When you’re training for your first marathon, you might hear people talking about using sports nutrition products: electrolyte drinks, energy gels, bars and other products designed to help keep you going during a long race. The range of products available can be daunting though – so we asked High5’s Raph Deinhart to give us an introduction to using sports nutrition for your marathon prep. At some point as your runs become longer in the lead-up to your marathon, you’ll need to take on some extra calories. “When we run a marathon or do exercise over longer periods of time, we use carbohydrate as our main fuel source,” says Raph, “but we only have about 400g of carbohydrate stored in our body which lasts about 90 minutes – depending on intensity. That obviously isn’t enough to run a marathon on its own so you have to top up that store.” It’s not just about taking on more energy, though, as Raph explains.
- Start with hydration
If you’re baffled by the array of products on offer, start with what you’re drinking, says Raph. “The first priority is always going to be the hydration side, using a product like High5 Zero that just contains a little bit of key electrolytes for rehydration but without having any sugar or calories.” You don’t need loads of extra energy in the early days of your training. “When you’re starting and you’re doing shorter distances, where you have got enough energy stored in your body to do that training session, you’re better just purely focusing on hydration,” says Raph.
- Move on to energy gels
As your sessions become longer, you should try to introduce some energy products, such as gels. “Using gels can be daunting, especially when you sometimes hear other people talk about having taken gels and not getting on well with them,” says Raph. “The first thing is to find something that is palatable that has had good reviews. When you try them out, try it on a shorter session, so maybe a 20 or 30 minute run rather than going straight into a long run, and then take them slowly, so you’re just sipping on a gel over a few hundred meters so you’re not taking the whole lot in one go, because it can be a bit of a shock to the stomach when you first take them.”
- Don’t take risks
Sometimes it is tempting to try a new product on race day, when you’re desperate to do anything to improve your marathon performance. You might be fine – but you might not. “The biggest risk is the potential stomach upset so if you try something and you don’t know how your body’s going to react,” says Raph. “At the same time, we have had plenty of people who have tried our gels for the first time on marathon day and we never got to hear of any issues afterwards.” But he stresses that, if you’re serious about getting round your marathon comfortably, you should try out your chosen energy products beforehand in training.
- Don’t pick and mix
You don’t have to stick to gels – you can also get energy from bars and drinks. However, if you want a simple, foolproof plan for your marathon, you’re better off sticking with one energy source, says Raph. “We can absorb about 90g of carbohydrate per hour and that carbohydrate can come from several different sources: it can come from your sports drinks, your gels or your food,” he says. “When you start mixing it it’s much more difficult keep track of how much you’ve taken, especially when you’re getting a sports drink in a cup for example, because you just don’t know exactly how much you took. So we advise you to stick to gels, then use water or an electrolyte drink.”