Marathon season is fast approaching, and if you’re one of the many preparing to tackle 26.2 miles this spring, your training plan is probably well underway. But what of the fuel powering that plan? In the weeks before a big race, the food you consume is just as important as the miles you eat up. Your nutritional choices now will have an impact not only on your all-important race time, but also on increasing your energy levels, preventing dehydration and optimising your recovery time during these crucial weeks and months. The good news is that by following a few simple fuel rules now, you can ensure a positive, successful running experience all the way from here to that sweet, sweet finishing line.
- 1. Focus on the protein
- 2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
- 3. Follow the 30 minute rule
- 4. Proceed gingerly
- 5. Practice fuelling mid-run
- 6. Recover right
- Find more dietary advice for running a marathon…
- More Articles
- Focus on Carbohydrates
- Fueling for Runs
- Potential Meal Plan
- Importance of Fluids
- Marathon Training 7-Day Meal Plan
- And fall favorites for runners
- The Key Nutritional Components of Marathon Training
- What to Eat and When
- Finding What Works
- The day of the race
- A Complete Guide to Proper Marathon Nutrition
- How do I fuel for a Marathon?
- The Early Preparation
- Train Your Race Plan
- Pre-Race Breakfast
- The Hour Before the Start
- During the Race
- After the Marathon
- A Helpful Checklist
- Running Nutrition For Beginners
- Important macronutrients for marathon runners
- Example daily meal plan for when you’re training for a marathon
- Hydration, hydration, hydration
- Nutrition for marathon race day – your checklist
- How to fuel during the marathon
- 7 Ways to Make Your Diet More Like an Elite Runner
- What Does an Elite Runner Eat?
- How Can I Eat More Like an Elite Runner?
- RunnersConnect Master Extra
- What To Eat During Marathon Training
1. Focus on the protein
Upping your protein intake is one of the most important moves you can make when it comes to marathon prep. Think of it as an edible upgrade for your legs – to help you build muscle, recover quicker and avoid injury. Runners need about 50 to 75 per cent more protein than non-runners, which equates to around 200g of chicken a day. The good news is that chicken also contains a number of bonus benefits, including selenium (which helps protect muscles from free-radical damage during exercise) and niacin (which helps regulate fat burning while running). We’ve also rounded up the best protein sources for vegetarian and vegan runners here.
A beginner’s guide to protein:
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Hydration is important, we all know that. But in the run up to a marathon, it’s just as important to hydrate when you aren’t training. Fluids regulate your body temperature, flush out damaged cells and ensure that your joints are adequately lubricated. When you’re actually hitting the road, a good rule of thumb is to drink 3-4 sips of fluid for every 15–20 minutes you’re running, or to drink to thirst. Every body is different, but as a guideline you shouldn’t exceed 600ml of water per hour running.
3. Follow the 30 minute rule
The best time to eat before a training run is 30-60 minutes before you head out. Smaller snacks are better as they digest more easily, but will still give you that welcome turbo boost of energy. Ideally, what you’re looking for is a nice balance of proteins and carbohydrates – a wholewheat bagel topped with a scoop of peanut butter or sliced banana for example.
Before you head out:
4. Proceed gingerly
Not only does the natural spice help relieve muscle soreness, but its anti-inflammatory compounds also help minimise your risk of injury. Add chopped ginger to stir fries, soups and smoothies, and invest in a big box of ginger tea for brewing up between now and race day.
5. Practice fuelling mid-run
Over the course of 26.2 miles, your body will not be able to propel you forward properly without fuelling every 30 to 45 minutes. Abide by the motto “fuel early and often” and build this into your training routine, aiming to take on at least 30g of carbs per hour. The key is to stay ahead of any feelings of exhaustion, so keep topping up the tank, even if you don’t feel you need it. Once you feel your energy levels start to crash, it’s too late to get the maximum benefits from calorie intake.
6. Recover right
Within 30-45 minutes of finishing a long run, you need a recovery snack consisting of both carbs and protein. This is an important window of time when your body is very responsive to nutrition and will quickly use any nutrients to rebuild and repair muscles. How you choose to refuel in this crucial period is crucial.
Eat right to recover –
Other than shorter days, interminable NFL preseason games, and the always-too-early return of pumpkin spice coffee beverages, the surest sign that fall is nearly upon is your annual flirtation with the idea of running a marathon this fall. But if this is the year that you actually mange to convince yourself that New York or Chicago or Seattle or… something called the Wineglass Marathon is indeed a good idea, you’ll probably first tackle a months-long, carefully-crafted training regimen that requires you to run longer distances in a single day than many New Yorkers drive in a year. To ensure that what you’re using to fuel your body’s strenuous efforts is not, to use a technical term, trash, we asked Dr. Fred Pescatore, a nutritional medicine expert and author of The Hamptons Diet, for a few tips on getting the most out of your hard work.
Space things out. You’re asking a lot—a lot—of your body when running a marathon, and your diet has to support those changes. Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, and be sure the energy on which you’re relying is coming from high-quality sources, like nutrient-packed vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and anything with a root) and lean meats (chicken, fish, and grass-fed beef). Skipping the big three meals and instead eating five or six smaller portions every two to three hours will help keep your metabolism elevated and your blood sugar levels stable.
Drink water—and not much else. You should aim for a total intake of about half your body weight in ounces every day. Try to do most of your hydrating before and after a workout, when you need it most, and avoid relying on pre-workout energy drinks to carry the load. Also, lay off the booze. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body, and it also affects blood sugar levels—which, since distance runners depend heavily on stored glycogen from blood sugar for energy, is bad news for your training. If you’re committing to getting the most out of the hard work you’re putting in, abstention is your best bet. (Remember, you chose to do this.)
Don’t buy all the pasta just yet. Some runners feel great and perform best when they carb-load before a workout, but although high-quality carbohydrates are certainly a key component of a training diet, gigantic spaghetti feeds do not work for everyone—others find that spacing carbs throughout the day helps them to train more efficiently. See how your body reacts, and if it doesn’t work for you, don’t feel compelled to adhere to a rigid carbo-loading philosophy from the jump, since doing so can lead to unhealthy eating habits beyond the training period if you’re not careful about it.
Eat right before race day. Plan on increasing your carb intake gradually beginning about three weeks before the race in order to build up your body’s glycogen reserves, aiming for between three and five grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight by race day. Stick with a simple, easily digestible meal the night before—as is the case when preparing for most major life events, now is not the time to test your stomach’s tolerance for spicy foods—and eat a simple breakfast two or three hours before the race begins. Experiment with safe options like oatmeal or a bagel with peanut butter during your training regimen and see which foods cause your body to respond best.
Learn some lessons. You finished a marathon! Congratulations! Now, while perhaps you feel entitled to a celebratory double cheeseburger and all of the fries as you bask in the glory of your accomplishment, don’t wake up the next morning and abandon every tenet of the regimen to which you so scrupulously adhered over the past few months. Training for a marathon is a great time to develop healthy habits that last beyond race day, and doing things like eating smaller meals sourced from high-quality carbohydrate and protein sources is a good idea even when you’re not preparing to run 26.2 consecutive miles. Besides, habits like those may even make it easier for you to run another marathon in the future, if you have so much fun the first time around that you decide to give it another go. (You psycho.)
Watch Now: Go Behind the Walls for the San Quentin Marathon
Mara’s top tips
Mara Yamauchi has the below guidance to help you prepare for the big day! Mara is the UK’s second-fastest female marathon runner of all time and a two-time Olympian.
Food is the fuel of life…and of running! Training for an event like the half-marathon is demanding. Therefore what you eat and drink needs to provide you with the energy you need for training, and all the micronutrients you need to have a healthy, robust body which can handle the training you’re doing.
Nutrition for training
My nutrition advice for periods of training (for racing see below) is not rocket science, and you may have heard it before – for good reason as they are golden rules!
- Fruit & vegetables: eat plenty of, and a variety of fruit and vegetables – many are full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and potassium, which are critical for the body to function normally
- Breakfast: always eat breakfast. After a night asleep, your body will need energy. Eating a good breakfast sets you up for the day and helps to avoid cravings for sugar or caffeine later in the day.
- Variety: this is fundamental in nutrition ie eating a wide variety of foods consistently. For example, have different things for breakfast each day, and try to eat a wide variety of food stuffs at each meal. Also do not restrict your diet (eg cutting out meat/dairy etc) unless you have a good reason to do so, but if you must, then make special effort to get the nutrients you are missing by restricting your diet from other sources.
- A balanced diet: make sure you eat a balanced diet and everything in moderation. ‘Balanced’ means a variety of foods but also not too much of one particular food. It is easy to find your diet lacking balance if you have a restricted diet or allergies/intolerances, so ensure you target a variety of the foods which you can eat.
- Nutritious foods: highly nutritious foods should be top of your list! These include oily fish, green leafy vegetables, colourful vegetables, nuts and seeds, berries, whole-grains and shellfish. These provide high nutritional value compared to other foods, and a lack of them could lead to deficiencies in important vitamins or minerals.
- After training: always eat or drink something within 20 minutes of training – this is when your body is hungry for nutrients and absorbs them quickly. If it is not practical to eat a proper meal within 20 minutes, then eat a snack (eg banana, sandwich) or drink a protein-carbohydrate drink, followed later by a proper meal.
