Marathon Mondays: Fleshman’s Fantastic Food Tips

Marathon Mondays are back and with only six weeks left to Dublin we want to give you the best chance to achieve your goals and run to your potential.

So we asked two-time US 5000m champion and five-time NCAA Champion Lauren Fleshman for advice. The Oiselle athlete [which by the way is a running clothing company focused on promoting and supporting female athletes] is the co-founder of Picky Bars, an all-natural snack bar company focused on providing convenient but healthy ways to fuel your performance.

Lauren is also co-founder of BelieveIAm, a sport psychology venture along with Irish athlete Roisin McGettigan. Lauren majored in Human Biology at Stanford University and has run 14:58.58 for 5000m and 8:43.92 for 3000m and below she gives simple, easy-to-follow advice for all you budding Dublin Marathoners.

1.What sort of foods should an athlete be eating in the last three to four days before the marathon?

It’s important to remember that you’ve done loads of tough training eating a variety of foods, and while you don’t want to take any big risks with nutrition, your body is perfectly capable of digesting a multitude of things and performing without incident. That being said, sticking to some stock standards is wise so you don’t waste mental energy worrying about it. I recommend foods that are wholesome and close to their natural source like chicken or salmon with potatoes or rice, and some cooked vegetables.

This can take a lot of forms from stir fry, to a basic roast dinner, to a pasta dish, to pad thai. The only things I recommend people avoid are things that can cause heart burn and acid reflux when paired with pre-race nerves, like excessive spice, extremely greasy food, or more than one glass of wine or beer. I also recommend minimizing your fiber intake. Avoid eating too many beans, or extra fortified cereals, or too much fruit or raw vegetables in an attempt to be super healthy at the last minute.

Oat-so-good: Oatmeal/porridge is one of the most popular breakfasts on the marathon morning.

Oat-so-good: Oatmeal/porridge is one of the most popular breakfasts on the marathon morning.

2.What would you recommend for race morning?

Definitely eat breakfast. Coffee or tea is a good choice if you are used to having it. My standard is a good-sized bowl of oatmeal with a tablespoon of butter in it to beef it up a bit, and a boiled egg, but I see a lot of elite athletes eating bagels with peanut butter, perhaps a banana, a Picky Bar, etc. Aim to get in about 500-600 calories on race morning 2-3 hours beforehand. If that is too much for you to stomach, consider a midnight snack of a 200-calorie energy bar to get a head start. A lot of athletes bring a gel with them to the starting line and consume it 15 minutes before the start, but you don’t have to.

3.Should the athlete practise eating these foods in the lead-up to some of their longer runs/races in order to get ready for the big day?

Yes it is a good idea to practice breakfast, in particular. Get the timing down. Managing all the logistical bits of race morning can be quite stressful, and the stress hormones released drain you for your performance if you aren’t careful. Control the controllables as best as you can by creating a schedule for yourself for race morning well in advance, based on experience. You will sleep better the night before knowing you have a plan, and then race morning it is simply a matter of ticking the boxes, which is satisfying rather than stressful.

4.Are there any natural alternatives to energy gels?

I hear of some recreational athletes eating raisins, or honey, or packets of jam. But I believe gels are the best thing out there. 2013 Western States 100 Champion Stephanie Howe is a PhD in nutrition, and her research has led her to rely on gels to accomplish some of the most incredible feats of endurance, so I follow her lead. I’ve also never seen an elite athlete marathoner using anything besides gels or a carbohydrate powder added to their fluids. Saying that, if your marathon pace is moderate for you, and your challenge is more about finishing the distance rather than pushing the absolute edge of your threshold zones, you have a lot more flexibility in what you can consume during the race.

Picky Bars are a popular choice among marathoners and ultra runners, and I have learned that so long as your food choices are primarily carbohydrate based, having some fat or protein mixed in won’t have any ill effect, and can actually help you sustain your energy longer out there, which is important for the athletes who will be out there for upwards of four hours. Digestion is more forgiving when you aren’t operating way up in the higher heart rate zones. But again, practise these things in training.

5. What should the athlete take on board after the race to recover?

Sweet treat: A donut is better than nothing immediately after the race; you've earned it.

Sweet treat: A donut is better than nothing straight after the race; you’ve earned it.

No matter what you’re going to feel pretty wrecked, but good post-race nutrition will shorten the misery considerably, and help you pull up stronger with less tissue damage. Being properly fueled beforehand is the first thing you can do, so you don’t resort to cannibalising all your own tissues to make it through. Studies have also shown that drinking 8oz tart cherry juice beforehand has a protective effect on inflammation and tissue damage. Consuming 200-300 calories comprised of mostly carbohydrate within 15-30 minutes of the race is the next crucial thing.

There are all kinds of “ideal” recovery foods out there, and yeah those are the best choices, but a big donut is still way way better than not eating anything during this recovery window. Just get something down the pipe. An hour or two later, have a proper meal, and eat whatever you want. Science will say there are better things to eat than others, but if you’ve run a marathon, you should eat whatever makes you happy. Your body is a furnace and it will all burn through anyway so enjoy it! You’ll be much hungrier than usual the next day, so expect to eat more frequent meals. Carry snacks if you are traveling home. Post marathon hunger can be a hazard to those around you!

More on Picky Bars here
More on BelieveIam here
Lauren’s Website can be found here

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Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan is an athlete, coach, athletics fan and, most importantly, was once named Bandon AFC's under-12 Player of the Year. He was once a promising athlete but is now a promising coach, teacher and part-time athletics writer/broadcaster. While an 800m runner himself, Ronan has coached everything from pole vault to 10km with varying levels of bluffing. He has regularly been threatening to do something for years but is yet to deliver. He is regarded as our expert on the American running scene, though has yet, to prove his knowledge in this realm.

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