Running long distances comes naturally to us. According to biologists, endurance running played an important role in our evolution. The human body stays cool by sweating rather than panting, giving us the ability to run distances that would overheat other animals, making us better hunters. So, while humans might not be the fastest mammals, when it comes to distances, we can outrun most animals.

However, as many aspiring marathon runner would testify, it’s not easy to achieve our running goals despite the hard training. To overcome this, the first step is to understand what goes on inside the body during the run.

Data Source: How it Works magazine
Data Source: How it Works magazine

In the first few seconds of the marathon, the muscles start using up ATP (adenosine triphosphate) - the energy molecules that the body gets from food. In the next few minutes, cells break down the glucose stored in muscles to release more ATP. You start breathing heavily, giving the body the influx of oxygen it needs to send to the muscle fibres. The heart starts beating faster, directing the blood towards the muscles. Within 10 minutes of the race, the body starts burning calories. The body temperature goes up activating the sweat glands which, in turn, release moisture to cool down the body. With the right endurance training, you feel strong as you take confident strides towards the finish line. At this point, there are two possible endings to this story. You could power through the race, endure and make it to the finish line. However, if you’ve neglected nutrition during your marathon prep, your story could have an alternate ending in which you ‘hit the wall’ and give up the race, regardless of the amount of training you had put in. This could be simply because your body has run out of glycogen – the body’s preferred energy source.

While most people focus on endurance training, it is equally, if not more, important to develop a robust nutrition strategy and avoid an instance where your body runs out of its energy reserves.

The recommended training time for a marathon ranges from 12- 20 weeks before the run. This time can be used to explore different meals, recipes and nutritional products that agree with your body and match the nutritional profile of a marathon diet. Carbohydrates with low GI index that release energy slowly such as wholegrain rice, pasta or porridge can be introduced in your regular diet in this stage. While pastas and whole grain rice are the more popular forms of carbohydrates, you should not force your body to accept them just a day before the marathon. Eating food which is alien to your stomach might lead to digestive problems, putting additional strain on the body. Hence, it is advised to gradually introduce these foods into your diet, so your body gets used to breaking them down. Ketan Apte, a recreational runner and certified marathon trainer from American College of Sports Medicine, advises “for the days leading up to the race, one should increase the amount of carbohydrates and proteins in regular meals to start storing energy for the D-day. One should also increase the body’s water intake 2 – 3 days before the marathon.” The night before meal and the marathon day breakfast are the two most crucial occasions that can make or break your run.

Intensive training and the marathon itself induces inflammation, skeletal muscle damage, cellular damage and suppresses the body’s immune system. The post marathon period is when nutrition assists in total recovery of the body. A constant supply of proteins like milk, cheese or white deliver amino acids to the body which are essential for repairing and rebuilding damaged muscle tissue.

It takes a serious amount of nutrition planning and training to become a marathon finisher. To ease the body into the physical demands of a marathon, there are now a number of 5k and 10k runs which help beginners train for the big run. Running for any distance demands a high level of dietary and physical discipline. However, nothing can match the elation felt at the finish line. The right nutrition can help you on your journey and motivate you to get fitter and faster for your next big run.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Nestlé India Limited and not by the Scroll editorial team.