The best way to prepare for a marathon
Most training plans will have you taper for about 3 weeks prior to the marathon, this is a gradual decrease in your activity and running distances before the big day. This helps you maintain some fitness but unload your body somewhat to prevent injury. A good taper and the four following tips will have you in the best state for the marathon…
Most of your physical repair occurs during sleep with the release of growth hormones and testosterone. Aim for 8-10 hours a night. Wind down in the hours before bed, using candles and low light to stimulate melatonin. One of the most important things you can do to improve sleep is to sleep in a room that is free of light and noise pollution. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland and stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light. Even a little light from streetlights coming through the curtains for instance may suppress melatonin. Eat some chicken or turkey in your evening meal which contain tryptophan – the precursor for melatonin production. Some carbohydrate such as sweet potato will raise insulin that helps take the tryptophan in tot eh brain. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol. These have been shown to reduce recovery from training which leads to decreased performance.
Carbohydrate loading for the London Marathon is a strategy employed by athletes that involves reducing training volume whilst simultaneously increasing the amounts of carbohydrates consumed in the days leading up to a game or event such as the London Marathon. The aim is to up regulate an enzyme called glycogen synthase (an enzyme that creates muscle fuel called glycogen) and cause the muscles to store higher than normal levels of glycogen. Muscle glycogen stores are normally about 100-120mmol/kg BW, but with carbohydrate loading they can reach 150-225mmol/kg BW.
Carbohydrate loading was originally developed in the 1960’s by Scandinavian researchers and involved a complicated 6-7 day period of a “depletion phase” – essentially a low carbohydrate diet – in conjunction with several hard training sessions. The aim of this phase was to deplete muscle glycogen stores and excite the enzyme glycogen synthase. Muscle glycogen stores could fall to as little as 25mmol/kg BW. This was then immediately followed by a 3-4 day “loading phase” where athletes would consume a very high carbohydrate diet (anywhere from 7-12g of carbohydrate per kg BW) whilst tapering exercise leading up to the event. However this approach to carbohydrate loading had its problems with athletes reporting muscle weakness, fatigue, anxiety and irritability.
Carbohydrate loading evolved thanks to research out of Ball State University, Indiana, whereby the depletion phase was found to be unnecessary. Now athletes are advised that they don’t need to complete the “depletion phase” and only need to slowly taper exercise and to eat a high carbohydrate diet in the 3-4 days leading up to an event.
Drinking water is usually the first line strategy to replace fluids lost through sweat, however consuming large amounts of plain water is not recommended to replace fluid or electrolyte losses and can lead to hyponatremia and even death. Consuming beverages that contain electrolytes is the most sensible way to replace salt and water lost in sweat. These include sports drinks such as Lucozade hydro, which contains 185mg of Na per 500ml. However, it would take between 13-28 500ml litre bottles of Lucozade hydro to replace the amounts of Na that can be lost during training and your training or marathon, which is obviously not a good idea.
Drinking between 2 and 4 bottles of sports drink such as Lucozade hydro may be appropriate during activity. Lucozade also produce a product called hydro plus powder sachets that contains 91mg per 100ml of fluid consumed which may be more appropriate to use if your regularly experience cramp or it is a particularly hot day. Beyond this and depending on the length of time and ambient temperature you train or run at, it may be wise to salt your food, however if you consume any processed foods you will need to take in to account the amount of salt in these products.
Another good option is to use the product Elete which provides 45mg of Mg, 390mg of Cl, 130mg of K and 125mg of Na per litre of water, this can be added to water, juice, tea and other beverages that you consume throughout the day to improve hydration. More simply you could just add a pinch of good quality salt such as Celtic Sea Salt to your beverages – this is less scientific but a good option for those who do not want to spend money of pre- designed products.
Other naturally “salty” drinks such as Vita Coco contain 40mg of Na, 66mg of calcium, 40mg of Mg and a whopping 740mg K. It also contains 16.5g of carbohydrates and 148mg of vitamin C and is a great alternative to a sports drink and could be consumed pre, during and after training and games.
Make your own sports drinks
You can easily make your own sports drink by mixing 75% water with 25% juice and adding a pinch of salt.
A sports massage in the week leading up to the marathon will be very beneficial. This will improve blood flow and circulation, increase endorphins and reduce any perceived soreness. In this instance it doesn’t need to be a deep tissue sports massage – more of a moderate pressure but relaxing massage as you don’t want to be too sore going into the marathon. We offer sports massage in Wandsworth Town for recreational runners and those training for a marathon.