A few Gatorade stops won't save you from hitting the wall in your next marathon. But eating the right amount of carbs during the race could shave 5 percent off your finishing time, says new Danish research.
In the study, researchers had average runners in the Copenhagen Marathon either fuel themselves during the race or follow a specific nutritional strategy. The group that stuck to the plan -- which consisted of eating two 20-gram carbohydrate energy gels before the race, one gel 40 minutes in, and one every 20 minutes after that while drinking water -- finished about 11 minutes faster than the runners who winged it themselves.
(Here are more foods with amazing -- and scientifically proven -- health benefits: Check out the 40 Foods with Superpowers.)
When replenishing those zapped-up carb stores, the runners who picked their own fuel consumed 90 fewer grams (g) of carbs than to those on the strict diet during the race. It’s a perception problem where runners get far less carbs than they need while running long distances, says study author Ernst Albin Hansen, Ph.D.
Don't think eating on the run will slow you down: Running hard for 60 to 75 minutes causes energy-providing glycogen in your body to burn off, leaving you fatigued. Once your body starts relying on fat to fuel you forward, it’s hard to recover. Hansen says runners need about 60 g of carbs per hour during a marathon to reload what they’re burning (though it can vary depending on fitness level).
(What is the key of running faster without training harder or longer? Click here to find out.)
Want to make sure your gas tank doesn’t go bone-dry at mile 15? Follow these tips from Brian Hand, Ph.D., a certified running coach from Boulder, Colorado.
Practice with energy gels or chews (like Clif Shot Bloks) during your long training runs prior to the marathon so your gut learns how to handle the fuel. “There are so many options on what to take, trying those ahead of time will help you see what works best,” says Hand.
Fuel Your Tank
About 2 to 4 hours before your race, stock up on your carbs with a breakfast you can easily digest. Think basic foods like oatmeal with slices of banana, yogurt, a bagel with almond butter, or orange juice.
(Before your next race... check out these foods that are already in your kitchen, instead of energy bars and gels.)
“It’s often easy for people to forget about fueling if they don’t have a plan,” says Hand, so prepare for munching at certain distances or intervals of time. (Have your watch or phone beep to remind you). Start adding carbs to your system before you crash since it takes time for the fuel to absorb into your system.
Prep Your Support Team
“Have friends or family strategically on the course so you don’t have to carry all those drinks or food” Hand advises. If you’re running solo or missed your kin in the crowd, know beforehand where aid stations on the course will pop up and what brand of energy chew or gel they’ll have, so you can try it ahead of time.
(The crowd you roll with can shape your success. Here's how to recruit your crew to optimize your social life.)