What to eat on race day?
When race day arrives, what should you eat? A carbohydrate-rich breakfast is the best option, eaten well (eg two hours) before the start of your warm-up. Examples include toast with honey, bananas, porridge and rice, with a little added protein such as almonds, eggs or yoghurt. What you eat should not be a surprise, nor something new – chose things that you have eaten before and know that you can run well on. Avoid foods which might upset your stomach, such as high-fibre, oily or very spicy foods. Apart from that, my advice is to come up with a race day breakfast plan, and then test it out before race day during a long run.
Hydration is also very important for runners, because we need to replace the water and electrolytes lost while sweating, and because dehydration over a certain level will impair your performance.
- Staying hydrated: always drink after exercise and try to drink regularly throughout the day – drinking just before training will be too late as the body takes time to absorb fluids.
- Electrolytes: drinking fluids with electrolytes is usually better than plain water because that will replace the salts lost in sweat as well as the fluid. Some sports drinks are high in sugar but there are some low-sugar drinks available. After heavy training, drinks which include some protein will help rapid recovery.
- How much? you can easily find out how much you sweat by weighing yourself (without clothes on) before and after training. You should aim to drink 1.5 times the amount of sweat lost over the 2-3 hours after training, to ensure full rehydration.
- Avoiding dehydration: some drinks eg coffee have a diuretic effect, so can be dehydrating. These should be drunk in moderation.
- Hydration for race day: on race day, topping up your energy tank with drinks or gels during the race is a good idea, but don’t go overboard – too much water can be dangerous and you can afford to dehydrate a little during the course of the race. A few sips every 20 minutes or so should be enough, but be prepared to adjust this depending on the weather and how much you are sweating. Whatever you plan to use in the race, make sure you practice taking it in training beforehand, to ensure it agrees with you.
Copyright Mara Yamauchi 2017
The 10 elements of extraordinary nutrition
“High-performing people, from athletes to executives, don’t get to choose how many hours they work, how stressed they are, or how much sleep they get. But they all have to eat,” says Brian St. Pierre, R.D., CSCS, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition in Scarborough, Maine. Nutrition, then, is the most powerful wellness factor within their control and one of the most influential decisions they’re making multiple times a day, he says. Continue reading the full article here.
The athlete’s guide to protein
Traditionally, athletes looking to build muscle have stayed laser-focused on protein. Meanwhile, runners and cyclists focus more on carbs or fat to keep them powered through their respective workouts, often fearing protein will make them bulky and slow. But new research is showing that not only can every athlete improve their performance by consuming protein, but also by consuming way more of it than is commonly recommended. See the full article here.
The athlete’s guide to fat
Consuming carbs before a workout is a ritual for some exercisers. Foods like bagels and bananas supply glucose to muscles, which is then turned into the energy that helps you conquer the weight room, treadmill or spin session. So it’s surprising, then, that top endurance athletes are eschewing the traditional pasta dinner in favor of fattier fare. It’s oft-referred to as the Keto diet—and the idea behind it is fat adaptation. Essentially, eating this way will teach your body over time to tap into fat stores for fuel rather than glycogen.
It’s become popular among ultra-marathoners because some studies have shown it improves endurance. The excitement has trickled down to recreational athletes, who are interested in using it to get better, faster results and improve body composition. (Plus, it comes with all the avocado and butter you could hope for.) Read more.
I’m a keen runner and recently completed my first marathon. While I was really happy with my time, the lead-up to the race was tough, in large part because of my diet. I trained about five to six times a week, running between 7-10 miles most days and 20 miles on Sundays. As a result, I was constantly ravenous. I’m a self-confessed sugar addict and tended to stave off hunger quickly by binging on chocolate, cookies or the odd jar of Nutella, especially in the evening. Frankly, I convinced myself I’d earned it! Unfortunately, all that excess sugar just made me gain weight and feel lethargic. In a bid to shed pounds before the race, I lived off salad leaves, which was miserable and wreaked havoc on my muscles.
With the Virgin Money London Marathon in my sights this April, I decided I needed expert help, so I turned to a nutritional therapist…
What to eat when training for a marathon
When I filled out a food diary and health questionnaire, then met with our nutritional therapist, she advised that my current diet was lacking enough protein and healthy fats to fuel my body sufficiently. This explained why my legs would never recover from one run to the next. Nicola recommended two simple but key things I should do in the coming weeks:
Refuel by eating breakfast
I normally skip breakfast, so the first change Nicola recommended was to start eating a small bowl of porridge each day after getting back from a run to restock muscle glycogen.
Nicola’s advice: “Alice usually ran first thing in the morning and would grab a banana once she got to work a few hours later. Whether you’re hungry or not, the quicker you consume food after a run the quicker the body can recover and restore the lost glycogen, which is a bit like filling your car up with petrol after it has run empty. However, a banana is not enough for a post-run breakfast, especially in marathon training, so Alice was finding she was often exhausted for the rest of the day and struggled to concentrate. She was also running the risk of injury or illness by restricting her diet so much.”
Repair by eating protein
Nicola added that I needed to eat more lean protein (chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, lentils, chickpeas, natural yogurt) to help maintain and build muscle and keep me fuller for longer. She explained that the sugar cravings were due to my body signalling that it needed more energy and sought the fastest route to getting this, and it was important to balance portions to avoid those cravings. I was also surprised to hear that although carbs such as potatoes and rice are important in providing a ready-available fuel source, they should not form a large part of our diet. Nicola showed me a pie chart with proportions of each food group. Leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables or salad formed about half, protein a quarter, with the last quarter reserved for carbs, rounded out by some good fats.
Read more on pre and post-run fuelling:
What to eat before your run
What to eat to recover from your run
Nutrition for runners infographic
The prescribed diet consisted of a lot more beans, pulses and root vegetables than I would normally eat, so for once, I felt rather virtuous about my shopping basket. With lots of vegetables and cans to buy, my cupboards and fridge seemed to overflow, but this allowed me to properly stock up for the week and batch cook for busy nights ahead. I aimed to make casseroles for dinner, and whip up salads or homemade soups for lunch to help me reduce my sugar intake (avoiding hidden sugar in shop-bought soups and sandwiches). Coincidently, we had recently tested soup makers in the Good Food test kitchen so I borrowed one and was set to get blending.
Week 1 – bridging the hunger gap
I ate a small bowl of porridge or muesli in the morning after coming back from a run, topped with antioxidant-rich blueberries, cinnamon, chopped bananas, or a drizzle of honey. This helped noticeably in restoring my energy levels after a long run and kept my sugar cravings at bay. I didn’t often feel I wanted to eat straight after training, but by mid-morning I’d feel hungry, so Nicola advised snacking on a few almonds alongside my normal banana, which helped bridge the gap until lunch and slowed the release of the sugar in the fruit.
Find out how to reduce sugar in your diet.
Week 2 – meal prep and cooking from scratch
By the second week, I was getting used to cooking from scratch, rather than relying on my normal go-to pasta and pesto. The only struggle was the increased prep time and initially it felt like I’d be chopping vegetables until the end of time. Surprisingly, I got quicker (or at least, I got used to it) and I started to appreciate knowing exactly what was in my food and therefore, what I was putting into my body. My new favourite recipe became spicy root & lentil casserole. This took about an hour to make but I prepared a large enough batch for four extra portions, which I froze in food bags. Following a long run, I also enjoyed a healthy and flavoursome portion of Mexican penne & avocado – an ideal way to refuel whilst packing in all five of my five-a-day.
My lunches alternated between salads and soups. One of my favourites was a butter bean & tomato salad that I topped with some delicious grilled halloumi. Avocado and smoked salmon salads were also great for work as they supplied the much-needed healthy fats. The soup maker got a fair old workout and my go-to soups became carrot & coriander and courgette, pea & pesto soup. (If you haven’t splashed out on a soup maker, a hand blender will also do the trick.)
Discover more marathon recipes:
Marathon recipe collection
Marathon meal plans
Nicola’s advice: “Foods such as beans and lentils are an excellent combination of protein, carbs and fibre, which provide a sustained release of energy so Alice could stay fuller for longer, whilst allowing her to maintain her marathon weight without going hungry or having sugar (or energy) cravings. The key is balancing the food groups and not just falling into the trap of ‘carbing up’ during training as the body will soon burn through this. The muscles need protein and fats, too.”
I was well acquainted with the feeling of ‘hitting a wall’ when, after running for over 75 minutes, your legs start to feel like lead and all your energy has gone. To deal with this a lot of runners take energy gels and sports drinks every 45 to 60 minutes to top up ready available carb stores, although these unfortunately make me feel queasy! I’d always been good at rehydrating straight after training but hadn’t realised it was just as important to consume a protein and carb-rich snack within 30 minutes after a run, to prevent the breakdown of muscle.
Nicola’s advice: “During a marathon the body will need some fast-burning carbohydrates to provide fuel for your muscles and consuming a piece of fruit with some nuts isn’t always practical! Plain water isn’t enough though, so making your own sports drink with diluted fruit juice and some added salt is a great option. If you are able to run with food, then raisins or pretzels are a good choice, or some runners turn to jelly babies or jelly beans as a sweet hit that are easy to carry and the body can use as fuel quickly.”
