Knysna marathon - Eating for success!

I completed my (first) mountain bike race this weekend in Knysna! What fun! I know there are many of you that are probably heading there this coming weekend for the Knsyna half/full marathon. Besides packing in your warmest clothes, I thought I would give a few nutrition pointers when it comes to events like these.

Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel when we exercise. Our body has the capacity to store enough carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) in our liver and muscles for up to 90 minutes of exercise. Therefore, any event that will be longer than 90 minutes needs additional carbohydrates to support the system. But before you load up on gummy bears and energy drinks, the body actually needs a lot less than most of us think.

Although carbo-loading has become more of a social event and a psychological booster than a nutritional strategy, studies have shown that eating sufficient carbohydrates a few days before a race/event is important to ensure that there is sufficient fuel stored up in the body to use during the race. I have heard of a guy that carbo-loaded for 10 days before a race (I didn’t ask how that went). Without getting too technical, generally just ensure that you take cognisance of eating carbohydrates the day before the event. You don’t need to eat pizza for breakfast lunch and dinner though; try and stick to less processed carbohydrate sources such as raw oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut and brown rice.

Your breakfast meal on race-day load up the muscles, so don’t skip breakfast and aim to eat 2 – 3 hours before the start of the race. It probably isn’t a good idea to eat something you’ve never eaten before and stay away from highly processed, sugar laden breakfast options such as muffins or flavoured breakfast cereals. Some breakfast ideas:

  • Oats with milk, honey and some cinnamon
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread with an egg or peanut butter
  • Raw muesli with 175ml Bulgarian yoghurt and honey

If you REALLY can’t stomach breakfast, at least try and have a banana, a shake or a smoothie to give the body something to start the day with.

During the race, you don’t need anything besides good old water for the first hour (drink according to thirst). You then need around 30g of carbohydrates per hour for every hour after that. Once again, it probably isn’t a good idea to try something new. You don’t need to buy expensive race foods; your kitchen has plenty of nutritious snacks for during the race. These include a banana, a medium sized potato (add a bit of salt), two slices of white bread with marmite, an energy bar or energy jellies. For those that can’t eat during a race, that’s where energy drinks come in.

The idea is that we want quick energy sources, so this is the one time we don’t want to eat low GI sandwiches. Check the carbohydrate content to make sure you don’t overdo it. It’s just unnecessary added kilojoules, and the sugar might not agree with your tummy. (I only had a piece of nougat, which did the trick for me!)

Once the race is done, it is equally important to refuel the body. Ensure you take in sufficient water, or an electrolyte drink to replace lost electrolytes immediately after the race, and to have your recovery meal within 1 – 3 hours. Try and go for something nutritious instead of rewarding yourself with a hamburger and chips. Post-race meal ideas:

  • Stir-fry with chicken and whole-wheat couscous
  • Baked potato with chicken strips and a side salad
  • Fish with salad and vegetables and baked potato wedges
  • Whole wheat pasta with tuna and a side salad
Best of luck! Let us know how it goes!