Capt. Brooks E. Pritchett is a registered dietitian and a certified specialist in sports dietetics who is assigned to Womack Army Medical Center as chief of Outpatient Nutrition Services. She said she began running at the age of 16 and has completed a few half marathons as well as middle-distance races. Pritchett will attempt her first marathon at the All American Marathon, May 4.
“I consider it an honor to run alongside some of our nation’s finest in this race,” Pritchett said. “I have always wanted to run a marathon and the fact that I get to do so with so many friends, coworkers, and Soldiers I have worked with has provided me with an incredible amount of motivation. I can’t wait to celebrate with everyone at the finish line!”
Following are tips provided by Pritchett for nutrition before, during and after a marathon.
What are your nutrition habits before, during, and after a marathon?
- The goal is to fuel and recover from your training runs. This means eating on a consistent schedule to include regular meals and snacks, both before and after workouts. Before workouts, you want to emphasize carbohydrates, as carbs are the body’s preferred fuel source. A little bit of protein is okay, but keep fat and high-fiber foods to a minimum pre-workout. After workouts, you want a little bit of protein (15 to 25 grams) along with more carbohydrates, consumed within 30 to 60 minutes of your run. You also want to include as much variety in your diet as possible — a lot of fruit and vegetables (make these the staples of your diet, choosing as much color as possible), whole grains (like oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, etc), low-fat dairy, lean meats, and healthy fats (like nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, etc). It’s also important to consume plenty of water. Urine should be a pale yellow color.
The goal is to provide adequate fuel to your working muscles. The big focus here is simple carbs — typically 30 to 60 grams per hour and up to 90 grams an hour when exercise time exceeds two and a half hours. The best sources are from fresh fruit and vegetables. Try to choose seasonal produce of vibrant colors. Everyone has a different preference or tolerance for fuel sources during a run so it’s best to experiment with what will work best during training runs, rather than on race day.
It’s also extremely important to consume fluids during long duration activities like marathons. Aim for 5 to 10 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes or so. Again, it’s best to work on perfecting your race-day hydration strategy during training runs, rather than the race itself.
The goal is recovery and replacing fluid losses. Immediately post-race, you want to drink enough water (or sports drink) to replenish fluids lost during your run. You also want to refuel with carbohydrates and a little bit of protein. Good post-race snacks like fruit, yogurt, a bagel, peanut butter and jelly or granola bar work well. Keep in mind that when your training load decreases after a marathon, you won’t need as many calories. Listen to your body - eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full - to avoid weight gain post-race.
What are the advantages of proper nutrition before a marathon?
Proper nutrition is key to any training plan. Choosing the right types of foods and beverages not only helps fuel your workout, but also assists with the recovery process between training runs as well so that you bounce back quicker from tough workouts.
The quality of your workouts will also be better, allowing you to push yourself harder. Proper nutrition also helps keep your immune system strong and can help you recover from injuries. While you may not win the race, following a sound eating plan can definitely help you score a personal record or personal best; not to mention help you feel better overall during your runs.
What nutrition mistakes do runners make before, during, and after a marathon?
There are several, but some of the tops include: 1) Not making sound nutrition a part of a training plan early in training 2) Trying new products or new nutrition strategies on race day instead of during training 3) Trying new foods the night before or morning of a race 4) Adopting the mentality that you can eat whatever you want because you will just run it all off 5) Not hydrating properly before and during the race. This can definitely compromise performance, as well as lead to dehydration. There is also the risk of overhydrating by drinking too much water.
How many calories should be increased/decreased in training?
It’s going to be different for every person based on multiple factors such as body size, age, individual metabolism, and training intensity. You definitely need more calories to support a high training load. The best way to gauge how much more you need is to listen to your body. Again, eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full.
What are optimal nutritious meals or snacks for a marathon?
There are several. At meals, include a carbohydrate, protein, and a little bit of healthy fat. Pritchett recommends including at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal at a minimum.
Other good foods to include are whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats. Some of her favorite go-to meals and snacks include peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, plain Greek yogurt with fruit, nuts and seeds, veggies and hummus, fatty fish like salmon, quinoa, beans and lentils, and sweet potatoes, to name a few.
She said the key is variety — choosing different types of foods from all food groups. Pritchett advocates the phrase “color your plate” - meaning try your best to eat a rainbow of colorful foods throughout the day. Also make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.