Fueling for the Marathon Event

by Stephanie Nunes, RD

This is not the time to experiment with different foods! There are different ideas on how to fuel for endurance events like marathons. Today, most exercise physiologist agree that the most effective way to prepare for a major endurance event is to change your training before the event, NOT your diet. However, this is assuming that you already eat a healthy sports diet of 55-70% carbohydrates!

The Week Before the Marathon

  • Focus on eating plenty of fruits/vegetables/whole grains to keep your immune system boosted
  • Don't skip meals
  • Keep your meals and snack times regular
  • Try to increase your carbohydrate intake a couple days before the marathon but don't "stuff" yourself

The Day Before the Marathon

  • Stay away from foods you know will cause stomach distress
  • Drink fluids frequently.
  • Eat meals at home if possible.
  • If you are on the road pack familiar non-perishable food items.
  • Go easy on caffeine products
  • Avoid gassy foods like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans, etc

Pre-Race Day

Note: Specific fueling and hydration guidelines are based on individual sweat rate, body weight, and level of fitness. Do not try anything on race day that you have not practiced in training.

  • Ideal is to eat 2-4 hours before
  • Choose foods high in CHO, low in fat, low in protein, low in fiber
  • Liquid and semi-solid foods get out of the gut more quickly than solid food and some athletes tolerate them better. Experiment on training runs.
  • Liquid food = ensure, boost, Gel.
  • Semi-solid foods = oatmeal, banana, applesauce, pudding, yogurt.
  • Solid food = Sports bar, bagel, toast, etc.
  • 16 oz sports drink 2 hours before, then 8-16 oz 15 minutes before.

Fueling and Hydration Guidelines during the Race:

  • Eat and drink early and often.
  • Be on a regular schedule with eating and drinking (ex. Drink every 15 minutes and take a gel every 35-45 minutes)
  • Drink 5-8 oz every 15 minutes
  • Take gels with water then resume back to drinking the carbohydrate drinks
  • Most need to ingest 1-2 gels per hour (based on body weight)

Getting enough carbohydrates during your race will not only help you physically go the distance, but also gives your brain the fuel it needs to think clearly and keep you on a positive track during the race!

Stephanie Nunes is a Registered Dietitian and runner residing in San Luis Obispo, California. Her private practice is "Rock Solid Nutrition" and she provides individual counseling, on-line counseling, lectures or presentations for specific groups, and nutrition related articles. If you would like to contact Stephanie for any of these services, her e-mail address is Rocksolidnutrition@sbcglobal.net.