Tips For Marathon Day Nutrition

Tips for Marathon Day Nutrition

Recently, an article in Men’s Health Online summarized the results of a research study that suggested proper marathon day nutrition could improve your marathon time by as much as eleven minutes. In this same article, I offered some tips on marathon day nutrition.

Here is the link to the article:

In this article, I basically outline a strategy to stay properly fueled during a marathon in order to minimize fatigue and injury-risk, as well as help with finish time, and have a successful marathon experience. In this blog I expand upon this strategy and offer additional tips.

Find the Fuel That Works For You

There are lots of options to fuel you during a marathon. Sports drinks, gels, sports beans, foods such as bananas, pretzels, oranges, dried figs, etc. I encourage you to try out different fuel options during your training long runs to determine the one that works best for you. Trying a fuel out for the first time on marathon day is a potential recipe for disaster! Also during training, I recommend you try whatever fuel will be provided at the marathon. If this fuel works best for you, then you won’t have to carry other fuels during the marathon, and just take it at the aid stations. Notes on aid stations: If fuel is provided at aid stations on the right and left, choose the left side. This side is usually less crowded. Also, I recommend you walk when you are consuming the fuel. Don’t try to take it while running, unless you are already skilled at this, because you will probably end up dumping a significant portion. Beware that aid stations may run out of the fuel that you are counting on using. So, it is always good to carry some backup fuel, especially if you run at the back of the pack. You can also have friends and family strategically placed on the course with your fuel of choice (see below).

Fuel Up During the Week of the Marathon

Would you start a long trip with your gas tank only half full, or on empty? I hope not, and you shouldn’t on marathon day. Be sure that you are fueling your body with vegetables (especially leafy greens and sweet potatoes), vegetable (such as tempeh, beans, and legumes) and lean proteins, unsaturated fats (such as olive oil and avocados), fruits (especially blueberries and raspberries), and grains (such as brown and wild rice, steel-cut oats, and quinoa), throughout the week preceding your marathon. Approximately 55-65% of your calorie intake should come from carbohydrates. Although simple sugars are a source of carbohydrates, their consumption should be minimized during meals, dessert, and snacks. Don’t rely on the pasta dinner the night before the marathon to bring your carbohydrate levels up to full. Although the pasta dinner the night before a marathon has become a fun tradition, your body may not have enough time to fully digest and use it and it may cause GI issues. Finally, make sure you stay well-hydrated and get plenty of sleep throughout the week of the marathon.

Fuel Up on Marathon Day

The most important meal of the day is breakfast, and it’s no different on marathon day. I recommend that you have a meal of approximately 200-500 calories two to four hours before your event. This meal should be low in fat, and composed primarily of carbohydrate foods that can be easily digested. As I mentioned in the Men’s Health article, some good options would be oatmeal and almond or peanut butter on a banana. Orange juice and toast with almond or peanut butter is another good option. The composition and timing of the meal should be practiced during training. Again, you want to determine, before marathon day, what is going to work best for you. Additionally, consumption of carbohydrates within 5 minutes of the start of a marathon can be beneficial. This could be in the form of a sports drink, gel, banana, etc. Again, this is something that you should practice in training. Caution should be used in consuming carbohydrates 15 to 45 minutes before the marathon because of the possibility of developing hypoglycemia shortly after you begin running. Also, consume about 500 ml or 16 ounces of water two hours before the marathon.

Follow Your Fueling/Hydration Plan

Based on what you found out during your training, you should have a plan as far as fueling during the marathon. Research has shown that runners need approximately 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour during the marathon. The wide range is due to factors such as body size, level of training, and even diet. You should start taking your fuel no later than 40 minutes into the marathon. After this, I would recommend fueling every 20-30 minutes to get the proper amount of carbohydrates that you need each hour. Also, you should be drinking 3-7 ounces of fluid approximately every 15-20 minutes. This could be water or sports drink or you could alternate. If you feel thirsty you should drink additional fluids. Being dehydrated can trigger diarrhea. To make sure you follow your fueling/hydration plan, set a watch alarm and/or use strategically placed friends and family (see below). Also, depending on your pace, you can determine which miles you should be taking water and/or fuel. Make sure you stick with you fueling/hydration plan!

Get A Little Help From Your Friends and Family

If possible, have friends or family strategically placed, with your fuel of choice, at various points in the marathon. Also, if they can, have them run a mile our two with you to provide a welcome lift.

Don’t Forget the Electrolytes

During the marathon you will lose electrolytes, primarily through sweat and urine. You will need to replace these electrolytes, which are vital for muscle contraction and fluid balance within the body. Sodium is the primary electrolyte that will need to be replaced (approximately 300-500 milligrams/hour). So your fuel of choice should contain sodium, or you will need to include something that will provide sodium, such as adding sea salt to water (0.5 to 0.7 grams of sodium/Liter of water).

Refuel Soon After the Marathon

Ideally, within the first thirty minutes of completion of your marathon, and especially within the first two hours, you should begin refueling with carbohydrates and protein. The mixture should be approximately 4:1 carbohydrates to protein. There are specific recovery drinks formulated in this ratio. If you are like me and would rather consume foods instead, then consume bananas with peanut or almond butter. Energy bars can work as well. Delaying refueling after your marathon will significantly hinder replenishment of stores of carbohydrates within your body and slow recovery. Every 1-2 hours for 5-6 hours, you should continue consuming carbohydrates and protein. Consume water to replace sweat losses during the marathon (24 ounces per pound lost). Also, consume foods or recovery drinks with sodium to replace that lost during the marathon.

See you on the road or trail.


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