Our resident athlete adventurer - Ross Edgley
Ever wanted to know the best breakfast to fuel a marathon? Me too! Which is why me, Bulldog Gear, Rehband and THE PROTEIN WORKS™ decided to start the year by running 30 marathons over 30 days whilst trialing a new breakfast each day in an event we’re calling: Man Vs (Marathon) Food. Exploring the intricacies of endurance-based nutrition, it’s my hope each meal will help people understand how your food choices can have a profound impact on marathon times. Documenting and every nutrient-dense delicacy, this is some of the theory ― pondered for miles on my Bulldog Gear - Trueform treadmill ― that every runner must understand.
Why do we run marathons?
First things first, when and why was the marathon “invented”? Also why are more than 500 marathons held each year around the world and participated in by hundreds of thousands? The short answer is because it’s a historic and iconic distance to run! This is because the idea of the marathon can be traced back to 490 B.C when a nimble-footed soldier by the name of Pheidippides ran the approximately 25 miles from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens miles to announce the defeat of the Persians to the Athenians. Now, years later, the marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921.
How Do We Fuel Marathons?
Your marathon time is determined long before you set foot on the start line. This sounds odd to many I know, but to be good at any endurance event you need a basic understanding of food and fuel. This is because all endurance-based sport require a grasp of bioenergetics. This sounds complex, it’s not. It’s simply the study of the transformation of energy in living organisms and while you might have an impressive VO2 maximum (lung capacity) and an equally brilliant lactic threshold (the point at which your muscles “burn” and fatigue) it means nothing when your nutrition is inefficient and you can’t tell the difference between your whey protein and creatine.
For years it’s been accepted in sports science that carbohydrates are a marathon runner’s best friend and our primary source of fuel. Why? Because food like bread, rice and oats are stored in the muscles as glycogen for us to use during every mile on our quest for marathon immortality. Fail to yield its power and research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition shows you might be running with the “nutritional handbrake” on. In a study designed to evaluable the impact carbohydrates had on 30km running performance, scientists found “Running speed was maintained throughout the race in the high-carbohydrate trial, whereas a decrease in the running speed occurred after 25km in the water trial” where athletes received limited carbohydrates.
What this means is at the 25km mark athletes were running low on muscle glycogen and were then unable to maintain “race speed” as stamina and strength ran on empty. This led scientists to conclude that "performance time for a 30-km road race is improved after ingesting a carbohydrate drink.” is attempting to run 30 marathons, in 30 days, on the Bulldog Gear - Trueform treadmill in his kitchen whilst he taste-tests 30 different breakfasts to see which comes out on top.
What’s so important ― and something that bugs me about many modern nutritionists ― is quite often research doesn’t consider the diet in its full entirety. This particular study didn’t take account of fats in the athlete’s diet for instance, which brings us onto marathon running nutritional principle number two and using fat as a fuel source. This is because researchers from the Centre for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado claim, “Glycogen (carbohydrate) storage capacity is approximately 15 g/kg body weight.” To use a sporting example, this means a marathon runner who weighs 67kg would only be able to store 1,005 grams of carbs (at the most). What this means is they would run out of muscle glycogen ― and therefore fuel ― by the 20km mark.
Which is exactly why research published by Nutrition Focus New Zealand Limited offers an alternative point of view and instead teaches us to use the power of dietary fat for those longer endurance-based events. The study begins by saying, “The number of grueling events that challenge the limits of human endurance is increasing. Such events are also challenging the limits of current dietary recommendations (solely relying on carbohydrates).” They add, although many have favored carb-loading before training or competing for years, “There are some situations for which alternative dietary options (adding fat to the diet) are beneficial.” For good reason. While carbohydrates contain four calories per gram, fat provides a whopping nine calories per gram. That’s not to say one is better than the other, since the body processes each very differently. But when midway my marathon month, I know that having a dual-fuel supply of both can only be a good thing.