Learn which foods are your best race fuel

Thulani Mbele Running Matters
File photo of runners taking part in the Soweto Marathon.
File photo of runners taking part in the Soweto Marathon.

Marathon runners are often described as having a screw missing upstairs. We wake up at ghost hours when our loved ones are asleep just to go torture our bodies by running long distances that are usually driven.

We even eat at awkward hours. Even in my sorry state of inactivity because of a hamstring injury that just won't go away, I still find myself wanting to eat the moment I wake up, because I got my body used to eating very early in the morning before my runs.

While a banana, a slice of bread or three or four spoons from the previous night's food normally does the trick for my midweek short runs, I have to have a decent meal before a weekend long run or a race. Though more often than not, I try to prepare my race food the day before, I always run the risk of being scolded by my wife for making noise in the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning trying to prepare myself a sandwich or dishing up the previous night's supper.

"Life of a runner", as my friend Lesetja Dolo would often say.

The human body is always likened to the engine of a car - it needs to be serviced, well taken care of, for it to perform efficiently, and without petrol it will not go very far. Food as a source of energy is petrol for the body, especially carbohydrates, fat and protein.

What has worked for me is food with high volumes of fat such as fried chips or lasagne. This is my pre-race meal, at least 1h 45min before the race. I have realised that my body burns fat for energy more efficiently than it burns carbohydrates. I also need to replace the nutrients that I lose through sweating throughout the race by taking energy bars and drinks, so that my body can continue performing.

Try out different foods or energy bars with high volumes of these nutrients before The People's Race and see what food your stomach can tolerate. The process of burning food into energy varies from person to person. People with a high metabolism will benefit more quickly.

It is only through training and repetition that one can understand their body, and gauge when they need to eat before a race.

The worst thing that can happen to a runner during a marathon, other than getting an injury, is a runny tummy, which sometimes happens because of taking foods or drinks you have not tried before.

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