With the London marathon only a few weeks away, runners of all abilities will have spent the last few months getting ready to face the 26.2-mile race.
But with most of the hard training done, it’s time to focus on the lifestyle and diet tweaks you can implement to help improve your performance.
Dealing with the stress of race day
Whether it’s your first, fifth or fifteenth marathon, some nerves and stress are only natural as you head towards the start line. We spoke to GB athlete, Adam Thomas, about how he handles the stresses of race day: “A lot of stress on race day comes from a lack of self-belief. I try to find confidence in knowing I’ve prepared myself as best I can for the day. Of course, that means training but also things like diet and sleep. Let the work you’ve done in advance, give you the confidence on the day.
“Also, try not to fall into having too many idiosyncrasies, like wearing lucky shorts. You might want to get used to a warmup routine or your favourite pre-race snack, but don’t get reliant on these things and allow them to cause stress if they don’t go as planned on the day.
“Lastly, try to enjoy it!”
How to stay better hydrated without increasing your fluid intake
Dehydration has been linked to stress, with performance nutritionists suggesting even as little as half a litre water deficit can increase cortisol levels in the body. It can also lead to gastrointestinal (GI) complaints, prolonged recovery times, reduced endurance and increased risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Insufficient water intake alone does not cause dehydration, though.
Fibre affects the passage of food and liquids through the body and helps lessen excessive water loss. So, ensuring you’re maintaining fibre levels in the build-up is crucial.
Managing your diet to help you perform on race day
There’s one common fear shared by many runners, from novices to professionals: Runner’s belly. There’s no cure for it but, there are actions you can take to limit the symptoms and ease your mind on the big day.
Manage your carbohydrate intake
- Marathon runners will often carb-load ahead of a race. But solely eating carbs or overindulging in tons of calories could lead to feeling heavy and sluggish. Instead, swap SOME of your daily fats and proteins for more carbs. This can help fill your glycogen stores, helping you run faster for longer.
- Gut-tolerance training is a protocol whereby the GI system is trained to tolerate gradual increases in the amount of carbohydrate and fluid over time to minimise digestive distress. Studies have shown an effect after as little as 3 days, suggesting that milder symptoms could be tackled in 3-7 days. While athletes with more severe symptoms could be required to train for up their gut to 3 weeks ahead of a race.
- Caffeine consumption has been shown to increase colonic motility which increases the likelihood of diarrhoea, urgency and abdominal cramping8. Therefore, avoiding caffeine entirely on the day of an event may mitigate these issues.
Consuming naturally occurring pro and prebiotics
- Probiotics are good bacteria found in the gut. They have multiple health-related uses and are often recommended to athletes to reduce digestive distress and enhance immune function. They can be found in foods like:
- Some cheeses
- Prebiotics are often likened to fertiliser. Feeding the good bacteria in the gut to help them grow in numbers, reduce gut inflammation, and limit the number of potentially harmful bacteria. They can be found in:
- Whole oats
Whilst prebiotics exist in various foods naturally, normally in smaller quantities, nutritional experts often recommend adding a prebiotic supplement into the diet to offset any potential deficiency or support a particular health issue where there is evidence to suggest an improvement. However, a food-first approach should always be recommended before supplements are considered.
Long distance runner and Bimuno Research and Development Director, Dr Lucien Harthoorn, shares how prebiotics have helped support him: “I’ve been taking Bimuno for two and half years now, and I feel overall very good with it. Before taking the supplement, I suffered from some, but not extensive, gut discomfort (it was mostly irregularity). It even happened to me at a race a few years ago which meant that I had to stop halfway. That’s very frustrating and just the fact that I was worried it could happen, made me feel stressed. Bimuno helps my bowel regularity and that makes me feel better physically and mentally. This means that I don’t have to worry about sudden bowel movements during runs or workouts.”
While we’d usually recommend taking prebiotic supplements as far in advance as you can to give your body time to adjust, Bimuno has been proven to start feeding beneficial bacteria in your gut within seven days.