When preparing for a marathon, your nutrition plan is as important as your training programme. An optimal nutrition plan will address energy requirements, replenishment needs and muscle recovery.
Vital Health Foods, the nutrition sponsor for the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, plays an indispensable role in helping runners with sound nutritional advice. Andrea du Plessis, nutrition expert for Vital Health Foods and a marathon runner herself, says that a healthy diet alone is not enough to provide optimal nutrition.
“Today, our grains, fruits and vegetables contain fewer nutrients than ever before, due to agricultural soil depletion, prolonged storage and over-processing,” she points out. “Where in the past dietary guidelines recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for optimum health, a 2014 survey upped this to seven to ten portions a day.”
Research shows that many active people have mineral- and vitamin-deficient dietary intakes, achieving only 66% of their requirements. To ensure peak performance, therefore, supplementation plays an important role for active people and athletes. The three key nutrients vital to getting the most out of your training regime are the B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium.
B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism, in a process that turns nutrients into energy, and prevents fatigue from setting in prematurely. Du Plessis recommends that runners increase their daily intake when they escalate their exercise regimen. Including beans, poultry, fish, oranges and dark leafy greens in your diet will aid in getting your daily dose. “And a vitamin-B-complex supplement will make up for what you lack in your diet, so you get the most out of your training,” says Du Plessis.
Vitamin C requirements also increase when people exercise, and research shows that athletes need to consume 50% more vitamin C when they train to maintain a healthy immune function. This is especially important for runners training during the cold winter months in preparation for the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.
Magnesium is well known for its role in sports nutrition, as it supports muscle function and energy metabolism. “During intense training, magnesium is redistributed to the red blood cells for energy metabolism, which in turn ups the amount of magnesium the body needs,” explains Du Plessis. In addition, athletes who lose a lot of magnesium through urine and perspiration may end up magnesium-deficient. Low levels have been shown to diminish muscle recovery after exercise, which can have adverse effects for an athlete training for a marathon.
On race day magnesium can help muscle endurance as it facilitates the effective release of energy stored in the muscles and supports muscle strength. And, adds Du Plessis, “Latest studies show that magnesium has mild anti-inflammatory benefits, which helps with pain relief.”