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Fat Loading for Marathons

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Fat. Not a word one would usually associate with marathoners. In fact most runners struggle to hit the lower end of their BMI range in the run up to a marathon. We call it race weight, normal people call it “God, you look gaunt…you’re getting far too scrawny.”

Which is why the bizarre practice of fat loading for 10 days, from two weeks prior to the big race should be welcomed by the “dedicated” marathoner as an opportunity to ditch the rabbit food and pile into the nice stuff. So why is it that I’m dreading the next one and a half weeks and can’t wait to get into the three-day pre-race carb load. Perhaps this, a picture of my just-arrived weekly shop will shed light on the matter:

Fat loading is key to marathon preparation.


For the next 10 days my daily fat loading menu is as follows:

  • Breakfast: blueberries with full fat Greek yoghurt.
  • Lunch: Caesar salad with full fat Mary Berry olive oil dressing with sardines/anchovies and olives OR cream of chicken soup.
  • Tea: omelette with feta cheese and avocado.
  • Snacks: pistachio nuts.
  • Each and every day.

The idea is simple, to increase your fat-burning capacity by fat loading for a race. For the next 10 days I will get 65 per cent of my daily calories from fat. Not cheeseburgers, good fat. The problem with this is three-fold:

  1. There are so few good-fat foods with a 65 per cent + fat content that your menu is extremely limited.
  2. Even though two weeks out from a marathon you’re running less (35 miles for me next week and roughly half that the week after compared to an average 55 for the 10 previous weeks) you still need fuel. Despite what the books say, a high fat diet just doesn’t cut the mustard.
  3. The change from high carb to high fat, coupled with reduction in mileage, gets the mind racing. Every niggle becomes a full-blown injury, every mildly stressful everyday situation becomes a calamity of gargantuan proportions. Tetchy is the word.

Just as you think it can’t get any worse, seven days into your 10-day fat loading, it’s on to the seven-day pre-race caffeine fast. This turns a man already on the edge into someone who it’s dangerous to be around. I’m a three lattes a day man usually, double shot if I can get it, so this really sets the cat among the pigeons.

But come the Thursday before the race it all changes. Last run, on to the carbs and by the time you’ve necked your pre-race beet juice and popped a caffeine pill, you’re standing on the start line on Cloud Nine ready to smile your way round those 26.2 miles.

Standing on the finish line I hope all those anchovies, Greek yoghurt, chicken soup and general irritability will have been worth it. In Kielder we trust.