Find out more about what to eat and drink on long runs:
What to eat when running a marathon
What to eat on heavy training days
How to stay hydrated when training for a marathon
Week 3 – finding the balance
I must admit, trying to avoid sugary snacks whilst working in an office where there is a seemingly endless supply was a challenge, so I did allow myself a few treats. However, I would limit them to the day, satisfying my sweet tooth with fruit salad or herbal tea in the evenings. This was a tough habit to break at first, but eating more substantial main meals with chickpeas, lentils and beans left me feeling fuller with less need for pudding.
I also found that getting up in the morning to train was a lot easier having not overloaded on chocolate the night before. Importantly, Nicola helped me realise we can’t always be perfect and the restrictive notion of ‘clean eating’ is often counterproductive. Unless, there is a medical reason to do so, depriving ourselves of whole food groups often sets us up to fall off the bandwagon and descend back into a cycle of binging.
On my final meeting with Nicola, I filled out the same questionnaire as before and was massively relieved to find my list of health niggles had decreased substantially with just a few simple dietary changes. Eating a more balanced and sensible diet throughout the day has kept my energy levels sustained and improved my focus, as well as reducing energy dips during training. It has also helped my muscle recovery immensely and I look forward to seeing how this affects my next race.
Overall, this experience has helped me discover just how powerful food really is in affecting how our body functions. I am definitely going to carry on eating this way, and will try to cut back on sugar a bit more but I’ve realised it comes down to finding that balance between giving your body the fuel it needs and not getting obsessive about what you eat at the same time. Easier said than done but, like running a marathon, anything is achievable if you put in the hours and want it enough. So, for anyone thinking of entering a race, whatever the distance – just go for it, you won’t regret it!
Nicola’s advice: “When I first met Alice she was literally ‘running on empty’. So keen to achieve a good marathon time and yet her body just wasn’t getting enough fuel to carry her through her training, or her day for that matter. By increasing the amount she ate, but with the right foods, Alice had much more energy without the weight gain, and we were able to prevent any injury or illness at the same time.”
Read more about maintaining a healthy weight while training:
Fitness and fat burning
How many calories will I burn from running?
Exercise tips for weight loss
Find more dietary advice for running a marathon…
Marathon training and nutrition hub
Paul Radcliffe: How to run your best marathon
Michel Roux Jr: How to run a marathon
Your marathon questions answered
8 things I wish I’d known before running a marathon
Carb loading explained
Do you have any dietary tips for marathon training? Leave a comment below…
Nicola Shubrook is a qualified nutritional therapist, working with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
So you have decided to do it—train and run in a upcoming marathon. You figured with the right exercise regimen, time, and dedication; you will be able to cross this off your bucket list. You spend hours researching how to manage your time and workout plan so that you can build up the stamina and strength needed for this adventure. Now that you have a plan mapped out, you are almost ready to get started and train. The one piece remaining is figuring out a solid diet plan that will allow you to have the proper fuel to allow you to make it to the finish line.
Related: 8 Week Cross Training Program for Athletes (3 days/week)
Getting in shape to run a marathon, or compete in any vigorous sport for that matter, requires a combination of regular exercise and proper nutrition. It is important to recognize that in order to reap the benefits of exercise, you need the right diet to ensure that you can properly fuel your body and build muscle. As you get further and further along in training for the marathon you will find that what you eat can truly impact how long it takes you to complete the race.
When it comes to fueling your body, it is important to incorporate all three macronutrients, however one is most important. When it comes to long distance running it is carbohydrates that serve as the main source of fuel. It is most important to opt for complex carbohydrates over simple sugars, as they are digested more slowly, giving you longer lasting energy. They will be used to serve as fuel, and will replenish and maintain glycogen stores. Carbohydrates should provide about 60-70% of total calories while training for an endurance sport. The recommendation for a marathon runner is about 7 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight during the training period. These complex carbohydrates include foods like whole grain bread and pasta, cereal, brown rice, oatmeal, vegetables and low fat dairy foods.
Protein and Fats
The other two macronutrients, protein and fat, should both also be part of a balanced diet. It is important to consider the fact that protein is needed for muscle growth and repair, while fat has been shown to improve endurance. In general a person, who is not training, needs about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. When training the recommendation goes up to about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Protein should make up about 15% of total calories per day. Without enough protein while training, the body will break down muscle to fuel the body when running long distances. With the right amount of protein in the diet, the body will be able to continue to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Read more: How much protein do you really need? Consuming enough fat, in the form of healthy fats such as avocado and nuts, has been shown to increase endurance for marathon runners. Endurance athletes should consume less than 30% of total calories from fat, with less than 1% from saturated fat. By having fat in the diet, your muscles will burn more fat and less carbohydrate as you run. The addition of fat will allow for you to run longer distances, as your muscle carbohydrate stores will not become depleted.
Related: Meat is not the only source of protein; check out these plant protein sources for athletes and active people
Timing It Out
When deciding how often to eat and at what time, it is important to revolve this around the training run schedule. It is recommended that one should eat a light snack or mini meal one to two hours prior to going on a training run. This is important in order to fuel the body, while also giving your body a chance to digest the food prior to starting your run. Then be sure to plan for meals after your run to replace your body with the appropriate nutrients to replace energy and rebuild muscle. It is also important to be sure you drink throughout the day to stay hydrated at all times.
Sample Meal Plan for Runners
It is important to keep in mind that eating a well balanced diet will enhance your performance time when it comes to training for a marathon. This means one should think about taking in nutrient dense meals and snacks, and keeping in mind the need to incorporate all three micronutrients. It is recommended to start the day with a complex carbohydrate, along with a rich protein source. And of course adding fruit will provide additional fiber and nutrients. Some examples are: Greek yogurt with berries and whole grain cereal, oatmeal made topped with fruit, or a smoothie made with fruit or veggies, milk and bananas. Lunch might include whole grain bread with turkey, avocado and greens or a salad with chicken, beans, and vegetables along with whole grain crackers. Dinner can include a piece of grilled salmon, sautéed string beans and sweet potato or chicken, broccoli and brown rice. The importance of your meal plan is to be sure to provide rich sources of complete proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
It is just as important that in addition to three balanced meals, you add in healthy snacks. Feeding your body on a regular basis allows for improved digestion and allows for your metabolism to remain intact. Also, these snacks should be coordinated with the training schedule, as it is important to refuel your body after a workout. These snacks or mini-meals should also be nutrient dense to meet the bodies needs, and maximize your ability to prepare for the marathon. Snacks can include fruit and nuts, or peanut butter on crackers.
Hydration for Endurance Athletes
In addition to a carefully laid out meal plan, it is important to consider hydration. A runner must keep in mind that as they sweat they will be losing body weight, and can compromise their fluid balance. In fact losing as little as 2 percent of your body weight, through water loss, can have a significant impact on performance and recovery. Water should remain the main source of fluids, with a daily intake of at least 6 to 8 glasses of water and more during the actual training. While training, it is suggested that one add in about 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes that you are running. For those running extra long distances, upward of an hour, might find the need to add in sports drinks for additional electrolytes.
Off to a Good Start
By taking the time to plan out a training schedule along with a balanced diet, you will be well on your way to finishing your first marathon. Take the time to understand the various macronutrients your body needs to give it the proper fuel and allow for your muscles to repair. As you get closer to the date of the marathon, learn about what to eat leading up the big day, what to eat the morning of the race and best post recovery foods. Just a little planning and you will easily be able to go the distance and cross that finish line.
Written by: M Mittler, MS Registered Dietitian
Training for a marathon takes dedication, time and proper fuel in the form of a solid diet plan. While you’re training, keep an eye both on the snacks you eat to power a long training run and on the nutritious meals you eat throughout the rest of the day — both can make a difference between eventually crossing the 26.2-mile finish line or hitting a wall in the middle of training.
Focus on Carbohydrates
Although all three macronutrients are important for distance runners, carbohydrates are the cornerstone because they’re your body’s preferred source of fuel. According to registered dietitian Janice H. Dada in “Today’s Dietitian,” a marathon runner needs between 7 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight during the training period. Aim to include plenty of complex carbohydrates on your diet plan, including whole-grain bread and pasta, brown rice and legumes. Running coach Hal Higdon recommends limiting simple carbs, such as honey, sugar and jam, to 10 percent of your calories.
Fueling for Runs
Much of your diet plan will revolve around your training runs. ITCA-certified triathlon coach Michelle Portalatin told “Shape” magazine that you should eat a light, energizing snack or small meal one to two hours before you go for a training run. One option could be breakfast cereal with fruit and 1 percent milk, suggests Dada. If solid food is too much for your stomach, sports nutritionist Sotiria Everett recommends a fruit smoothie made with milk and a banana. Avoid foods that are high in fat, fried or have a rich sauce, as well as high-fiber foods, all of which can cause stomach problems during your run.
