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How to Prepare for a Marathon: One Easy Marathon Fueling Strategy

Running the marathon is challenging for a few key reasons.

First of all, the distance is great and puts a lot of strain on the body, both physically and emotionally.

Second, the glycogen reserves in your body are finite and only last for a few hours. Since most recreational runners spend three, four, or more hours on the course, this is an issue.

Fueling consequently becomes a crucial component of marathon training that cannot be overlooked in addition to being a necessity.

Depending on your current level of fitness and running experience, research shows that managing your hydration and carbohydrate demands can increase your marathon performance by 2% to 20%.

Therefore, you must prioritize fueling if you want to run a marathon to the best of your ability rather than just “get by” or “grin it out.”

Early on in the history of exercise science, researchers discovered that a reduction in blood glucose causes performance to decline during the marathon. This makes sense, of course, as your blood glucose level will drop after 2-4 hours, even if you aren’t running a marathon. It makes obvious that you would need to eat in order to keep your blood glucose level stable given that the marathon lasts 2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6+ hours.

Even though running also removes some glucose from the blood, you still need some glucose in the blood to supplement the intramuscular fat and carbohydrates, which serve as the body’s main sources of energy when running a marathon.

Marathoners have been advised to consume 4 to 8 ounces of sports drink every 15 minutes and/or a gel every 30 to 45 minutes to keep their bloodstreams filled with glucose. For this strategy, rough recommendations are 30-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. (You’ll also hear 24-32 ounces of fluid including electrolytes and 150-350 calories every hour.)

The brain perceives that the blood glucose level is rising quickly as a result of the speedy absorption of the carbs (remember, the brain closely monitors the blood glucose level) and releases insulin to lower the blood glucose level to prevent it from rising too high. Therefore, the following dose was intended to prevent the blood glucose from dropping too low (you often hear this as a sugar crash). The consistent release of glucose into the bloodstream would stop this rise and fall cycle, also known as the spike and crash cycle, allowing the blood glucose level to stay at optimal levels.

Numerous products are available that aim to provide quick-acting carbohydrates in a wide variety of flavors, textures, and carbohydrate types because this has proven to be a successful strategy (glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltodextrin, etc.). Additionally, these items are frequently the kind that races hand out on the course (race websites usually inform you of the drinks and gels that will be available). Because of this, the majority of runners start their search for the best marathon fueling with this conventional fueling strategy.

Slow-acting carbohydrates are an alternative strategy

The background is as follows: During the marathon, your gut becomes dehydrated, and blood is diverted to the working muscles. Although this is good for your muscles, it is terrible for your digestive system. Compared to earlier in the race, it can no longer tolerate as much concentration or glucose. This is what runners mean when they say that at mile 20, the gel or beverage that tasted so nice at mile 5 made them want to throw up.

The GI tract alteration makes it extremely difficult for many runners. When you require carbohydrates for the last leg of the race, your body can’t tolerate them as well, therefore it’s advised to dilute your carbohydrates more in the later stages of the race. You also have the difficulty of making sure at the proper intervals to avoid the “sugar crash.” Unfortunately, when their GI systems are upset, most runners simply stop consuming as much nutrition, which results in under fueling and frequently slows them down. Any marathon’s 25-mile point will reveal many runners (including me) who clearly stopped refueling adequately and are forced to battle to the finish line.

That’s where plan number two comes in. With this approach, you avoid employing fast-acting carbohydrates, which cause a spike/crash cycle by rapidly moving carbohydrates from the gut to the bloodstream. Use slow-absorbing carbohydrates instead, which are easier on a parched GI tract and maintain a stable blood glucose level.

Since ultra runners have been doing this for years, visiting an ultra aid station won’t look like the typical tables of water and sports drinks (and the rare gel station) at most marathons, but rather more like a buffet at a potluck party.

A rising number of products are available where the carbohydrate supply is digested more slowly, keeping the blood sugar steady. Furthermore, athletes are consuming more foods and foodstuffs (dates and figs seem to be very popular at the moment). It should be mentioned that you still need to calculate how much to eat in order to prevent a decline in your blood glucose level.

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