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Nutritional planning: Luke Davey of Nu Performance talks strategy for the Hong Kong Marathon

After several postponements, the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2021 is all set to take place on 24 October 2021. We speak to Luke Davey, qualified sport performance coach and founder of Nu Performance, for his top tips on planning your nutritional strategy in the run up to race day.

So you’ve taken the plunge and signed up for a marathon. Whether this is the first time that you’re dipping your toes into competitive sport, or another notch in your bid to compete in marathons around the world, training for an event like the Hong Kong Marathon requires some planning. Physical training aside, when it comes to adopting a strategy, nutrition is essential. Sure, you can embark on regular runs around the city to build up that endurance, but as the saying goes, “abs start in the kitchen” – or in this case, your ability to run 42.195km does. If you’re all set to run the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on 24 October 2021, or perhaps planning ahead for the next race, we’ve sought some advice from the experts.

With over 10 years of experience in the field, we speak to Hong Kong rugby’s Head of Athletic Performance and founder of Nu Performance for his top tips on fuelling for the big day. From scouting out your race track ahead of time to knowing exactly the types and amounts of foods that you should be consuming to maximise endurance capacity, Luke tells us where to start when it comes to the nutritional side of training for a marathon.

Luke Davey, founder of Nu Performance

“Competing in a marathon is a fantastic achievement alone, however thriving during a marathon is another challenge altogether. Whether you’re Eliud Kipchoge completing a marathon in under two hours, or just looking to finish the race before dark, having a tried and tested nutritional strategy will significantly increase your success and experience in one of the historically oldest challenges out there – the 42.195km distance.”

– Luke Davey, founder of Nu Performance

Taking on the Hong Kong Marathon is no walk in the park. Literally. Where do you even begin in preparing for a competitive event like this?

Starting line at the 2020 Dead Sea Marathon in Israel

Firstly, get to know your racecourse. To plan your nutritional strategy, you need to understand the conditions, surface and the course that you’re up against. I know from first hand experience how crucial researching the terrain can be. Due to a last-minute race cancellation in 2020 I competed in Israel’s Dead Sea Marathon, and what I didn’t account for was the unpredictable running surface – which threw a significant curve ball into my race day strategy! The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon starts on Nathan Road and finishes in Victoria Park. Along the way, the course ranges from 30m below sea level inside the Western Harbor Tunnel to the highest point at Tsing Ma Bridge, which is 90m above sea level and on paved roads.

Tsing Ma Bridge: image courtesy of Wiki user Minghong under the  GNU Free Documentation License

Pre-pandemic, the marathon would usually take place in the much cooler month of February, but this postponed date means that competitors are taking on tougher October weather conditions – another key consideration. Temperatures on average range between 23.7 to 27.7 degrees Celsius, whilst humidity remains high but tolerable at 73 percent. It seems overkill to keep track of the temperature, but all of this is essential when planning your hydration and fuelling strategies.

Good to know: The course provides at least 16 water stations along the route – spaced out every three kilometers – excluding the starting and finishing line. The provisions at each station range from distilled water to isotonic drinks, with some stations also providing bananas.

Fuelling strategy? What do you mean by that?

Fuelling considerations can be broken down simply to ‘type, timing and amount.’ The devil is in the details, and each variable should be planned, practiced and refined before race day. If you’re not sure what’s crucial to performance, I’ve broken it down for you below:

TYPE

Carbohydrate intake is top of the list when fuelling for a marathon! Adequate carbohydrate intake pre and during the race ensures maximum storage of blood, liver, and muscle glycogen to the working muscles in order to to help fuel high levels of aerobic power and endurance. You’ll often find high-glycemic index carbs available during the race – like bananas.

TIMING

Timing is key in order to maximise performance. You’re bound to have heard the term “carb-loading”? This is not an excuse to stuff yourself the night before the race, but an opportunity to saturate glycogen (energy) stores through a tried-and-tested, pre-race day high carbohydrate meal. Most people are led to believe that this would be unlimited bowls full of pasta and rice, however each person’s tolerance is unique. In most cases you’ll need the time to trial different volumes and types of pre-race foods to allow your gut to adapt and find the best type and volume of food for you. Gastrointestinal distress is a real problem for endurance athletes. Runners should avoid high fat and high fiber foods before the race and trial any supplements (and the amounts) you plan to ingest in your training period.

To avoid hitting that dreaded ‘wall’, explore opportunities during the race to top up energy levels. Glycogen stores are usually depleted after 75 minutes of exercise, so this should dictate your timing of consuming an energy gel or fuel of your choice.

Don’t forget to recover post-race! The likelihood is that you will be sore for the next few days. To help repair muscle damage, consume a combination of protein and carbohydrates post-race to begin the recovery process.

AMOUNT

The amount of food and fluid that you consume should be dictated by what you’ve tried and tested during your training block. The literature varies greatly here, but depending on your body weight, you will want to aim for between 30g and 60g of carbohydrate per fuelling opportunity mid-race.

Considering the race conditions in October, staying on top of hydration can make or break your race. Even mild dehydration can reduce endurance performance by up to 20 percent. Fluid intake is always a balance of trips to the bathroom and appropriate levels of dehydration, so be sure to trial your strategy prior to race day. A little and often approach is best to ensure maximal fluid absorption and to keep heatstroke at bay.

Staying on top of strength training ensures that muscles are prepared and are able to cope with the demanding nature of a marathon.

I love carbs. But how do I know I’m getting the nutrition aspect right? Where do I go from here?

Marathon running is an exciting event that requires many hours of training and commitment. In order to give the best representation of all your hard work, make sure you do your research, practice and stick to your plan. Don’t forget your strength training! This will give you peace of mind and remove any stress and unknowns from race day.

Top it off with plenty of high-quality sleep during your tapering phase and you will be set up for success. If you’re looking for something more advanced and an individualised strategy, you’re welcome to book an initial consult to help you get the most out of your race. Best of luck to all those competing this year!

For more information about Nu Performance or for consultation enquiries, get in touch with Luke at luke@nuperformance.com.hk

Hero and main image credited to Standard Chartered

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