Nutrition and Marathon Training

by Stephanie Nunes, RD

"Every choice you make from sleep patterns, to nutrition, to training, has an effect on the runner you are. Eat a lot of nutrient rich foods and notice how your body will start to give you all the energy you are asking of it."

-Deena Kastor, American Record Holder for the Marathon

Proper nutrition is an essential component for marathon training. Your training may be all for nothing if you don't get to the start line healthy because you haven't fueled your body properly in the weeks and months leading up to the race.

Marathon Training Nutritional Goals:

  • Meet your body's health needs
  • Provide fuel for endurance
  • Speed muscle recovery
  • Reduce injuries
  • Keep immune system boosted
  • Improve performance

Typical Daily Marathon Training Meal Plan:

  • Grain/Carbohydrate Group: 8 - 15 servings (½ from whole grains)
  • Protein: 5 - 7 oz (lean sources)
  • Fruit: 2 - 3 cups (variety)
  • Vegetables: 2½ - 3 cups (variety of intense colors)
  • Dairy: 3 servings (low-fat or non-fat)
  • Fats/Oils: 6 tsp or servings (heart healthy)
  • Sugars/Sweets: 200 - 300 calories (usually from sports supplements)

Note: This is a general plan. Individualized needs are based on resting metabolic rate, duration of running, intensity, body weight, and special requirements.

Meeting Nutritional Goals

  • To meet your body's health needs incorporate food from every food group every day. This ensures that you'll get the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that your marathon training demands.
  • It's well established that consuming carbohydrates before, during, and after exercise, enhances performance, delays fatigue, and improves endurance. By eating carbohydrate-rich snacks in addition to carbohydrate-rich meals throughout the day you fuel your muscles with the glycogen you need to train and recover. This doesn't mean that you should eat only carbohydrate-rich foods. It means that 55-65% of your food intake should be from this source.
  • A high energy breakfast sets the stage for a high energy day. If you train early in the morning, consume a small amount of high-carbohydrate food or drink such as a banana, sports drink, gel or applesauce prior to your workout, then fuel up on a large breakfast when you return. Research shows that eating some kind of carbohydrate-rich source before exercise can improve performance.
  • If you feel fatigued and tired all the time, review your diet to make sure that your carbohydrate intake is sufficient, and that you're getting enough iron. Studies indicate that if an athlete is consistently low in carbohydrates and/or iron, he/or she will indeed feel needless fatigue and performance will decline. Iron is an important mineral in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to the exercising muscles.
  • Easy ways to increase your carbohydrate intake are by carrying non-perishable snacks in your car or purse, eating larger potions of carbohydrate-rich foods at mealtime and eating cereal at night before going to bed.
  • To speed muscle recovery after your workout, refuel within 30-minutes after training. The snack or meal should be mostly carbohydrate and a small amount of protein. If you don't feel like eating solid foods, try a recovery drink or low-fat chocolate milk.
  • To boost your immune system eat foods with Omega 3 fatty acids and yogurt every day.

Next month we'll discuss eating and drinking on the run: using your long run to practice nutrition intake 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.