Running Nutrition – Do you struggle to eat during a marathon?

Running Nutrition – Do you struggle to eat during a marathon?

We're sidestepping from some specific training topics onto some running nutrition on today's episode of Run with Coach Parry.

Do you struggle to eat during marathon and ultra-marathon races? Many runners battle with this even after practicing it on some lower intensity training runs. Coach Parry provides some advice as to how to get over this struggle.


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Running nutrition


A great question, with regards to nutrition, he says he's really struggling to eat during marathons, especially after about +/-20 kilometres. What can he do or try? Training runs at low intensity seem to be easier, but for some reason, race day doesn't work with the same strategy. He was thinking maybe he should fuel more earlier on in the race, or try and eat more regularly, but a little bit at a time. What can we do to help?

So let's first explain what's going on. So there's a reason why there's a noticeable difference between your easy training runs and in races. That is because in races, we always tend to run at a slightly higher intensity, which means that the body is taking blood away from the intestines where we absorb these things, and taking it to the working muscles. So that's really it in quite a simplified format, and is why you're struggling in the races.

I would definitely start much earlier in the race. If you take in small amounts more often that will make it better. What it also does is that if you do run into trouble later on in the race, where you really are struggling to take stuff in, if you've loaded quite well for the first part of the race, it means that you've probably saved your reserves for the latter part of the race.

So also experiment slightly with the different types of things that you are using. This affects different people differently, but certainly people who are affected by this, tend to find it harder to take in solid stuff, and extremely sweet stuff. So you kind of want to go middle of the road with maybe stuff that's a little bit tarty, but that is still easy to absorb, maybe not in a solid format, maybe some diabetic gels or slow release things with longer chain sugars in them, avoid very high sugars.

Typically, if it's accompanied by nausea, I'd probably also avoid things with caffeine in them. But experiment with different things and obviously, try every three to four weeks when you are perhaps doing a race to keep experimenting, even if you're not in a long race. So even if you're running in a 21 k race, that still stimulates that diversion of blood from the digestive tract. And that will at least in let you figure out what works best for you and what you can take in the easiest.

You mentioned the very sweet, sugary stuff, in a case like this would gels be one of the major causes of it? Would it perhaps be better to try and stay away from just gels as an example and eating things like bananas and potatoes, could that possibly help?

So it depends on the individual. Typically, the people who do struggle to take in nutrition are people who struggle with very sweet stuff, so gels and high sugar drinks do become problematic. The higher the intensity is and the hotter the day is, those tend to be the things that exacerbate that. Typically that is also associated with quite extreme nausea. In this case, he mentions the word eating, which tells me that I think he is taking in solids rather than gels and that sort of thing.

But again, you know, solids require blood to be going through the digestive tract and the solids also need some water. So the other problem that could be at bay is that the solids are lying there while the body is trying to reabsorb some water from the body into the intestines to dilute before reabsorbing that, and so perhaps taking in some water with those meals would help. But, you know, quite possibly part of the irritation is just that it's lying there in the digestive tract.

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