In a marathon, it’s the right training and preparation that gets you across the finish line. An important part of your training plan is your diet. But there is a lot more to it than just what you eat before and after you run. The right snacks and fluids during the race can help you run faster and boost your performance. You’ll see the best results if you start taking a closer look at your marathon nutrition weeks before the big day.
Macronutrients for Runners: A Breakdown
- If you’re an endurance athlete, you should get to know and love carbohydrates. They are the most important macronutrient and should make up about 60-65% of your caloric intake. Your muscles rely on carbohydrates for fuel. They are stored as glycogen in your liver for use later on when you need a quick burst of energy. Keeping carbs as a staple in your diet will help you maintain (and improve) your performance and help you achieve that goal time you have your mind set on.(1) Depending on the intensity of your workouts, 6 to 10 g of carbs per kilo of body weight are enough to keep your glycogen stores full. Everyone’s needs are, of course, different. Additionally, carbohydrates help your body recover post workout.2) Additionally, carbohydrates help your body recover post workout. Aim for complex carbohydrates like quinoa, sweet potatoes, whole grains, vegetables and legumes.
- Protein is the building block of muscle. It’s recommended that you consume 1-1.5 g/kg of your body weight – this is dependent on how intense your workouts are. If you’re doing more strength training, as opposed to running, then you definitely need more of this macronutrient than endurance athletes. Protein is found in both animal products (meat, fish, eggs, milk, and dairy products) as well as plant-based foods (soy and soy products, legumes, nuts, seitan, grain products). You can cover all your protein needs with a vegan diet if you choose. The focus here should be on including a variety of foods in your diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Fat is an incredibly important source of energy and vital for your body! First of all, it acts as a protector for your organs, insulates your body (keeps you warm) and is necessary to absorb those critical fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). One gram of fat contains 9 calories of energy. This is twice as much as protein and carbohydrates. How much fat do you need? Around 30-35% of your daily caloric intake should be fats. Where can you find healthy fats? Avocados, salmon, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds (like flax and chia). These fats provide tons of energy for your marathon training.
Preparation is Everything
Training isn’t the only thing to think about in the final weeks before a marathon. The right marathon nutrition will help you run faster. Get informed about the race set up beforehand: how many aid stations will there be along the course? Don’t try anything new on race day; only consume foods and drinks that you’ve tested during training. Try out different options in the weeks before the marathon.
Are you feeling uncertain?
A dietician who specializes in sports nutrition can answer any questions you may have and get you on the right track with marathon nutrition.
The Final Countdown
Since the race will take longer than 90 minutes, it’s advisable to increase your carb intake in the days leading up to the marathon. The goal of carb loading is to fill up your glycogen stores.
However, that does not mean that you should overdo it with carbohydrates. Gradually increase your carbohydrate intake in the week before the marathon to increase the amount of glycogen in your muscles. Do you have digestive problems? Fiber is important for athletes, but make sure to reduce your fiber intake to a minimum just before and on race day.
Make sure you go into the race well hydrated. Start paying attention to your fluid intake 24 hours before the event.
Marathon Preparation on Race Day
Breakfast 3-4 hours before a run:
You want an easy-to-digest breakfast to power you up for your race. Stay away from foods that are high in fat and fiber. These foods will sit in your stomach too long – not a good feeling while running. And, if you want that extra boost, go for a cup of black coffee to get you energized.
- white toast with jam and a small portion of plain yogurt
- Bircher muesli (soak oats overnight in low-fat cow milk, soy, or oat milk) with banana
- cereal (not the sugary kind!) with milk
- porridge with berries
Don’t forget to drink enough water before the marathon.
Snack approx. 1 hour before:
If you’re used to eating a small snack before your run, go for it! Remember, this is all about how you feel and how you have done it during your training runs.
Take sips from your water bottle regularly.
During your run:
There are two very important things to remember during your race: carbs and fluids. Getting the right amount of both is critical.
The recommended carbohydrate intake for long endurance workouts is 30 to 60 g per hour.(3) That amount increases to 90 g of carbs per hour for races that last longer than 2.5 hours.
The following foods are rich in carbohydrates:
- Banana (approx. 30 g)
- Energy gel (approx. 25 g)
- Energy bar (20 to 40 g)
Runners lose a great deal of fluid and electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) from sweating heavily during long runs. These fluids have to be replaced. The only way to know how much fluid you’ve lost is by weighing yourself before and after your marathon training. Try it to get an idea of how much you should drink on race day.
Drink 600 to 1200 ml of fluid per hour of exertion.(4) Your beverage of choice should contain carbs, sodium, and potassium. Isotonic drinks are a great source of energy for your run. Isotonic means it has the same osmotic pressure as blood plasma, so it’s able to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This is the perfect solution for lost fluids and electrolytes during your long run. You can even make your own sports drink at home for your marathon!
Immediately after the Marathon
In order to refill your glycogen stores, some recommendations advise you to consume about 1 to 1.2g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight in the first few hours after you finish the race. However, this is only necessary if you’ve got another race in 8 to 10 hours. That’s probably not the case, right? Don’t worry too much about what you eat after your marathon. Celebrate your achievement; you just finished a marathon and should be proud of yourself.
Your marathon nutrition should be well-planned. No matter whether it’s before or during your race, it’s important to choose the right drinks and foods to make you run faster and perform your best.