Friday, 14 August 2015

Marathon Running : Hydration and Nutrition

At the time of reading this, you would have been a couple of months into your marathon run training plan, running better and more informed in your choices of running shoes, gear and tracking your program and progress. However, running a marathon is not all about tying your shoelaces and running again and again; there are other inconspicuous elements that contribute to the marathoning experience, and whether you make or break your race day.

Nutrition and hydration is an often overlooked aspect of marathon running, and something that even advanced runners sometimes do not get right. Hydration is not just about swigging a bottle of isotonic drink and neither is nutrition all about munching on breakfast bars before the race.

Now, if we crunch the numbers a little, the human body comprises between 50% and 70% water. The amount varies according to gender and age and statistically the average is ~60%. We typically feel thirsty when we lose between 2% to 3% of water and our mental judgement and physical performance starts to see a downward turn when we lose 1% of water. If you are 65kg in weight (assuming your body is average 60% water), that translates to approximately 390ml or about 1.5 cups of water.

Race Day Boost - Hammer Nutrition
When you are exercising at medium to high intensity, or at the rate you can't hold a normal conversation when exercising, you may lose up to a liter of water an hour through sweating and breathing, depending on the climate and humidity levels. In real world conditions, there are two extremes to hydration issues, dehydration and overhydration (hyponatremia), and we often see even the most experienced racer succumb to hydration problems. Both conditions exhibit quite similar symptoms, and therefore professional medical assistance is imperative in such situations.

Based on research by Hammer Nutrition, a premier provider of sports nutrition, fuel and supplement; the optimum hydration level for most athletes is between 590-740ml of water per hour. For lighter athlete or cooler temperature, approx 473-532ml per hour will suffice. For heavier athlete or hotter conditions, ~830ml will be a good guidance. However, this is a guideline and should be adjusted as per required by the athlete based on the progression of the race, the conditions and personal well-being.

Your electrolyte and fuelling secret
Even though we are ingesting liquid as we work out, the electrolyte levels in our body will start to decrease as well. It is important to make sure that its replenished. It is important to ensure that your electrolyte drink has minimal composition of simple sugar (fructose, glucose) as it will impede hydration and nutritional absorption. Keep your fuel to mainly complex carbohydrates and a bit of protein. Hydration includes the fuelling solution (sports drink) and other food you may take along the race (banana, watermelon etc). Do keep in mind that they will contribute to your total hydration for the day.

The nutritional and fuel aspects are just as important as hydration requirements. How well you fuel (and keep yourself fueled) will determine your energy levels and ultimately determine your race outcome. For a marathon distance race, look at consistent and continuous energy supply, not short bursts of adrenaline rush.

Annie Yee; Team 2ndskin Athlete and inaugural Malaysia Women Marathon Champion shares her training and race day pre/post meals -
(Morning training long run)
Pre-training fuel: A cup of sugarless black coffee and two slices of wholemeal bread + peanut spread.
Post-training fuel: A glass of soymilk and 2 half boiled eggs + carbohydrates (noodles).
(Evening training short run)
Pre-training fuel: One apple/orange/banana an hour before training.
Post-training fuel: Oats+Milk + Light dinner (minimal carbs)
(Race Day)
Pre-race breakfast/fuel: A cup of sugarless black coffee with Hammer Perpetuem + 2 slices of wholemeal bread + peanut spread.
Perpetuem in Powder form - for more than 2hours of activities
Post race recovery: A cup of sugarless black coffee + Hammer Recoverite + 2 half boiled eggs and carbohydrates(noodles/rice noodles).

What about during the marathon, you ask? How important is it, to keep your energy levels steady and maintain consistent fuel supply to your body? Very very important. All it takes is lack of a refuelling plan on marathon race day to derail all those months of training and preparation. When your energy levels dip, especially after a few hours into the race, it is difficult to rejuvenate and get the momentum going again. Many have heard of the dreaded running term, “hitting the wall”; which is a condition where the runner feels as if he/she has no more energy (physically and mentally) to continue. Physical preparation (training) as well as proper fueling and hydration are paramount to over come “the wall”.
Solid. Awesome
Azrulhisyam; Team 2ndskin Athlete and finisher of 29 Full Marathons shares his fuel strategy after fine tuning his needs based on his experience:
Two things that are of utmost importance that I consume during a marathon: energy gels and electrolytes (in soluble form mixed with water, e.g. fizz, or capsulated form which I carry with me). Rule of thumb for gel consumption is to consume it before I get tired and before my energy depletes to the 'danger' zone, in my case of running a sub 4-hour marathon, it has to be every 45 minutes (more sparingly for longer finishing time). It involves discipline in consuming energy gels during a marathon, as sometimes your body doesn’t feel like taking anything down, but you know you need to. To help with that, try different types of energy gels and find one that suits your palate and is not too thick in consistency, making it easier to swallow on the run. My favourite is Hammer Gel in Montana Huckleberry flavour. In a typical marathon distance, I would consume between 4-5 packets of energy gels. For electrolytes, two tablets in soluble-form like Hammer Fizz will be enough for 500ml of water that I carry along in a marathon, which I would sip it along with plain water provided at the water stations during a marathon. Normally, I would consume around 1-liter of electrolyte drink in a marathon (excluding plain water), equivalent to 4 tablets of Fizz. Rule of thumb is, don't wait until you're thirsty or your throat dried up to consume electrolyte drink or just plain water, drink often (say every 2-3km) but in smaller volume (say 2-3 sips per 2-3km). Do take note that I do adjust my hydration needs depending on the weather and climate of the race I am running in. For races that I don’t carry my hydration bottle, I would consume electrolytes in the form of capsules that I take 2 caps every hour to balance out my body electrolyte losses during the marathon.”
It is imperative that during your training sessions, you should try out different types of fueling and hydration strategies. For hydration; that includes the different type of electrolyte drinks to see whether they have any adverse effects on your digestion, how much liquids to consume on a long run and under different weather conditions, learning to drink on the run and getting used to running with a water bottle or bottle pouch if you intend to use them on race day. It is also good to do some research and find out how far apart the water stations will be setup during race day and make sure that your hydration strategy works around the availability of water / liquids at the race.

Pre-race food and fuel during the race is also crucial. Many runners find themselves having stomach discomfort during the race because they have digested something new prior to the race that their stomachs does not agree with, or during the race. Many marathons offer bananas as a form of fuel at periodic water stations, so do try having bananas during your training sessions to see if they work for you. The human body is sensitive, and there are many types of food that would not give you trouble during normal times, but when you digest them on the run, the opposite happens. When you are on the run, a higher volume of bloodflow goes to your limbs, in order to bring oxygen rich blood cells to your working muscles. Your digestive system slows down, and it is more difficult to break down the solid food you ingest, therefore causing stomach issues with some runners.

The old adage of “never try something new on race day” holds true especially for fuel and hydration. Avoid food and drinks that may potentially cause stomach issues the night before the race, like spicy or raw food and stick to tried and tested formulas.

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