endurance event constitutes carbohydrate loading

Fact:  Carbohydrate loading typically requires a combination of tapering exercise while increasing carbohydrate consumption, and it's usually done over a few days.  A single high-carbohydrate meal the night before a big competition is not an effective method for boosting muscle glycogen levels.   Personally I suggest this meal to be 2 days prior.  Example:  race on Sunday?  Eat your pasta dinner on Friday.
 The worst thing you can do for your marathon comfort is to load up huge plates of pasta and salad and high-fat salad dressing the night before the marathon.  As one expert commented, "Constipation is unknown among marathon participants."  You don't want the extra weight in your digestive tract the next morning.  You don't want any roughage, such as from the salad. 

You don't want the extra weight, period.  If you have been eating a balanced diet the week before the marathon, you have already loaded your muscles with glycogen.


How to Eat the Week Before the Marathon

As you taper your activity in the week before the marathon, you should eat a balanced diet with 60-70% carbohydrates and not overeat or undereat.

Two Days Before the Marathon
If you want a traditional pasta party, the time to do it is 2 nights before the marathon.  Do not overeat. Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption.  Drink plenty of water.  A giant bowl of pasta and a huge salad with lots of roughage are not recommended - you need moderation.


One Day Before the Marathon

Eliminate any high fiber foods and foods that cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, bran cereals, etc.   If you are lactose intolerant, eliminate milk products.   If spicy foods speed up your gut, eliminate them.  Stick with low-residue foods and eat only enough to satisfy your basal metabolism.  Eliminate alcohol and reduce caffeine to the bare minimum.

I can tell you without hesitation exactly what I have been eating for the past 6 marathons...
  • Breakfast - Eggs.  Eggs Benedict if I am out of town as I order off a menu.  Fruit of some kind.  And typically 2 pieces of whole grain toast.  No butter.  No cheese.  No milk.
  • Lunch - This varies, but usually a very large salad with grilled chicken or shrimp.  Possibly a toss with some pasta if available.  O&V only.  A piece of bread of some sort.
  • Dinner - Soup of some sort; nothing cream based.  Think chicken broth with a few veggies in it and thats my dinner.  A piece of bread of some sort.  Small, plain salad.  Nothing fancy and O&V only.

Morning of the Marathon

Many marathoners can't eat anything before the starting gun.  Whatever you choose for breakfast should be bland and high in carbohydrates and easy to digest.  If you must have some coffee, have as little as possible. 

My MO is that I have been having the same thing for the past 3 marathons and/or half marathon.  If its a marathon, I have 2 plain brown sugar Pop Tarts, and if its a half marathon, I eat 1 of the 2.  :O)  Its quick, portable, taste yummy, and its simple carbs and sugar.  Plus its the one time I will actually eat a Pop Tart and not feel badly about a) the calories and b) the fact that its processed fake food packed with chemicals that would kill a person if ingested on their own.

Drink a large glass of water 1-2 hours before the start and have nothing more to drink until the starting gun. 

That starts you off well-hydrated but gives you enough time to eliminate any extra.

Here is a list of myths that I found online that I thought I would share.  Anything in red font is my addition, opinion, thoughts or personal preferences.Myth 1:  You can eat as many carbohydrates as you like since you exercise and train so hard.

Truth: There is a great saying “No work out can out work a bad diet”.  TRUE!  TRUE!  TRUE!!  The reality is that too much of anything will yield negative results.  ALL Carbohydrates are broken down to sugar and too much carbohydrate intake (even healthy ones) will spike your blood sugar levels, cause an over release of Insulin and cause you body to store fat.  Take a look around you and watch the people you know who overeat carbohydrates and exercise a lot (cardio), most of the time they have higher body fat levels and lack muscle tone. This was me! 

This is due to the overconsumption of carbohydrates and working at too high of a heart rate for too long of a time.
Everything needs to stay in balance.  Your body is a feed as it goes machine.  The best way to look at this is by taking a baby's feeding routines into account.  A baby will feed every 3 to 4 hours, eating balanced meals of all three nutrients - Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates, stop when satisfied and begin eating again when it is hungry.  Our Nervous System uses Glucose (sugar) to create energy, so it relies on a steady balanced supply. When a baby grows (or you workout more one day than your other days), the body will need more fuel. It won't only need carbohydrates… it requires more balanced meals.  The combination of protein, fat and carbohydrates within each meal creates a hormonal balance of your blood sugar levels which will maximize your results.

Myth 2:  During high intensity cardiovascular exercise (Heart Rate above 160 BPM) of extended duration (60 minutes and above) you should eat many more carbohydrates before, during and after exercise to ensure you have enough energy to maximize performance. (I will do my best to keep this answer as non scientific as possible)

Truth: Your body does require more overall Calories (carbohydrates, protein and fat) during high intensity exercise due to the fact that you are mostly burning glucose during the activity.  The old philosophy is that loading up on carbohydrates before an event would maximize your glucose (sugar) reserves for the activity. Unfortunately that is not the case.  When too many carbohydrates are consumed your body will store fat and some of the glucose will also be stored to be utilized for energy.  The challenge with this is that the stored glucose (sugar) in muscle tissue lacks something called a Glucose 6 Phosphate, all this means is that the sugar in each particular muscle can only be used for that muscle and cannot be accessed for blood sugar.  So any extra glucose your body requires will be taken from the amino acids (protein) in your muscle mass and liver. In essence, your body begins to cannibalize itself. 

