This is quite a common questions I get asked by runners. There is so much information out there to confuse us all on what to have and what not to have no wonder everyone is confused. You will be pleased to know, I am here to make things simple for you, as the last thing you want to be stressing about so close to the big race is what to eat.
Rule No. 1
Don't try anything new
The golden rule that we can't escape! Believe it or not though, we all still do it. Whether it be a new piece of kit we have been sold at the marathon expo or a new gel that your mate promises will make you run like the wind, trying something new on the day of the marathon is no no. Nutrition wise, stick to what you know you like, know and can tolerate 24 hrs up to the race. Don't be tempted by a sports drink or energy bar being given out at the start if it is a sports drink you haven't tried before. If all your running friends decide to go to the local curry house the night before, avoid temptation as you may well suffer the next day with agitated bowels (unless of course it is what you are used to!)
Rule No. 2
A lot of runners are in the mind set that the more food the better the day before a marathon. Indeed, making sure our glycogen reserves are full and replenished is a must, but over eating is not the way to ensure this happens as it can make you feel uncomfortably full and add to the sluggishness of the taper. Over the last few weeks you will have reduced your training significantly so already as a result of this, your glycogen stores will have replenished. Additionally you should have been increasing your carbohydrate intake slightly over the last few days (aim for 8-10g carbs /kg.bw - so for a 60kgs runner that would be approx. 480-600g carbs per day). Even just adding a couple of sports drinks in your day will help increase you carb intake by approx 100-150g/day without giving you that full, sluggish feeling oversize bowls of pasta would give you (though nothing wrong with pasta...just XL portions may make you feel uncomfortable). Be prepared though to put on a little bit of weight as for every gram of glycogen that is stored, you also store 3g of water!
Rule No. 3
Keep it simple.
This is personal and some people have stomach that can tolerate anything. If you are unsure though, it is best to keep things simple. Have your main / largest meal at lunch time the day before and have something easy in the evening. Something like fish, jacket potato and salad (my go to before a race) or chicken pasta. Avoid anything that is too high in fat as this may cause tummy problems later on. In the morning of the marathon, keep in mind anything that is particularly high in fat and or protein will take longer to digest than carbohydrate.
Rule No. 4
Don't drink so much that you spend the day on the loo
You don't need to be surgically attached to your water bottle for 24 hours before the marathon. Be sensible and just make sure you are well hydrated and your urine is clear colour. If you are going to a marathon expo bring a bottle with you as you will be on your feet and they can be quite hot places. In the morning of the race, have 300 - 500 ml when you wake and have small sips leading up the race. If you over do it though you will be attached to the portaloo queue for the whole morning! Think about your environment though, if it is hot you will need to pay even more attention to hydration.
Rule No. 5
Stick to routine
If your marathon is a few months away, I would start practicing this now. At least have a meal that you can have the night before a long run so you know what works for you. Establishing a routine for the 24 hrs leading up to a long run can help you feel more confident on race day. Once you become used to running the distance and you race marathons more often, that routine may become more relaxed as you get to know what works for you and what doesn't. For the morning of your race, look at what time it starts and work back from there. Looking at what time you want your breakfast (3 hrs before race) and if you need to bring a snack (r.g banana / energy bar) with you to have an hour before race starts. If you are staying in a hotel the night before, make sure you phone ahead to see if they cater for you or simply bring your own! Always keep in mind, that sometimes things don't always go to plan so think of ways you can deal with this if it happens.
If you want a bespoke plan for you, drop me an email. Remember, everyone is different and sports nutrition should be personalised to the athlete.