Pre-Comrades nutritional do’s and don’ts

Pre-Comrades nutritional do’s and don’ts

2018 Comrades Marathon race week has arrived! While you have done the training and are raring to go, have you thought of how to handle this week’s nutritional planning? What you to today, can have an impact on your race on Sunday. Here are Mark Wolff’s, do’s and don’ts.



David Katz: Thanks for joining us on 32Gi Sports Nutrition, recently in the build-up to the Comrades Marathon to chat with the likes of Renier Grobler and Shaun Meiklejohn, but Mark Wolff is back on the podcast because Comrades week has arrived.

So much goes on in the build-up to what is known as the ultimate human race and there’s a lot to consider from a nutritional point of view. Mark, thanks for joining us. You’ve got some great, as always, you’ve got some great material out there on various aspects of what to do and what not to do?

Mark Wolff: It’s a very crucial couple of weeks and this last week leading up to race week is probably the most crucial. Training is done and now the gruelling 90km run awaits everybody. As they have been saying, Asijiki, there is no turning back. You need to put some focus into a number of things in order to make sure that you get to race day in good shape.

DK: Mark, talking about that, one of the key things, there’s obviously mistakes people make and there’s certain things you should be doing and there are certain things you shouldn’t be doing. Do you want to run us through a ‘do’ and a ‘don’t’ list?

Sleep is a Comrades runner’s best friend

MW: Just point people in the right direction as to where their focus should be. I think one of the most primary things is definitely sleep. We know that sleep is scientifically and medically proven to show better cognitive function, better ability to perform. 90km of running is very much a mental event, without a doubt. You need a lot of mental strength and the more sleep that you get in the week leading up to that event; you’ll feel a lot better on that day.

As well as, all the weeks of training and now you’re in taper period, that ability to gain as much sleep as possible will help the body restore and repair itself. So that when you do get to race day, you’re actually feeling a little bit fresher than most people. Even Bruce Fordyce has mentioned, that even an extra couple of minutes sleep the night before the race has made a bigger impact than most of his competitors who would be sleeping less.

We’ve heard it over and over again. I would say try and get as much sleep as possible, especially you can just wake up a little bit later. You don’t have to train so early; there isn’t a lot of training to do at the moment. Try to get to bed a little bit earlier, but definitely put some major focus on sleep.


The next thing that we look at is obviously the nutrition side of things and I think that’s very crucial because that can definitely make or break your race week. There’s a few do’s and don’ts that I actually wrote on in a blog. Let’s start with the don’ts because I believe they are quite critical. This will maybe hurt some people, but you need to lay off alcohol during race week. It’s amazing how many people actually drink beer and wine during race week and they don’t realise that it is a diuretic.

It is dehydrate you and the last thing that you want to do is become dehydrated during race week that you get to race day, not 100% and properly hydrated. That is really, really not a good idea. If you want alcohol, wait until after the race. You’ve been preparing for so many months, why ruin your race the week before?

The second thing is, I always tell people to avoid too many stimulants, so caffeine for example, it does act as a diuretic in some people, but that’s not why I tell people to avoid it. I tell people to avoid it more because it can play havoc with your sleep if you do drink large amounts of caffeine. Like I just said, prior to this, try and put some focus on sleep, stimulants can impact your sleep.

You might think that you just crash and fall asleep even if you drink a cup of coffee, but believe me, if you analyse sleeping patterns, you’ll see how disturbed sleep can be, even if you don’t understand it. It can disturb the sleep and you don’t want that to happen.

Pack a pre-Comrades Marathon picnic basket

Avoid eating out, you do have the risk of going out for something to eat and there’s a risk of food poisoning, there’s a risk of something not agreeing with you, it can cause digestive impact. The last thing you want to do during race week is compromise your gut bacteria, have a stomach issue.

It does take a while to reset itself and to settle and that is not something that you want to be dealing with in race week. Don’t eat out, eat at home, eat foods that you’re used to and that you actually know your stomach and your digestive system can tolerate quite well.

Don’t overeat. A lot of people tend to overeat in race week and you don’t want to land up gaining weight. Because you’ve trained at a specific weight, why go to the race and you’re weighing, even a half kg more than what your training weight was.

Remember, you’ve got to pound out for 90km and if you’re running at a cadence of let’s say 80, maybe that’s an average runner. A very good runner will run at a cadence of over 90 steps per minute in each leg, but if you’re running at let’s say a cadence of 80, just as an example and you’ve gained an extra kg, that’s 1kg per step per minute.

You’re talking about 80kg of extra force through the body, per step, per leg, times that by 60 minutes and you can work out how many tons you’re actually putting of force through the body if you’re gaining weight. Do not overeat during race week. You are in taper; your calorie burn rate is a lot lower. You’re not pushing out those miles that you’re used to and just make sure that they’re small and manageable meals.

Comrades Marathon build-up dietary don’ts

Say no to sugar. Keep sugar out of the equation this week. You definitely don’t want insulin spiking at all. You also don’t want to trigger any sugar cravings and land up on a binge. You want to try and focus on foods that don’t cause inflammatory responses, but actually cause the opposite, that cause anti-inflammatory responses. Those are foods that are more alkaline. Sugar is very acidic, you want to try and keep it out of the body as much as possible and you also do not want to play havoc with your energy levels.

Then the last don’t is try and avoid processed foods. Please, by all means make sure your foods are easily identifiable, that they’re clean and that they are healthy. That’s very, very important as far as another don’t is.

How to get to Comrades nutritionally ready!

As far as the do’s go. Eat healthy. Eat nutrient dense meals. Eat foods which will provide benefit to you. Try and incorporate a nice mixture of foods which are obviously high in antioxidants. Look for healthy carbohydrates, more low glycaemic carbs are far better. Carbohydrates such as nutrient rich vegetables, some fruits, lean protein and healthy fats to keep the immune system strong and the body energised.

I always tell people to eat consistently in race week, so don’t starve yourself. Eat small, frequent meals as opposed to leaving gaps and starving yourself over time and make sure that you select healthy frequent meals throughout the day.

Hydrate consistently and hydrate constantly. You do need to be hydrating in race week. It doesn’t mean you can have litres at a time. Spread your hydration out over the entire day and make sure that you’re taking around 30-40ml of fluid per kg of body weight. Just as an example. If you weigh 60kg, that means you should be consuming around 2.5l of water a day. Obviously if you have something that’s a diuretic, you would need to increase that substantially in order to be able to mitigate those effects of dehydration.

Preferably I look at something like a hypertonic solution, in my case 32Gi Hydrate, but something hypertonic will go a long way. Why? Because it maximises the fluid absorption. It’s better for hydration than just drinking water on its own. Those are the do’s and the don’ts.

DK: Fantastic there Mark, what a comprehensive list it is and well worth taking the advice. 32Gi Hydrate, we say, ‘don’t try anything new on race day,’ but in the week up to, if you haven’t tried Hydrate, it’s a fantastic product and can help you get to that start line on Sunday perfectly hydrated. Stay tuned, we have plenty more podcasts in the build-up to the Comrades Marathon and looking at various aspects of nutrition, including the very intriguing and now very controversial carbo loading debate.