For these reasons, carbohydrate loading before, during or after an event will completely work against you.
Of course, you definitely need to feed yourself before, during and after the training. The key is to feed yourself a balanced meal of protein, fat and carbohydrates - preferably low glycemic ones - and high quality food before and after training.  During high intensity cardio of extended duration training (marathon, triathlon, extended high intensity cardio, etc...) you are best to either eat a piece of a protein bar or a have a portion of a protein shake every 15 minutes.  Make sure the protein bar and protein shake match your balanced nutrient ratios.  Personally I think protein bars for the most part and so far that I have found are nonsense and fall into processed garbage.  There are some that are completely natural so look for the least amount of ingredients and ones that you can actually pronounce!

This type of consistent feeding will provide your body with a steady supply of glucose. It will also keep your liver glucose stores full.  Keeping these stores full is critical because the glucose found in the liver is the only stored glucose that can be converted into blood sugar.  Now, the liver can only hold approximately 400 grams of glucose at any given time... This is why carbohydrate loading will not work.

Myth 3:  To maximize performance you must eat a lot of heavy carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, etc) the night before an event.

Truth: The same information from Myth 2 applies to Myth 3. The overall philosophy of carbohydrate loading was to provide the body with a high amount of stored glucose (sugar) so it could utilize these stores during an event.  As we discussed above, it is physiologically impossible.  This means that all carbohydrate loading will do is store more fat and end up keeping the body's blood sugar levels unstable.
The answer is to consistently feed your body high quality balanced meals before, during and after the event. This will maximize your performance.

In other words, eat good REAL food 80% of the time and you don't need to worry about how you are fueled!  You will be ready for anything at any time!!!  :O)

Myth 4:  During the event you should be consistently taking in glucose (sugar) supplements to keep your energy consistent.

Truth:  I think you are now seeing the theme... all your meals should be balanced and you should feed your body as you go, meaning as you output energy, make sure you are consistently replacing that energy.
All pure sugar replacements do is quickly go through your digestive system and spike your blood sugar levels.  Physics says that what goes up, must come down... The same thing applies to your blood sugar levels, and that kind of reaction will drastically affect your performance.  When using glucose supplements you will eventually have an energy crash.  They will also cause irregularities in your blood sugar and affect recovery time.

The solution is to consistently feed on a protein bar or protein shake as explained in myth 2.  In the case of marathoning though, Gu or other gel, sports bean, candy or whatever obviously is our go to!

Of course, there will be times where you will “Hit the Wall” meaning your body seemed to burn more fuel than you expected and you experience low blood sugar.  If this happens, taking a glucose supplement is recommended (always have one available for these types of emergencies) and then evaluate what happened so you can create a solution to prevent it from occurring again.  This has only happened to me first marathon.  Where I had trained alone, I didn't know what I was doing and yes, I listened to other runners I had met that told me how I should be eating, and what I read on the internet.  In other words I carbo loaded for days and days like it was my job.  Ever since I gave up carbo loading and experimented, I have yet to hit another wall in a marathon.

Myth 5:  After the Event you should eat many carbohydrates so you can refuel your body's low glucose (sugar) supply.

Truth: There is an Old Philosophy about the “Window of Opportunity”, meaning after an event your body is in such a deficit it needs to take in a large amount of food, especially carbohydrates, to recover and optimize  performance. Once again this will only lead to spiking your blood sugar and storing fat.

Imagine if there is not a deficit, what if you fed your body correctly and balanced through the event and never hit a blood sugar low?

If you never hit a blood sugar low there is never a need to over consume carbohydrates. The reality is this: if you can prevent the ups and downs of your blood sugar and keep you body in a constant state of homeostasis (internal balance) you will train, perform and recover much more efficiently and effectively. well 80% (or more if you can) of the time and your body will thank you for it!  Not just for marathoning but for life!!!


dixie :o) said...

interesting read as usual JB...... good luck Sunday

Jamoosh said...

Good information here. I think the only thing missing is that you can't just eat - you have to train your body to be ready to carbo load.

Crystal Hadnott said...

Great information and as an avid runner myself...I AGREE with all of the information.

The week of the marathon, I stop all fruits (high fibers) accept for apples and bananas. I only eat lean proteins with large salads for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is usually oatmeal. Of course, I do not try any new foods and try to hydrate more during the week.

Dinner (night before the marathon) is ALWAYS Saltgrass grilled chicken salad with the beer battered bread. Before the race (marathon morning), I drink the gatorade carb/protein drink with a banana.

Let Go!

kderoll said...

Awesome information. I've been reading more and more about this. I am pregnant now and a lot stronger - both speed and endurance, then I was before I got pregnant. It's been kind of a wake up call that the way I was fueling before wasn't cutting it. I'm not running the marathon this weekend or currently training for anything, but am excited about seeing how I feel after shes born.

Thank you for the awesome info. Kick ass this weekend!!!

TX Runner Mom said...

Great info June! Thank you for the pop tart tip, it's been working for me this year! I remember back in the day when carb load was what everyone did - it only made me feel like I had a brick sitting in my stomach! Now, like you, I eat carbs 2 days out and eat lighter the day before. What a complete difference it's made. See ya on Sunday (I think)!

NY Wolve said...

Wow, that is a good summary and primer on marathon eating. I always try ti eat blandish, non stomach, upsetting foods before a race. Sounds so obvious, but temptation can often lead me astray, and I always regret it. I always have really grainy nutty bread available -- satisfies my carb craving.

Melissa said...

I thought you did cheeseless pizza the night before races?

Junie B said...

Melissa, I typically go between the two. It really depends. Half marathons ALWAYS cheeseless pizza. Long runs in training ALWAYS cheeseless pizza.

However for Chicago (both years) I have done the chicken soup/broth and I like that its easier on my stomach and I dont have to 'worry' about GI issues.

Saturday I will be going to Zoe's to pick up some soup for my dinner. :O)