How To Prepare For a Last Minute Marathon – Fuelling Up Your Race Day Engine

By Chris Tansey

Part of what makes the London Marathon so challenging is the pre-race nutritional aspect. The latter is vital in confirming, that your race day engine is adequately resourced to deal with the rigours of the world famous 26.2 mile course. ‘Carb loading’ is traditionally viewed as part of a marathon nutrition strategy and is often adopted 2-3days before event commencement. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source for high intensity exercise and are vital to help offset race fatigue.

After months of tireless training, it can be very tempting to adopt a ‘Let them eat cake’ attitude to increase your pre-race body carbohydrate rates. However, stuffing your face with bread/pasta and chomping on gigantic piles of spaghetti is unfortunately not the answer.

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Please find as follows helpful tips and what to avoid when Carb Loading:

Which carbs are best?

Rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, bagels, sweet potato, cereals and fruit are all good options. Try to vary your diet as much possible, including some complex carbs (brown rice, pasta, oats) and some simple ones (white bread, white rice) to make sure you’re getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals, but also to ensure you don’t go crazy just eating the same old pasta or rice dish over and over again. 

New guidelines suggest 8-10 grams of carbohydrate for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight, is recommended to carb load over a 2-3 day period. So for example, a runner weighing 60kg would aim to consume 480g-600g of carbohydrate each day.

Here are some delicious carb-heavy ideas to try:

  • Yoghurt
  • Pancakes
  • Pure juices
  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Cereal bars
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil
  • Asian noodle soup
  • Fried rice with egg and peas
  • Soba noodle salad
  • Butternut squash, sage and roast garlic risotto
  • Baked potato with baked beans


 Carb Loading Errors to Avoid

Some common errors – including taking carb loading to an excess – may negate the performance benefits of carb loading and leave you feeling bloated and sluggish.

  • Over-eating: Carb loading is not license to indulge in enormous portions and sugary foods. You are still fuelling your body for performance. Yes, you want to eat more carbs than normal – but not so many that you feel bloated, sick, and sluggish.
  • Eating only carbohydrates: You may be eating more carbs, but you shouldn’t eat only carbs. Protein and fat are still vital!
  • Deliberate depletion: The old-school approach of deliberately depleting carbohydrate stores before a carb load through means of a long workout and low carb diet is not necessary. This approach was based on studies in the 1960s done on sedentary individuals. Runners, on the other hand, partially deplete their carb stores repeatedly through training – training primes our muscles to store carbs. Additionally, a sudden switch to a low-carb diet can render you moody and tired shortly before the race – not exactly how you want to feel.
  • Not drinking enough water: Your body requires water to aid in the storage of glycogen. Without drinking enough fluids, carb loading may not be as effective or you may be slightly dehydrated going into your marathon – neither of which are ideal!
  • Worrying about weight: You will gain a small amount of water weight with carb loading. This will not harm your race – at most, it’s a couple of pounds, and it is far preferable to go into your marathon with a couple of extra pounds yet plenty of energy than at a slightly lower weight but without enough energy.
  • Waiting until the night before the marathon: Much like studying for an exam, cramming is not an effective approach to carb load. Eating a huge, heavy meal the night before the marathon can increase your chances of GI upset on race day. Instead, spread the carbohydrates out throughout the entire day before the race, as well as the meals.

AUK 40th Anniversary Foundation Fund – London Marathon 2019


Good luck with the training and see you on the day! If you see me, say hello!

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