Before my last 3 marathons I've done a caffeine taper. One week before a marathon I cut out all caffeine. I usually stop drinking coffee about 3 weeks before, then gradually wean myself down with tea and nuun energy. My caffeine taper wasn’t easy before Grandma’s Marathon, and I almost gave in on the first day when I experienced a withdrawal headache, but I made it through! Caffeine is a proven performance-enhancer, and by abstaining for 4-5 days before a goal race, you can theoretically maximize the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine on race day. I just do a full week off of it so I can begin my abstinence on a non-work day! I first read about this technique in a couple of blog posts by Neely Spence-Gracey (found here and here). On a typical day when I am not doing a caffeine taper, I drink one travel mug sized cup of coffee each morning during my commute (after my early morning run). On some key workout and long run days I have a nuun energy tab in water prior to my run (1-2 times a week at most), and sometimes I’ll have a cup of tea or a nuun energy tab mid- to late- morning at work, so I'm not consuming pots of coffee, multiple energy drinks, etc. at any time (those drinking several caffeinated beverages daily might struggle with something like this more).
The week leading up to the race, I eat the same as I’ve been eating the entire training cycle, which I would describe as mostly clean and well-balanced. I eat from all of the food groups and emphasize whole and natural foods. I don't count macros or calories or subscribe to a specific diet plan. I eat quite a bit of fiber on a regular basis (whole grains, fruits, veggies), and don’t change that because it doesn’t adversely affect me during races.
In the final 3 days before the race, I increase the percentage of carbs I’m eating. I still don’t count anything, but make common sense substitutions (oatmeal and toast instead of an omelet for breakfast, fruit and pretzels for snacks, two potatoes and a small piece of chicken instead of a large chicken breast and one potato, etc.). I also add more electrolytes into the water I’m drinking, using nuun.
I try to keep my food choices familiar, including packing quite a bit of food when traveling to races. We left home for Grandma’s on Thursday morning, so I had 6 meals between home and the race, and I packed 4 of them. I ate out for dinner on Thursday (a chicken, rice, and veggie bowl that was very brown rice-heavy), and for lunch on Friday (a Subway foot-long on whole grain with eggs and all the veggies), all typical foods for me. I packed a cooler with a couple of servings of a leftover quinoa/lentil dish that I ate for Thursday’s lunch and Friday’s dinner -- yes, I ate lentils the night before the race, along with a sweet potato with skin..like I said, fiber doesn't bother me. I also packed some hard boiled eggs and lots of carby snacks (fruit, pretzels, bars, bagels, electrolyte chews).
Race morning I eat a large baked sweet potato without skin about 3 hours before the race. I also start sipping on nuun energy in water, which contains electrolytes and caffeine (40 mg/tab and I have 2 tabs). I gradually drink this, finishing most of it by an hour before the race. 2 hours before the race, I begin sipping Generation UCAN vanilla mixed with either almond milk or water. I use 3 scoops of UCAN so it’s pretty dense calorie-wise but doesn’t weigh heavy on my stomach, which is important because I am used to running on an empty stomach.
During the race, I take 3 Accel gels, around the 10K, 20K, and 30K marks. Each of these gels contains 40 mg caffeine. At Grandma’s I picked them up at miles 5, 13, and 19 because those were the closest bottle stops to where I wanted them. I had water in the bottles I took with the gels. I also placed nuun energy (half a tab per bottle) at miles 7, 15, 22, and 24. I drank probably half the 8 oz bottles at 7 and 15, and the whole bottle at 22 (that was a mistake though, because I got a terrible side cramp that lasted 2 miles after I did it). I didn’t take the bottle at 24; it was mainly just there for if I was dying and fortunately I wasn't. I took sips of water at some other course stations. In most previous marathons I’ve drank water only, because the sports drinks on course always seem to be mixed to different strengths and the brands don’t always agree with me, so I prefer to rely on my gels with water. CIM had nuun (not nuun energy though) on course so I took some of it there.
All of this in combination works great for me! I feel like I have enough fuel to sustain me throughout the race and don’t experience any stomach or GI issues. Nutrition and especially during-race fueling is different for everyone, so I encourage you to practice your race day plans before and during long training runs and workouts so you know it will work for you. I’ve done this overall routine for 6 marathons now and it’s gone smoothly each time. I’ve only done the caffeine taper part 3 times, and it's certainly the hardest part, but every second counts!
|During race nutrition|