Potential Meal Plan
For the remainder of your diet plan throughout the day, aim to eat well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals. Start the day with oatmeal, a complex carbohydrate, topped with cherries, which are rich in antioxidants, and a glass of milk, or a smoothie made with fruits, green vegetables such as spinach or kale and a natural protein source such as Greek yogurt. Fuel up at lunch with a whole-wheat pasta salad mixed with plenty of vegetables and a source of protein, such as chickpeas or canned tuna. For supper, plan dinners around lean proteins such as chicken or salmon; the omega-3 fatty acids in the latter improve exercise performance by increasing heart stroke volume, according to Competitor. Pair it with a side dish of black beans and a green salad or roasted vegetables. If you’re a vegetarian, try soy products for your protein, such as tofu, as it promotes muscle recovery.
Importance of Fluids
Proper hydration is a vital part of a marathon runner’s diet plan; losing as little as 2 percent of your body weight through water loss can affect your running performance and recovery, says registered dietitian Tara Gidus. For daily drinking, stick with water, carrying a bottle with you at all times. During your training runs that are longer than 60 minutes, add sports drinks that replace carbs and electrolytes lost during training. Aim to drink 4 to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes.
Marathon Training 7-Day Meal Plan
And fall favorites for runners
By Natalie Bickford, MS
The cool temps have slowly crept up on us and we couldn’t be more excited!! Who else is signed up for a fall marathon? It’s one of our favorite times of year to up the mileage and start some serious training. The leaves are changing colors, the air is cool and crisp, and some of our favorite produce starts popping up at the farmers markets!
Last year Shalane was the first American woman in 40 years to win the NYC Marathon (F&@# yeah!!). If you haven’t heard, she announced that she’ll be competing in NYC again this November! That means Shalane is in serious training mode right now and also focusing on fueling up with her favorite Run Fast. Eat Slow. and Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. recipes (abbreviated RFES and RFCFES below). Now that fall is approaching we’re all about stocking up on local apples, sweet potatoes, soup ingredients and baking supplies…bring on the Pumpkin Spice Superhero Muffins! It just so happens that our favorite Fall foods are super nourishing for marathon training.
Favorite Fall Foods for Runners
Sweet potatoes are one of our favorite foods for packing in nutrients while also getting some good complex carbs. We’ve found ways to sneak them into lasagna, pizza (have you tried Amy’s Recovery Pizza?! Recipe in RFCFES), hummus, waffles, and cookies (Sweet Potato Breakfast Cookies in RFES)! We love that they are loaded with complex carbs, vitamin C, and potassium.
We love these little crucifers! Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous vegetable family (think kale, cauliflower, broccoli), which are known for their strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Roast a couple trays of brussels sprouts and throw into Power Bowls (recipe in RFCFES), DIY Grain Salads (recipe in RFCFES) or enjoy as a side with Roasted Chicken (recipe in RFES) all week long.
It’s no secret that we love beets! We always find ways to sneak them into recipes. You can find them in our smoothies/smoothie bowls (gotta try the Rad Raspberry bowl! Recipe in RFCFES), hummus, muffins (Beet Molasses Superhero Muffins, yes please! recipe in RFCFES), and salads (just add arugula and goat cheese). These powerhouses are loaded with anti-inflammatory compounds and studies show they’re great for endurance!
This is our favorite fall squash because of its creamy texture and sweet, nutty flavor. Add it to grain salads, Power Bowls (recipe in RFCFES), frittata (recipe in RFCFES), or puree into a soup! They are antioxidant-rich and loaded with vitamin C to boost your immune system during cold season.
Nothing says fall a fresh picked, crisp, juicy apple! Throw them into smoothies (have you tried our Immune Boost Smoothie?! Find the recipe in RFCFES), smear them with nut butter, add to your morning oats (gotta try our Apple Pie Steelcut Oatmeal in RFCFES) or make an apple crisp (swap out apples for the berries in our Oregon Berry Crumble in RFES)! They contain natural sugars that are a great source of quick energy for runners. They’re also rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber.
Meal Plan Your Way to the Finish Line
We’re celebrating Shalane’s NYC Marathon training with this 1-week meal plan using some of her favorite fall-inspired recipes from both Run Fast. Eat Slow and Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.
Meal prepping and planning is key to having a nourishing week of meals and snacks. Setting aside just 2-3 hours to prep each week will set you up for success!
In this meal plan, you’ll be rotating between a few different breakfast and snack recipes all week long. Many dinners and lunches will be repurposed leftovers from the day before so you don’t have to constantly make new recipes every day. Use the meal plan as a guide and feel free to get creative or mix things up. If you’re cooking for a family, doubling favorite recipes is always recommended.
Meal Planning tips:
- Make big batches of freezable recipes to stash in your freezer (Bison Chili, Broccoli Chevre Soup, Marathon Bolognese, Superhero Muffins…). You’ll thank yourself later!
- Prep all the snacks ahead of time (Superhero Muffins, Chai Cashew Butter, Savory Pretzel Granola, Honey Cardamom Granola).
- Make a big batch of brown rice and store in the freezer for an easy base for leftovers and mid-week Power Bowls.
- Short on time in the AM? Grab a bag of Picky Performance Oatmeal (recipe developed by Elyse) in our Shop
Download the PDF:
Run Fast Eat Slow 7-Day Marathon Meal Plan
Natalie is a nutritionist and personal chef in Portland, OR who specializes in women’s health and sports nutrition. She loves creating simple, nourishing meals and recipes to fuel your life. Find Natalie at nataliecooks.com.
Training for a marathon is a whole body commitment that requires a full lifestyle makeover. You’ll not only be tackling intensive training sessions on and off the trails, but also giving your diet an overhaul.
Preparing your body with proper nutrition is almost as important as logging miles on trails and treadmills. Proper nutrition will help you get your body in peak health leading up to race day. We’ll show you how to optimize your energy levels and run times by eating the right foods, and the right time.
The Key Nutritional Components of Marathon Training
First, let’s look at the necessary components of nutrition for a healthy run.
As if you needed an excuse to up your carb intake. When it comes to marathon training, carbohydrates are your best friend. Carbs provide your muscles’ primary source of energy and should be the core of your training diet.
Carbohydrates are broken down by your body into glucose (or sugar) and stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen serves as the primary energy source for our muscles. So why are carbs so often seen as dietary enemies? Simply put, when you aren’t burning carbs as fuel for fitness, the glucose that isn’t being used by your muscles can be stored as fat. Limiting carbs can be healthy for sedentary lifestyles, but when you’re training for a marathon, it’s time to carb up.
Have you ever been running and “hit the wall,” where you feel you can’t go another step further? That’s the feeling of your glycogen storage hitting empty. To ensure you’re giving your body the energy you need to succeed, runners should be consuming between 2.5–3.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight while training. During the week of your race, begin increasing this amount slightly to increase your glycogen storage. Aim to be consuming about 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight two to four days before your marathon to maximize energy.
Lean protein is also essential to your run training, as it helps your body build and repair damaged muscles. But before you load up on steak, it’s important to note that a recent study of the US population’s dietary habits show that many Americans (mainly men) are actually consuming more chicken, beef and egg protein than recommended. Increasing plant proteins and getting the recommended 2 servings of fish protein per week is a great way to find balance.
Because protein slows down digestion, it’s best to consume the majority of your protein after you’ve trained for the day. Stick to only a few grams pre-run and save the lean meats and plant proteins for later in the day.
Keep your body hydrated all day, not just while you’re running. Training outdoors in the spring and summer sunshine is lovely, but don’t forget that the warmer weather will impact your hydration as you sweat more. Account for this by upping your water and electrolyte intake on hot days.
If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
Track your hydration levels throughout the day by checking your urine—if you’re well hydrated, it will be pale yellow, like lemonade. If it’s darker (think apple juice), you need to up your water intake.
Sweating doesn’t just cause us to lose fluids, it also depletes our electrolyte storage. Sodium is the most important electrolyte you’ll lose during your run. Sodium helps runners by easing muscle contractions and cramps, and maintaining fluid stores.
Sports drinks are a source of sodium, potassium and other vital electrolytes, but if you’re marathon training in hot weather, you may need to further supplement with 400–800 mg of sodium in the form of salt or electrolyte tabs in your water or sports drink.
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What to Eat and When
Maintain hydration by drinking 12–20 ounces of water upon waking. Drink 6–10 ounces more before the start of your run. If you’re training later in the day, maintain a consistent level of hydration.
Pre-run meals and snacks should be higher in carbs (about 70%) to boost your energy levels during training. Time your meals for 2–3 before your training session if possible, or supplement with a small snack 1–2 hours before your run.
“Pre-run snacks should be made up of easily digestible carbs, and should be low in fiber, fat, and protein,” says Isabel Smith, a Registered Dietitian. “This provides fuel while preventing cramping or stomach upset.”
Here are some high carb snacks to get you started:
- Greek yogurt topped with berries
- Crackers with hummus
- Whole wheat toast with almond butter and an apple
- Banana slices with peanut butter
During the Run
Stick to just water if your training session will be an hour or less. Aim to consume about 6–8 ounces of water every 15 minutes to stay hydrated while preventing fluids from sloshing around while you run.
For runs over an hour, supplement with an extra 30–80 grams of carbohydrates per hour. An easy way to get a carb boost on the go is in the form of sports gels or bars or sports drinks. “Sports drinks provide fluid, electrolytes, and easy to digest carbs,” says Smith. “Try different foods and drinks during your training to see what works best for you. What one person feels good with doesn’t always work for another.”
