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Gearing up for your first marathon or ultramarathon and not sure about those energy gels?
Raeesa Solwa Mehtar, a biokineticist, running coach and WH Next Fitness Star top ten finalist, has run four marathons, an ultra and several half marathons. Here’s her advice on what to eat and drink during the race — plus, what to avoid.
“Personally, I’d say ditch the gels,” says Raeesa. “Do you feel that energy gels make you feel nauseous, sick or give you stomach issues? I know I do. I’ve run four marathons (all under four hours), one ultra (under six hours) and a couple half marathons and did not use any form of energy gels.” Instead, Raeesa fuels up on real food. “Whole food solubles can easily provide the nutrition and electrolytes needed for long distance endurance efforts,” she says. Here are her go-to strategies for race fuel that’ll get you across the finish line feeling strong.
1. Drink lots of water leading up to race day.
Your body needs to be thoroughly hydrated on the day of the race. I usually have small sips of water during the race.
2. Eat a good race-day brekkie.
On the morning of the race, I have the same type of meal that I would normally have for breakfast, which is a smoothie. You need to practise your pre-race meal strategy during training. The stomach needs to be trained to handle food during a long run.
3. Replace your body’s electrolytes.
After the first 10 kilometres in a race, you need to start replacing electrolytes. I sip on any form of energy drink, but you could also opt for coconut water, which will provide natural energy, potassium and magnesium.
4. Go bananas!
Bananas are one of the best energy sources you can have as a runner. They’re a good source of carbs and help prevent cramps. Supporters usually hand out bananas on the side of the road, so grab one.
5. Pack some padkos.
Dates are easy to chew and are higher in sugar and carbs compared to other dried fruit – they’re one of my favourite pre-race snacks. Though certainly not an all-natural, real food, gummy bears or jelly beans are contain fast-digesting simple sugars, which will reach the blood stream quickly, giving you a boost when you need it. Honey may just be nature’s version of a sports gel.
Check out Raeesa’s running woman’s workout for killer abs:
6. Don’t skip the taters.
A baked potato wedges stand during a marathon or ultra race is like approaching an all-you-can-eat candy stand in the running world. They’re not the easiest things to carry (ew…mashed potato pocket!) but if you come across a stand along the road, grab some munchies for a hit of minerals and sustained energy.
7. No surprises.
Be sure to test these new foods on training runs instead of during a race – just in case your stomach doesn’t react well to them while exercising (#totesawks). If gels do work for you, then by all means use them properly: drink enough water, train with gels months before, try different brands to see what suits you best and wash them down with water.
Want to know how to handle that awkward mid-race wee? For more practical running advice, get the April issue of Women’s Health.