Eat & Move with Derval O’Rourke: How to fuel marathon training

Pictures: Leah Barbour

This week I’m sharing part two of how to fuel your marathon training and performance. Recipe wise it’s my beef stir fry and chunky chicken soup, both great for healthy mid week eating.

Last week, I spoke about the two most important nutrition strategies you can do to optimise your training, recovery and performance:

1) Consuming adequate calories to offset energy expenditure: I saw firsthand when I was a full time athlete the negative effects of under fuelling, from increased risk of injury and illness to poor sleep, fatigue, low mood and poor concentration.

2) Focusing on getting in a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables to ensure you hit your micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) requirements and maintaining hydration levels to promote better performance and offset fatigue: These two factors combined will make up about 80% of the performance-related benefits of improving your nutrition.

They were the things I focused most of my attention on when training as an athlete because no post workout meal or pre-workout supplement will make up for a poor day-to-day diet, poor training or poor recovery strategies. I suggest focusing on these tiers until you feel comfortable enough to progress onto the more advanced areas of nutrient timing and supplements, both of which I will cover today.

Nutrient timing: When it comes to eating for health or weight loss, meal and nutrient timing is largely irrelevant. However, when you are training for an event such as a marathon it becomes more important. I’m going to use the lead-up to marathon day as a practical example but remember that these pre/ post workout strategies are applicable to most training sessions.

The key areas I would focus on are:

  • The lead up to the big race: In the weeks leading up to the marathon our goal is to ensure you are fully recovered and prepared for the marathon. Your everyday nutrition will play a key role here. In the two to three days before the race, we want to maximise our fuel stores (muscle glycogen) and maintain hydration levels. To do this increase the amount of carbohydrates you consume by adding an extra scoop of oats at breakfast, an extra few rice cakes at snack time or an extra potato or two at dinner. Don’t get too bogged down by technical strategies, remember to keep things simple and familiar.
  • Pre-race meal – Aim to have your pre-workout meal two to four hours before your session. Ideally, make it high in carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein and limited fat and fibre. My favourites would include porridge with Greek yoghurt and banana, scrambled eggs or baked beans on toast or something like a spaghetti bolognaise or shepherd’s pie. A smoothie can be a great idea if you are feeling nervous or find your appetite is low. It’s also important to start your workout hydrated so be sure to get some fluids in too.
  • Pre-workout snack – Aim to consume a high carbohydrate snack 30-60 minutes before your session in order to help balance blood sugar levels, boost carbohydrate stores and maintain hydration. Why not try fresh fruit and yoghurt, a handful of dried fruit, a granola bar or some rice cakes with peanut butter and banana. If you are using caffeine pre-workout then include that.
  • Intra workout – For a run lasting less than 60 minutes water should be sufficient. However, for sessions lasting more than 60-90 minutes, aim to get some carbohydrates in together with your fluids to help maintain performance and delay fatigue. Guidelines recommend 30-60g/hour with 30g looking like a handful of raisins and water, 1-2 bananas and water. Experiment with what works for you during training and try and avoid last minute changes to your fluid and carbohydrate strategies.
  • Post-training –Focus on the 3Rs: Rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes, Repair your muscles with protein and Refuel your energy stores with carbohydrates. Aim to consume this snack within 30 minutes of finishing your session. A great option is milk, specifically chocolate milk, or a protein shake with a banana. You can then top up with a proper meal 2-3 hours later, for example, chicken and rice with veg, beef mince with pasta and tomato sauce or turkey burgers with sweet potato wedges and salad. Replace fluids and electrolytes by drinking fluid slowly over the next 24 hrs. Ensure you have rehydrated before consuming alcohol after the race.

Supplements: The last part of the picture is supplements. These make up the last 5% and for most of us may not be necessary. From a health perspective, I would recommend looking into a good omega 3 and vitamin D supplement and from a performance perspective perhaps things like caffeine and whey protein. There are so many other aspects that will have a role to play in your recovery and performance such as sleep, stress management and balancing your training load to avoid overtraining and injury.

Sports nutrition is an individual thing and what works for one person may not be applicable to another. Unfortunately, we can’t give precise recommendations for each individual via this column but I hope the basics outlined here will give you an idea of the key areas to focus your attention on.

If you feel you need further help or support then please get in touch with a qualified nutritionist or dietician who will be able to work with you on a 1-1 basis and help you achieve your performance, health or body composition goals.

Fitspiration: @runnersworlmag

Runner’s World magazine is a great resource for runners of all ages and abilities. Every issue is packed with strategies and tips to fuel your performance prevent injury and achieve your personal goals. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy if starting or improving your running is a goal for you this year.

Beef stir-fry

Stir-fries can be your saving grace during busy training periods. This one is quick to make and it has lots of lovely flavours and textures. It’s my go-to stir-fry when I’m really busy.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2

Nutritional Information (per serving minus rice):

Protein – 33g

Fat – 20g

Carbohydrates – 24g

Calories – 392

2 tbsp coconut oil

200g lean beef fillet, thinly sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely sliced

A handful of baby corn, sliced lengthways

A handful of broccoli florets

A handful of sugar snap peas

A handful of shredded white cabbage

3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

2 tbsp soy sauce

Basmati rice, to serve

Heat the coconut oil in a large pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the beef and stir-fry for about 10 minutes, until browned all over. Remove the beef and juices and set aside.

Add all of the vegetables to the pan and stir-fry for about 5 minutes. Add the sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Return the beef and juices to the pan, mix well and heat through.

Divide the stir-fry between warmed serving plates and serve with basmati rice.

Chunky chicken soup

There is a series of books called Chicken Soup for the Soul, they tell stories that are inspiring and uplifting.

Well this is my actual chicken soup for my soul. Soup is one of the simplest ways to eat well. Cooked in bulk from scratch means you know exactly what’s going into it and you have a few days of meal options.

Feel free to double the quantities to give yourself extra for the freezer.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Nutritional information (per serving):

Protein – 21g

Fat – 9g

Carbohydrates – 32g

Calories – 282

2 tbsp olive oil

4 celery sticks, cut into small pieces

2 carrots cut into small pieces

1 onion, finely diced

3 free range chicken fillets, diced

2 potatoes, peeled and diced

Half butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

1 litre chicken stock

2 tbsp dried mixed herbs

salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, herbs, and onion and cook for 8-10 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Add the chicken, potatoes, butternut squash, and stock. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and ladle the soup into warm serving bowls. Enjoy.

More on this topic

The quest to save the banana from extinction

The Menu: Food news with Joe McNamee

Restaurant Review: Circa Restaurant, 90 Terenure Road North, Dublin 6w

Weekend food with Darina Allen: Spring into the season with Easter lamb

More in this Section

5 chocolate-themed breaks to satisfy sweet-toothed travellers

Review: Theatre, Ulster American

Review: Beyoncé, Homecoming

Wish List: Mellow yellow in the bedroom and beyond

Latest Showbiz

Game Of Thrones fans annoyed amid reports second episode was leaked online

Jessica Simpson shows off new daughter at Easter

Coronation Street’s Qasim Akhtar recovering after quad bike accident

Holly Willoughby celebrates Easter in bunny bonnet

More From The Irish Examiner