Immediately following your run, it’s time to rehydrate. Do you know your sweat-rate per hour? You can find out how much fluids you’re losing during a run by weighing yourself immediately before and after training. Consume about 20 ounces of fluid for every pound of fluid lost during your run.
Consume a snack within 30 to 60 minutes post-run, or time your next meal for this time. A good post-run recovery meal should provide a mix of carbs and lean proteins. Carbs will replenish your energy levels, while protein helps your body repair muscle tissue. Most people need between 10–25 grams of protein and 60–100 grams of carbs to feel their best. If you have a hard time stomaching a snack that soon after exercising, consider a liquid boost like a smoothie.
Here are some balanced recovery snacks to try:
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread with a ½ cup of cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt with 1 cup of fruit and 1 tsp of honey
- Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with an apple
- Sports drink (16 ounces) with 6 ounces of cottage cheese
Finding What Works
Don’t forget: every body is unique! Your marathon training nutrition plan will depend on what works best for you. The training phase is perfect for testing different nutrition and hydration strategies to find out what makes you feel the most energetic. On the last days leading up to your race, it’s best to stick with familiar foods and strategies so your stomach won’t be contending with anything new or unfamiliar.
Are you ready to hit the trail to begin marathon training? What is your go-to training snack or meal? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section.
6/7 Photo: Jeff Wasserman
The day of the race
You should definitely have your breakfast planned out ahead of time—after all, you’ve tested it already. For Linden, it’s a bagel with peanut butter, the perfect carb-protein meal. “You want to eat about three hours before your run, giving your body plenty of time to digest it,” she says.
During the race, staying hydrated is key. “For a marathon, the standard rule is to drink 6 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes, but if you’re running a half marathon, you can get by with a little less,” explains Linden.
When you start to feel tired, go for electrolyte water or endurance gel—but don’t do both at the same time. “It’s too much sugar for the body to process all at once, so if you have a gummy or gel, make sure to wash it down with regular water,” she advises.
“Eat whatever you can get your hands on at the finish line, like a banana or nutrition bar. Anything to help your body recover right away.”
As soon as you cross the finish line, it’s time to start refueling the body. “Eat whatever you can get your hands on at the finish line, like a banana or nutrition bar,” Linden says. “Anything to help your body recover right away.”
But then later—perhaps after a long, luxurious shower—comes the fun part: the celebratory meal. “You’ve been eating for function for weeks and now it’s time to eat for fun,” she says. Whatever you’ve been craving—go for it. “For me, that’s a burger loaded with jalapenos, a side of fries, and washed down with a beer.” Victory tastes pretty freakin’ good, doesn’t it?
Now that you have your eating plan down, here’s a sample training schedule to use as a guide. Plus, check out everything a runner actually needs—nothing gimmicky!
A Complete Guide to Proper Marathon Nutrition
How do I fuel for a Marathon?
- Test a variety of food options in your training to determine which ones work best for you.
- Understand what will be provided in aid stations.
- Increase your carbohydrate intake moderately in the days before your race to fill up your glycogen stores.
- Eat a familiar breakfast 3-4 hours before your start. Avoid excessive fiber, fat or protein.
- Bring a gel or carbohydrate drink to sip in the hour before your start.
- Focus on hydration and carbohydrate intake during your race.
Nutrition continues to be a much discussed topic amongst marathon runners. Questions about what to eat before, during, and after the race are commonly asked by beginners and even advanced runners. Here is a quick guide to getting your nutrition for your marathon just right.
Interestingly, the story does not start in the week before the race, like training it starts many weeks before the event! After a race it also seems to be one of the main topics, especially for runners who did not achieve their goals or had problems along the way.
Training and nutrition are the two of the most important factors determining performance on race day. Most runners spend many hours per week training, planning, and preparing their training sessions… but how much time is spent on nutrition? Often, nutrition is taken for granted and this could jeopardize all the hours and days of hard training.
The Early Preparation
Preparation starts many weeks before the event. You need to know some of the basics of the race like: what nutrition will be provided on course, where are the feed stations, and what are the weather conditions likely to be. You may not be able to influence the weather, but you can prepare for the conditions. Finding out what nutrition is going to be handed out is important too because it would be a good idea to practice with this nutrition and make sure you can tolerate it and you can adapt to it. If you can’t tolerate it, it is better to find out weeks in advance than on race day.
Train Your Race Plan
The first step is to figure out what nutrition works best for you. This includes not only products, but timing as well. Start doing this 10 weeks before the event, pick your long run training to practice and follow your plan, or build up to it. As mentioned above, first try using the products that will be available on the course. If those do not agree with you, start experimenting with other products.
In the the days before the race you should make sure your fuel stores (muscle glycogen) are full. In the old days, extreme carbo-loading regimes were followed with days of no carbohydrate, days of extreme carbohydrate, a depletion run a week before, etc. This practice is not necessary. Very high muscle glycogen levels can be achieved by just eating more carbohydrates.
Eating more carbohydrate does not mean overeating or eating as much as possible! It just means making sure more of your daily calories are coming from carbohydrate at the cost of some fat. It is a good idea to have the last large meal at lunch time the day before and to have a lighter meal in the evening. This is also something you should practice in the weeks before or when you have a smaller race coming up. If you frequently suffer from gastro-intestinal problems, reduce your fiber intake to a minimum the day before the race.
From a purely practical point of view, you also need to plan in advance, especially if you are travelling. Make a reservation at a place where you know the food is good. Don’t wait and make it up on the go and end up at fast food place or lining up for hours. Your legs need to work hard enough the next day.
The breakfast is important because it replenishes your liver glycogen. Carbohydrate is stored in the liver but during the night the brain uses this carbohydrate so when you wake up there is not much left. Since this will delay the point at which you bonk, it is important to eat a carbohydrate rich breakfast. Again if you suffer from gastro-intestinal problems, reduce your fiber intake
Exactly what the breakfast should consist of depends on personal preferences. Some people run really well on a couple of bagels and a coffee, other prefer oatmeal, waffles with syrup, a couple of energy bars or a small bowl or rice. Whatever you select, I would recommend that it has at least 100 grams of carbohydrate and that you use this breakfast with exactly the same timing before hard training and smaller races.
The best timing is probably 3 to 4 hours before the start. If you don’t suffer from gastrointestinal distress 2 to 3 hours before might still work. Check your urine color. If it is pretty light you are ok, if it is dark, keep drinking a little more. No need to go crazy on the fluids but you don’t want to start with dark colored urine.
The Hour Before the Start
The hour before is usually spent anxiously waiting. Make sure you bring a water bottle to sip and a gel to take in the 15 minutes before the race starts. Practice this several times in training. Whatever you consume in the minutes before the start will become available during the run because it takes a little time to absorb. I therefore usually calculate anything you take in this timeframe as part of your carbohydrate intake during the race.
During the Race
During the race two things will be important: carbohydrate and fluids. For both it is important to take enough, but not too much. Too much fluid or carbohydrate can cause an upset stomach. Drinking large amounts of fluid that lead to weight gain is certainly not recommended and may even cause hyponatremia- a potentially health threatening condition.
The only way to really understand your sweat rate and how much drinking is required is by weighing yourself before and after training in the weeks leading up to the marathon. This way, your sweat rate can be calculated by subtracting the weight after from the weight before and adding the volume of fluids consumed. There are various sweat calculator on the internet that will help you do these calculations.
If you are running in similar condition and at a similar pace to the actual marathon, sweat rates will be similar. The cups you receive during a marathon usually contain about 150 ml (5 oz.) and you probably consume about 100 ml of that (3 oz.). To prevent dehydration, you will have to drink amounts that are similar to your sweat rate. A runner’s stomach can empty about 6 to 7 ounces (180 to 210 ml) of fluid every 15 minutes during running, representing about 24 to 28 ounces (720 to 840 ml) per hour. This, however, can be trained, practiced, and improved if needed.
Carbohydrate requirements are more straightforward. Studies seem to suggest that you can use about 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour from most carbohydrate sources. Athletes should target 30 to 60 grams per hour. An athlete finishing in the 4 to 5 hour range will be OK with being at the lower end of this. Athletes aiming for a 3 hour finish could benefit more from being at the higher end of this range. Recent studies also suggest a dose response relationship. In other words: more carbohydrate could be better for performance. But of course too much might cause gastrointestinal problems and have the opposite effect. It becomes a balancing act with your “gut feeling” as your gauge.
- 1 Banana 24-30 g
- Gel 21-27 g
- Energy bar 20-40 g
- 4-5 Chews 16-25 g
- 10 Jelly beans 11 g
The good news is that your gut is extremely trainable and you could actually train it to tolerate these drinks, gels, bars, etc. which means you will have to use it in training regularly. So use all the products you will use in the race in training!
Also avoid experimenting on race day with new products. There is also a flipside to this coin. Those athletes who are not regularly consuming carbohydrate, are trying to lose weight, are on a high fat diet and so on, will have a diminished capacity to absorb carbohydrate and more likely to have gastrointestinal problems during exercise.
