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Nutrition - Your Way Past The Marathon Wall

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With all the training that goes into preparing for the marathon, the last thing we want is to hit the physical wall that will slow us down and affect our performance. When the wall hits, your body begins to heat up with every step and your muscles scream “STOP”. You begin to slow down hoping the fatigue reduces, but it doesn’t. Once you hit the wall, there is no going back to comfortable running for that race. So the only way to prevent this situation of wasting all the efforts that you put into the training is to prevent the marathon wall or delay it as much as possible. The longer you hold off the fatigue, the faster you’ll complete your run. Let’s find out what can be done to avoid the physical marathon wall.

What is the Marathon Wall?

The point during a marathon when your body’s muscles run out of their stored glycogen – which is a great source of energy, the body begins to burn fat in order to remain fuelled and keep you going. Although your body has an infinite supply of fat and in theory, you can keep going for ever; it is an inefficient source of energy as compared to glycogen. When your body shifts its fuel source from glycogen to fat, you feel a drastic amount of effort required to cover the same distance. Your body begins to heat up as the fat is being burned causing you to slow down or even walk. This shift in an energy source that causes a change in effort is when you can say that you have hit the marathon wall. Once your energy source shifts, it is almost impossible to go back to the glycogen source. Hence it is necessary that you prevent hitting the wall altogether, to have a comfortable and injury free marathon.

Avoid Hitting the Marathon Wall
Prevent hitting the runner’s wall ( Image Source )

How does it feel?

When you drain your muscles of their entire glycogen content and hit the wall, your body feel extremely fatigued. You begin to feel weak, and it only gets worse if you don’t slow down. Many runners report that when they hit the wall while running a marathon, their leg muscles begin to heat up and force them to slow down. This muscle burning sensation happens due to the fact that your body is burning the fat stored in your muscles. The glycogen fuel source of your body, just like in your vehicle gets over all of a sudden, and there is no warning from the body before it hits. But you can have a rough idea of when it’ll hit from the beginning. Since your body can hold glycogen only for two hours of running, that’s about when the wall hits most people. Clearly, the marathon wall is something you don’t want to run into while you’re having the race of your life.

How to Avoid Marathon Wall

Let’s divide the ways to prevent the marathon wall into two parts. Both are as important as the other and need to be done to avoid hitting the marathon wall.

Pre-race Nutrition

Nutrition Required for the Marathon
Nutrition needed for the race week ( Image Source )

Just as the training of the marathon is gruelling, both physically and mentally, so is the nutrition and hydration part. Most runners tend to train hard and ignore the fact that diet should be given just as much importance. Your diet plays a key role in your performance on race day, especially if the race is a marathon. The diet preparation for the marathon must begin three weeks prior to the race. To make sure that your body doesn’t hit the marathon wall, you must load your muscles with as much glycogen as possible.

The best source of glycogen in food is from carbohydrates. Eat foods that are high in carbs and low in fat during the few weeks leading up to the race. Your diet, however, must contain a small amount of protein to build the muscle that is broken down due to the rigorous training that is required to prepare for the marathon. Your diet must include rice, pasta, noodles, oats, bread, potatoes, etc. These foods are high in carbs and help fill your muscle glycogen storage. Your muscle glycogen storage cannot be filled to the brim within one day or a week. To make sure that your muscles are loaded with glycogen, a safe side would be to carbo-load for three weeks leading up to the race.

It is just as important to keep yourself hydrated all the time as much as it is important to eat right. Drinking water helps in easier conversion of carbohydrates to glycogen and thus should be continuously sipped throughout the day. Make sure you drink at least 2-3 litres of water every single day to remain hydrated.

On the day before the race, make sure you don’t try any types of new foods that might upset your stomach causing discomfort while running, forcing you to the porta-potty in the middle of the race. Also, make sure you stock your body up with salt to cover up for what you might lose through sweat during the race. You can replace one litre of your daily water consumption with a litre of lemonade and salt to improve your salt stores. Make sure you have heavy breakfast and lunch that is rich in carbs and low in fat and protein. Dinner should be slightly light on the stomach and must be consumed a little earlier than normal to ensure proper digestion before the race.

Healthy Diet To Avoid Marathon Wall
Correct nutrition is the answer to avoid marathon wall ( Image Source )

On the morning of the race, some runners prefer to wake up at midnight, have something that is high in carbs and some water and go back to sleep. When they wake up, their muscles are packed with glycogen and they’re properly hydrated. Make sure you don’t drink too much water less than 2 hours before the race as it’ll cause extreme discomfort while running. Once you’re at the start line, just have a cup of water in your hand and keep sipping small sips to stay hydrated.

Nutrition During the Race

Nutrition Required to Hit the Marathon During Race
Drink enough water to stay hydrated ( Image Source )

We’re loaded with glycogen in our muscles, we’re well hydrated, and we’re confident at the starting line of the race. But is that enough to get us through the entire marathon distance without hitting the marathon wall? Unfortunately not. Your muscles cannot hold that glycogen storage for more than 2-3 hours of the race. To avoid hitting the wall after the three-hour mark, you must ensure that you start loading carbs and drink enough energy drinks or water while you’re running. Since it takes a while for the food we eat to get stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen, it is recommended that you load on carbs from the very beginning of the race. Generally, a lot of runners start to eat and drink from the 8-10 km mark to give time for the energy to settle into the muscles and avoid hitting the wall. If you consume just enough carbs as you run, your body’s glycogen will be replenished on the go and will ensure you complete the race, using your priority source of energy – i.e. glycogen. Also, drinking a good amount of fluids keeps your body hydrated and avoids cramps.

By following the carbo-loading techniques provided above with the right amount of training, you will definitely prevent the marathon wall and have a great marathon. Avoiding the marathon wall gives you an opportunity to cross the finish line strong, and crossing the finish line of a marathon strong make every bit of your effort worth it, and that’s what you should strive for.

There are a few more tips when it comes to running a marathon: Do’s and Don’ts for a Marathon .

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