The week leading up to a marathon is an incredible time when every aspect of life seems to revolve around the upcoming race. At work, you make a conscious effort to stay off your feet. You steal a few extra hours of sleep rather than binge-watching Netflix. You may even refuse to visit a dear friend, fearing that the cough she has been exhibiting is indeed contagious. Yes, marathon week is always memorable.
One aspect of marathon week that requires specific attention is pre-race nutrition. The term "carbo-loading" is well-known and often used to describe the nutrition plan of a soon to be marathoner. The idea behind it is that you eat a bunch of carbohydrates before a long race to ensure that you do not deplete glycogen levels during the race.
Glycogen, a type of carbohydrate, is a chemical that the body is easily able to burn and turn into energy. When glycogen is depleted, the body must turn to other, less efficient, chemicals such as fat. When this happens, often athletes experience what is commonly referred to as a "bonk." This is the feeling of totally hitting the wall at the end of a marathon. For a more in depth look at glycogen depletion, refer to this article.
The most effective way to avoid running out of energy and perform to the best of your ability is to have a proper nutrition plan leading up to the race. The term "carbo-loading," though, is not an effective term for describing a healthy pre-race nutrition plan. It seems to suggest that you can jam all the carbs you need in during your last meal before the race. Eating 5 lbs. of pasta the night before the race is not an effective nutrition plan, though.
Ideally, you eat healthy, well balanced meals all the time, making it so on race week you do not have to change much. For those who need a little guidance, I suggest starting your pre-race nutrition plan a full week before race-day. Begin adding healthy fruits, oatmeal or granola to your breakfast routine. For lunch, make a fresh sandwich and bring along some hummus on pita bread for a snack. Have dinners rich with carbs each night and include foods such as tortillas, rice, sweet potatoes, whole grain pastas and vegetables.
If you eat healthy, carb-filled meals leading up to race day, your pre-race dinner need not be any sort of "load." Instead, you can eat whatever makes you feel comfortable, happy and ready to race. Personally, I eat whatever sounds tastiest the night before every race. Before my most recent marathon, I had a burger and I have never felt better!
On the morning of the race, it is important to eat something solid (not just an energy gel). Whatever you eat should be simple, plain and easy to digest. Toast with jelly, a bagel with peanut butter, oatmeal and bananas are all great options. If you are travelling to a race and find yourself in a bind, unable to find those items, a pop-tart is an accessible food that sits well even in a nervous stomach.
Do not worry about eating exactly the right foods the day before a marathon. As long as you have a habit of eating well and are conscious to eat carbohydrate-filled foods the week leading up to the race, you will perform to the best of your ability!