Electrolytes (sodium) may help with absorption and some sodium in your drinks or gels is therefore recommended but don’t overdo it! A marathon is too short to cause extreme sodium losses that will impact performance or health.
Many athletes use caffeine before or during a marathon to boost their performance. This practice is indeed supported by scientific evidence although there may be individual differences in tolerance and perception. It works for most but may cause negative effects for a few. Studies have demonstrated that relatively small amounts of caffeine are required to give optimal effects (3mg per kilogram body weight; 200mg for a 70kg person) and a general recommendation is not to exceed a daily intake of 400 mg caffeine from all sources. Caffeinated gels usually contain between 25 and 50mg of caffeine and an espresso 80 to 100 mg.
After the Marathon
Although there are guidelines to recover quickly after a marathon. Does it really matter that much? Most people won’t run another marathon the next day or race again for a couple of weeks. So enjoy your achievement and indulge in moderation!
A Helpful Checklist
- Study the course, the nutrition on course and develop a plan.
- Practice practice practice: Train with your race nutrition plan, train with the drinks on course, train with gels or whatever you will use.
- Practice your breakfast plan and also the meal plan the night before. Find out what works best for you.
- Make a reservation for dinner the night before at a place that you know is good. Don’t wait till the last moment.
- Buy your race nutrition, don’t wait till the last moment.
- Increase your carbohydrate intake by eating more carbohydrate rich (not just eating more).
- Reduce fiber intake 1 to 2 days before the event if you often suffer from gastrointestinal problems.
- Have your standard race breakfast that you have trained with 2.5-4 hours before.
- Avoid high fiber, high fat and high protein foods.
- Aim for at least 100 grams of carbohydrate.
- Drink enough fluid and check that your urine color is light.
The Hour Before
- Start your race fueling 5-15 min before the start (a gel with a few sips of water is an example).
During Your Marathon
- Stick to your nutrition plan, but don’t stick to it at all cost.
- Don’t experiment with anything new. Stick to what you have practiced.
- Aim for 30-60 grams per hour.
- Use sports drinks gels, chews, bars, depending on your personal preference. You can mix and match to achieve your carbohydrate goals.
- Avoid high fiber fat and protein intake during the run.
- Don’t overdrink, don’t under drink. Try to match our sweat loss or a little less. Some weight loss at the end (2% of your body weight is fine).
- Don’t use excessive salt or electrolyte intake.
Running Nutrition For Beginners
When you take up running and start to gradually increase your training, there are many things you should begin to consider, and nutrition is definitely one of them. Thinking and learning more about your nutrition will help you to get the most out of your training, ensuring you stay energised on runs, and recover properly afterwards.
Learn about nutrition
The first thing you should do when you take up running is to start paying a bit more attention to your diet. For starters, it is important that you learn about what your diet should consist of, and the value of each of the different food groups you are eating. The basic nutrients you should be eating include:
- Carbohydrates. These will provide you with the main bulk of energy for your running.
- Protein. Protein is a vital nutrient, which plays a role in muscle repair, recovery and growth.
- Fats. Fats are used to encourage the absorption of some vitamins and are also an essential fuel source for low-intensity exercise.
- Vitamins and minerals. These will help to fill you up at meal times, as well as giving your immune system the added boost it needs. Exercise can suppress your body’s immune system, so it’s important to eat plenty of vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables to help ward off any infections.
Aim for a healthy balanced diet
As a beginner to running, it is not vital that you stress loads about the what, when and why of nutrition, but it is important that you aim for an overall healthy balanced diet. This should leave you in the best possible state to complete your running efficiently. The amount of each nutrient you should be eating includes:
- Carbohydrates – 50-60% of your diet. A portion of carbohydrate should be about the size of your hand cupped. Tailor your intake relative to your training. On training days, eat slightly more carbohydrate, and on non-training days opt for some low-carbohydrate meals and snacks. You don’t need to sit and eat huge bowls of pasta before your training runs. (As you start out on a training plan your carbohydrate needs will not be that high!)
- Protein – 20-25% of your diet. A portion of protein should be about the size of the palm of your hand.
- Fats – 15-25% of your diet. Aim for two to three portions of healthy fats per day (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated).
- Fruit – 2-3 portions per day.
- Vegetables – to fill at least half your plate at meal times. Don’t use the excuse of taking up running to overindulge in loads of high-sugar, high-fat foods! That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy a treat every now and again, but just be mindful. If you use the excuse of training to have that extra slice of cake, you will likely overindulge on calorie intake and negate any energy expenditure you achieved on the run. This can lead to weight gain, which will hinder your running performance.
What to eat before a run
It is important that you fuel your body correctly before you go out on a run to help you to feel energised and prepared. If you’re running early in the morning, you will want to have a meal with a portion of carbohydrate for dinner the night before and then follow this with a small carbohydrate snack in the morning before you run. A good example of a dinner might be sweet potato mash with salmon and some vegetables. The morning of your run, you will want to eat something which is digested quickly, and won’t leave you feeling bloated or experiencing GI issues. Some good examples might be a piece of fruit, some low-fat yogurt or a handful of nuts and raisins. If you’ve got a bit more time and you’re running later in the day, make sure you eat a meal with a portion of carbohydrates at least two hours before you run. If this is breakfast then a good example might be porridge with banana and nut butter, or if this is lunch, then a good example might be two slices of wholegrain toast with poached eggs and spinach. Make a conscious effort to eat a proper meal before you run – it’s no good thinking you will still perform at your best having not eaten for hours.
What to eat after a run
When you finish your run it is also important that you eat a good recovery meal to kick-start your body’s recovery process. Try to eat a snack containing about 250-300 calories when you finish your run and this should contain both carbohydrate and protein. A good example might be rice cakes with jam and peanut butter. Follow this with a recovery meal two hours after you finish your run. Again this should contain a portion of carbohydrate, a portion of protein and some vegetables. While you shouldn’t obsess over nutrition, eating a takeaway pizza as your recovery meal might not leave you feeling in the best state to complete your next run at your highest potential!
Starting a new training plan and getting into a running routine can seem a bit daunting, especially when you’re told to think about nutrition as well. Have a bit of fun with it, experiment and enjoy cooking different meals, and think about what you’re putting into your body. Your running performance will definitely benefit from simply eating a healthy, balanced diet!
For more information on Etixx sports nutrition, please visit: www.etixxsports.com
(5 min read)
Whether you’re a veteran of the 26.2 mile distance or a total newbie, there’s one thing every marathon prepper has in common: you need to eat properly. When you’re racking up the miles for weeks on end, it’s vital to fuel with a well-balanced diet to power your body and help you recover optimally.
But if you’re unsure how to fuel correctly to make your next marathon a success, we’ve got you covered. Here’s your essential guide to nailing that marathon training diet.
Important macronutrients for marathon runners
Before we dive into what to eat, you need to know the basic components of your marathon diet: macronutrients. Macronutrients are the building blocks that make up food, namely carbohydrates, fat and protein. More or less every food can be grouped into one of these macronutrient categories, though most foods are a blend (unless you’re chugging olive oil, for example).
Here’s what you need to know about each:
Carbohydrates are the most readily available source of energy for a marathon runner, and are essential to fuel any endurance training sessions that last more than 90 minutes (so basically all your long runs) as well as high-intensity training sessions (like speedwork and hill repeats).
The majority of your carb intake should come from complex carbohydrates, like rice and pulses. These take your body longer to break down than simple carbohydrates (fast-acting carbs) like sweets and soft drinks and that makes them a better steady supply of energy than simple carbs that can cause spikes and crashes.
That’s not to say fast-acting carbs don’t have their place. For example, taking simple carbs on board before your high-intensity track session, will provide the immediate energy you need to hit your target paces. And not all simple carbs come in processed form.
If you opt for a natural source, such as the fruits found in the Veloforte Pronto bar, you’ll also pack more nutritional bang per bite than just scoffing down some Jelly Babies. The protein from the almonds also helps to balance out the energy hit so it lasts much longer and won’t leave you running on empty come into your tenth 400m rep.
“As a general rule of thumb in the 24 hours leading into these higher intensity or longer training sessions, aim for around 4-5g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight per day,” says Renee McGregor, an elite performance dietitian who advises Team GB.
In the meal after your run, aim for 1.2g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight. While muscle recovery is typically associated with protein, it’s ideal to eat something with a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. This is because, after a long run, you’ll need to replenish your body’s glycogen stores which will have been drained – the carbs you take on will do this, while the protein will rebuild any micro-tears in your muscles.
What should I eat to get my complex carbs?
Ramp up your complex carbohydrate intake by eating:
- Wholegrain bread
- Wholegrain cereal
Fat helps boost your overall calorie intake to avoid you landing in an energy deficit, which can damage your hormone function and leave you at risk of injury. It can also help boost your recovery.
“Essential fats are useful due to the high antioxidant content which has been shown to help with reduction of inflammation,” says McGregor.
There aren’t any specific guidelines for fat, but McGregor recommends no less than 1g of fat per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Saturated fat should only make up a small percentage of your marathon diet as it can make you feel sluggish. The majority of your fat intake should come from healthy, unsaturated fats.
What should I eat?
Pack in healthy fats from foods such as:
- Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout
- Peanut butter & nut butters
- Olive oil
Protein is essential for muscle repair and regeneration after a run – it’s definitely not just for bodybuilders.
