Nutrition (eating and drinking) during a race is simple: eat enough and drink enough to maintain your sugar and water levels. It’s the HOW that has created hundreds of articles, books, and Facebook posts.
First thing is:
Nothing new on Race Day. During your training, try out different foods and beverages (water or a mixture of water and sports drink). See what works for you on your long runs – sometimes the perfect combination for 10 miles has quite a different result when used over 20 or more miles. The long runs are dress rehearsals for your endurance and your support plan.
After the start of the race you should begin taking in food about 30 minutes of racing. Many people prefer to have 2 types of carbs: simple carbs – quickly digested (gels, blocks) and complex carbs that are slowly digested (pretzels, dates). After my initial intake, I follow up every 60 minutes. Again, what you take is what works for you. Running-centered cookbooks have many recipes on homemade bars and gels. I have used dates and grapes as well as my goto Clif Organic Banana, Beet, Ginger Energy food.
Hydration maintains liquid levels in your body, allowing for blood to have a proper thickness to easily travel from the lungs to your muscle. Proper hydration also keeps your electrolytes in balance. Lately, much has been written on a condition called hyponatremia: a condition of low sodium and potassium that can lead to death. One major cause is drinking too much water without taking in electrolytes, thus “flushing out” the sodium your body requires.
For this reason, learning the proper levels of liquid needed during a race is extremely important and again that’s a goal you must have during your long runs. Many books and coaches recommend not waiting for the thirst reflex of your body, instead plan on taking a cup at each water station and drinking 2oz of it. This school of thought warns that if you feel sloshing in your stomach, water tastes bad (when you know it’s good) and if you have nausea, stop drinking pure water and get a mineral tab or something salty in you.
Another school of thought
Feels that the thirst reflex does work – even in a marathon. But they state “at the first sign of thirst” take liquid – never wait until you’re “really thirsty”. Another trigger a runner aware of their body can use is fatigue – given you have the training and are properly consuming carbs, a cause can be lack of fluid – to know when to drink a sip.
Because of the concern of electrolyte loss many people will carry a bottle of the “energy drink” of choice on their hydration belt . Energy drinks contain electrolytes and simple sugars, and some have vitamins such as C, E, and B12. The caution here is to never follow a gel with a swig of an energy drink; always use water.
The bottom line is…
To use your long runs to go through all the options mentioned and find the one right for you.