“Contrary to what you might read, marathon running has higher protein requirements than some resistance training due to the continual need to repair micro-tears that occur through running,” says McGregor.
It’s recommended you take in 0.4g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per meal, and 0.2g per kilogram of bodyweight for snacks. McGregor recommends protein pulsing, which means including protein at every meal and snack, to make sure you get plenty throughout the day.
A quick portable option is a Veloforte Forza bar, which packs 12g of Complete protein that you can eat on the go.
What should I eat?
Repair those muscles by getting in plenty of:
- Black beans
- Greek yogurt
Example daily meal plan for when you’re training for a marathon
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to meal planning for your marathon diet, here’s an example of the kind of meals you might eat throughout the day. Obviously, you can tweak this to fit in with your food preferences and dietary requirements – just make sure you get in the recommended balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein.
Your body repairs and rebuilds your muscles while you sleep, so eating a good breakfast will restore your energy levels for the day ahead. Complex carbohydrates fill you up, while adding some protein helps maintain muscle recovery. Add in some fresh fruit or veg too for additional vitamins.
Try porridge topped with fruit and peanut butter, Greek yoghurt and muesli, or scrambled eggs on toast with spinach or tomatoes on the side.
Basing your lunch around a complex carbohydrate is a quick and easy way to get an energy hit, plus adding fat and a source of protein will round out your meal perfectly.
Try whole-wheat pasta or rice with vegetables for carbs, tuna or chicken for protein and olive oil dressing for fat. If you don’t eat fish or meat, you can switch it out for chickpeas or tofu, which are great plant-based sources of protein and will bump up your carb intake too.
Dinner is probably the last thing you’ll eat before that all-important sleep, so base it around protein so your body has something to work with for recovery. Try pairing chicken, salmon or beef with lentils or black beans and plenty of salad for a balanced, protein-rich meal. Vegetarians or vegans can try adding seitan or tempeh, or simply add more pulses.
As your marathon training ramps up, the chances are you’ll be struck by the dreaded runger (running hunger) between meals. You can keep this at bay by having healthy snacks at hand. These could include:
- Nuts (for healthy fats and protein)
- Bananas (rich in potassium, an electrolyte you lose through sweating)
- Natural energy bars like Veloforte bars (a good natural source of carbs and hunger-busting fibre)
- Peanut butter on crackers or rice cakes (for fat and carbs)
- Greek yogurt (rich in protein and calcium for bone health)
- Smoothies (a source of fruit and vegetables)
Try to plan your snacks and meals around your training plan to stay well-fuelled and improve your running performance.
Unless you’re deliberately running fasted, if you head out on a long run with an empty stomach, chances are you’ll be too hungry to hit your goals and may end up feeling unwell.
Have a healthy snack or meal a couple of hours before you start running to ensure you’ve got energy available to power you and give yourself enough time to digest (and thus avoid any annoying/embarrassing stomach problems).
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Try to eat within 20 minutes of finishing your run to help kickstart your recovery. If you don’t feel hungry straight after a run, try having a protein shake, a protein recovery bar like the Veloforte Forza bar or chocolate milk to replenish your carb and protein supplies, then have a balanced meal such as those described above, later on.
Hydration, hydration, hydration
Hydration is essential for runners, especially in hot weather. According to the National Hydration Council, being dehydrated while training can lead to poor performance, headaches and nausea – all stuff you can do without on the run.
The NHS recommend six to eight glasses of water per day, though if you’re losing a lot of water through sweat in marathon training you may well need more.
“The best way to know if you are hydrated or not is to check the colour and odour of your urine.” says McGregor.
“Ideally you want it to be pale straw coloured with no odour. If you are producing large quantities of colourless urine, it could indicate that you are over hydrating and if you are producing urine that has a strong odour, this would suggest that you are dehydrated.”
When you’re on the road, McGregor recommends around 100-250ml of water per 20 minutes, depending on the weather and how long you’re planning to run. If it’s exceptionally hot or you’re a particularly salty sweater, you may want to consider adding electrolyte tabs to your water.
Nutrition for marathon race day – your checklist
The weeks before the marathon:
Don’t leave it to chance and end up eating something that could spell disaster for you, your race or your bowels.
The days leading up to the marathon:
Have the breakfast that worked best for you in training, far enough ahead of the race that you won’t get a stitch or other stomach problems.
2. Aim for plenty of carbs:
Go for a carb-rich breakfast like a bagel with peanut butter or porridge with fruit for a final fill of your glycogen tanks and pop a Veloforte bar in your back pocket for a handy way to top up if you face a long wait before the race.
3. Avoid risky foods:
Sidestep anything high in fibre, oily or spicy – no matter how good the hotel breakfast buffet looks.
4. Drink up:
Hopefully, you’ll have kept on top of your hydration in the days leading up to the race. Don’t go crazy glugging litres of water in the morning but try to ensure your urine is a light straw colour before hitting the start line.
How to fuel during the marathon
Also, check out our article on race day nutrition to find out more.
Post marathon recovery… Treat Yourself
Of course, the standard rule about getting that 3:1 golden ratio of protein and carbs within 20 minutes of finishing still stands, but once you cross that finish line you’ll be too busy feeling ecstatic/lying down/trying to find your supporters to think about it.
Once you’re feeling somewhat human again, indulge in whatever you fancy most – it’s one day of many and you’ve got a marathon finish to celebrate!
7 Ways to Make Your Diet More Like an Elite Runner
When I was training competitively, one of the most common questions people would ask was “what do you eat?”
At the time, it seemed like an odd question, why were other runners wondering what elite runners eat?
I didn’t put a lot of thought into what I ate, and although I knew elite runners eat a lot more than most people, I did not follow any specific eating plan.
However, as I’ve continued to meet new runners and come to better understand why they were asking the question.
I’ve realized that it wasn’t so much they wanted to copy my actual eating habits, but rather they were looking for a good template they could follow while training hard.
It makes total sense:
We’re always looking for that perfect, optimal or best way to do something, and eating the best food for running performance is no different.
However, as much as I wish I could give you a template to follow day after day, finding an effective diet for a runner is an individualized journey.
Why is this?
Each person’s training and nutritional demands are different, such as variations in mileage, intensity, running experience and goals.
More importantly though:
Each runner’s body responds differently to foods.
For some, following my “optimal” diet would work great while others may have gastrointestinal problems or feel sick.
Today I am going to share with you the meals that helped me to run fast as an elite runner, and then show you how you can apply this to your own training to eat the best foods for your body to feel good in running and racing.
There are few steadfast rules, which can make the process difficult and more intimidating, but a glimpse into an elite marathon and 10k runner’s eating habits may make it more approachable.
Again, this isn’t something you should necessarily copy, but hopefully, some of the principles will help fine-tune your nutritional approach.
This is what is important to eating to run fast:
- Eat foods you enjoy
- Make sure you get enough calories
- Prepare food in advance so you have them on hand when and where you need them
- After meeting your nutritional needs, it is okay to have a few “bad foods” to reward yourself for the hard work of training
What Does an Elite Runner Eat?
For reference, a training plan included running about 125-135 miles per week, running twice per day — usually 14-16 miles in the morning and 5-8 miles easy in the afternoons.
Here’s a sample of my training.
As a reference, I am 5’10” tall and at the time weighed between 135-140 pounds, generally burning 3300 to 3500 calories per day.
Because I wasn’t trying to lose weight, erring on the side of consuming too many calories made sense to ensure optimal recovery.
Here are the 7 meals I would consume in a typical day:
Typically, I started my mornings with one serving of oatmeal mixed with 1 scoop of whey protein and a glass of water.
For what it’s worth, I find mixing cookies and cream whey protein with oatmeal tastes just like the flavored stuff you can buy, but without the sugar.
I like to add the protein to this meal because it helps halt the catabolic process that occurs when you sleep for eight to nine hours with no fuel.
Here is the type of whey protein I used.
If I were in the latter stages of my marathon training schedule and had a long run or extra long workout scheduled, for some extra fuel I might also have toast with peanut butter and jelly.
Post-run recovery drink
On normal, easy run days, I would usually have yogurt with granola if I finished the run at home, or a power bar and Gatorade if I ended my run at the gym and needed something portable.
After harder workouts or a long run, I used the recovery drink Endurox R4 because I found that it tasted good and mixed easily, in addition to its ability to support and refuel the muscles and body systems.
Remember, I would also be taking on fuel during the workout itself. Here are my thoughts on gels, gummies and sports drinks to see which you think is best for you.
My goal was to get in a four to one ratio of carbohydrates to protein in the first 30-45 minutes after the run.
Typically, I would have eggs — three regular eggs and three egg whites — with black beans, spinach, cheese and salsa with a bagel.
I really like eggs, and while some media reports give them a bad reputation, they do provide significant protein and exercise-supportive nutrients, including choline, a quasi B-vitamin that delays endurance sport fatigue.
After long runs, I would often eat whole wheat pancakes, either with the above meal or alone.
It was a nice Sunday treat, and from a nutritional perspective, the fiber, minerals and fatty acids that whole-grain complex carbohydrates add make you feel fuller longer and support physical exercise.
If I was feeling healthy, I would top them with yogurt and fruit. Lots of times I would just use syrup though.
Yep, elite runners do have a sweet tooth too!
Since the nutritional needs had been met with foods eaten earlier in the day, one of my favorite things was stopping at the donut shop if the run was at a trail I had to drive to.
We are only human!
I usually just had a sandwich for lunch, because was often in a hurry or at work and just wanted to get some calories in.
A more substantial and nutrient-dense lunch may be a better option, like a grilled chicken wrap with spinach, avocado and salsa.
Typically, if I would start to get really hungry and not have anything on hand, I would just eat cereal.
Often, I’d eat about half the box, but many cereals are fortified, include fiber, and other healthy nutrients, including a significant load of complex carbohydrates, which is a great glycogen source.
Obtaining fruits and vegetables and other key ingredients in other meals allows for a few indulgences.
When I did have time to prepare, I liked making smoothies.
I would blend yogurt with orange juice, granola, wheat germ, frozen fruit, and anything I had hanging around the kitchen.
It was a calorie packed snack that made up for not typically eating a lot of fruit.
Run number two and post-run snack
A run later in the day usually consisted of 6-8 miles, and typically, I would drink a glass of chocolate milk because I didn’t need too much refueling here, but this may vary for each person.
Dinner was pretty variable, but here are three samples:
- Salmon with brown rice and asparagus
- Chicken with sweet potato and broccoli
- Pasta with homemade sauce
I usually went pretty heavy on the carbohydrates.
For example, I would have two potatoes and a full cup of uncooked rice
Dinner #2 when marathon training
When I was training for the marathon, I’d often bump my mileage up and as a result, I got really hungry.
So, I would generally make large quantities of dinner.
Usually, the second meal was another full-size portion and then eat the leftovers the following day.
On weekends, this was when I would eat a few “bad foods” — a burger at the bar or pizza with friends.
I wasn’t as concerned with eating healthy, just getting in calories since previous meals had focused on nutrients, .
Snack and casein protein before bed
Before bed I would drink one serving of casein protein powder with a glass of half water, half milk.
Personally, I find casein shakes blended with milk to taste pretty good (you do need to blend it well though as it is very clumpy without a blender) and it’s a great substitute for empty-calorie desserts.
Casein is a slow-releasing protein and will reduce muscle breakdown while you sleep – giving a huge step up for recovery compared to Oreo cookies.
How Can I Eat More Like an Elite Runner?
Again, I don’t recommend that you necessarily follow this diet yourself.
There are things I could improve upon and it’s a ton of calories, but I was running a lot of miles, so could get away with it.
This worked for me, but you need to find what works for you.
However, I think there are a couple of principles you can take away:
Time the healthiest eating around your runs
One thing you can do is fuel well before your main workout for the day and make sure your feed your body with nutrient-dense calories immediately after and in the hours following hard runs.
This helps ensure optimal recovery.
Find what works for you
What I found helpful was not eating foods I didn’t like.
A lot of runners think they have to force down foods they don’t like in order to “eat healthy.”
This usually works for a week or two, but it can’t be sustained and usually you end up going back to eating unhealthy again.
Here’s the deal:
When you find the foods that you enjoy and meet your training and nutritional needs, stick with them.
Along the same lines, I really liked to keep it simple.
I had a full-time job and training itself (running, core work, stretching, sleep) took up a huge amount of my day.
Keeping things simple and easy helped me take in the calories I needed.
Just like in training, there are no “secrets” to eating right. There aren’t “superfooods” that will make-up for not eating well-rounded and there aren’t shortcuts.
I know plenty of runners that have experimented with all sorts of crazy foods and diet ideas, and that’s fine.
But for me, simple, easy and quick allowed me to stay focused on training while eating well, and it will probably help you too!
Prepare your snacks and meals
I found that spending an hour each week planning meals for the next week worked best.
This involved planning everything I needed for the week and leaving healthy snacks in places and times I knew I would get hungry.
The slow cooker and cooking in bulk helps with this. An investment of just an hour a week planning your meals can be really helpful.
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What To Eat During Marathon Training
When you commit to train for and run a marathon, you are signing up for making a slew of changes to your lifestyle. The biggest of those is running a whole lot more than you were previously, which will have an impact on other things too – you’ll probably sleep more and find that you only really want to talk about running during social occasions, which weirdly not everyone loves.
Your diet is also going to change. We know what you’re thinking: it’s carb time. Carbs all day every day. Pasta for breakfast. Wearing clothes with more pockets and filling them with bread so there’s always a roll to hand. Well, we have some bad news – you’re not going to be shovelling down bowls of linguine every couple of hours. There will be some high-carb days for sure, and nothing tastes as good as the massive pizza you wolf down after a long run, but in general the main things you’re going to want to do diet-wise are to eat more healthy stuff and drink less alcohol. Your body is already being pushed pretty hard with all the running, so you need to treat it well at mealtimes.
For all the advice you need on what you should be eating during marathon training, we spoke to an expert in the field – Tim Lawson, director and founder of sports nutrition brand Secret Training.
What are the main general changes to a diet someone training for a marathon should make?
There is some dietary advice that never changes, regardless of the situation.
“The general advice is no different than what is recommended for a regular healthy diet,” says Lawson. “Less alcohol, lots of greens, oily fish and quality protein foods evenly spaced through the day, with sufficient fluids.”
Carbs are also key, but don’t go overboard.
“Carbohydrate-rich food like pasta, rice and oats should be regarded as fuel for training sessions,” says Lawson.
“A mistake amateur athletes often make is to eat the same high-carbohydrate breakfast day in, day out, whether they are fuelling for a gruelling training session or sitting in the office all day.
“Carbs that are not used as fuel for training are quickly stored as fat. So if you are not training, think more along the lines of a boiled egg than a huge pot of porridge. Just because you are a marathon runner it doesn’t mean that every meal needs to be loaded with pasta.”
Right now you might be angry – perhaps you were wooed by the promise of endless carbs when you signed up for a marathon. One positive way to look at not going overboard on carbs, or junk food in general, is that it’s an easier way to get better at running than logging more miles.
“The biggest performance gains may be from increasing power to weight ratio by losing mass rather than doing more mileage,” says Lawson.
“Reducing the consumption of any junk calories is an obvious start point. For example, every 13 pints of beer you don’t drink (that you normally would do) in the run-up to a marathon is likely to result a reduction in race weight of 1kg. This will have a significant effect on performance.”
Should you increase your calorie intake in line with your mileage throughout a training plan?
Building on the above, Lawson recommends looking at your overall weight when determining your calorie intake, as well as the training you are doing.
“Increasing your calories in line with training is something you only need to do if you are at your optimal race weight,” says Lawson.
“In practice people seldom are, and even top elite athletes will try to reduce their body fat for specific events. When training sessions become harder and longer they will need fuelling appropriately, but away from training the biggest gains may be had from portion control.”
So unless you’re already at your ideal weight, adding extra calories to your diet during training might be counterproductive. Of course, there are limits to this.
“If weight loss become severe or your training sessions start to suffer, then your calorie intake needs to increase,” says Lawson.
How quickly after training sessions do you need to eat?
“There are some studies that show that enzyme activity is most active within 20 minutes of finishing exercise and this has led to an emphasis on refuelling within that 20-minute window to maximise recovery,” says Lawson.
“Other studies show that with adequate carbohydrate provision it is possible to replace carbohydrate stores within 24 hours if this window is missed.”
When deciding when and what to eat after a run, it’s important to consider not only the training you’ve just done but also what you plan to do next.
“If your next session is a recovery run there is less necessity to consume carbohydrates quickly than if you’re doing back-to-back intervals sessions with a short recovery period,” says Lawson.
And it’s not just carbs you need to consider.
“You should also consume protein as soon as possible after exercise to aid recovery,” says Lawson. “And it is also important to remember to rehydrate and replace sodium and potassium. Many runners use an electrolyte drink for this.”
How should people use supplements to help their training?
Even if you have never used supplements to support your workouts before, the demands of marathon training can make them invaluable, if only for their convenience.
“Supplements have their uses. For example, it is far easier to consume a protein gel containing cherry anthocyanin antioxidants just after a training session than a can of tuna and 40 cherries,” says Lawson.
Different supplements have different uses, usually related to when you take them.
“Before exercise a carbohydrate drink or gel or even a caffeine energy gel may help to provide the energy to complete a session if life has got in the way of optimal preparation,” says Lawson.
“During your sessions, carbohydrate gels and drinks can be the best way to maintain energy levels. Using them during some training sessions serves as practice for the event, and may improve the quality of those sessions.”
“After training protein-based recovery drinks and gels provide a convenient way of refuelling.”
It’s vital to plan what you are going to eat and drink, especially with regard to post-workout refuelling, as the right supplements can help you recover faster.
“Don’t leave it to what’s available in the vending machine or in the fridge at home,” says Lawson.
“There is increasing evidence that anthocyanin-based phytonutrients from berries, cherries and the like can reduce inflammation and improve recovery. Similar effects have also been observed with turmeric and its extract curcumin.”
Tim Lawson has a BSc (Hons) in Sport Science and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Physiology, and over 30 years’ experience of working in sports nutrition