Marathon nutrition tips

Successful marathon training will normally involve a fairly significant change to your lifestyle. Besides all the evenings and weekends you’ll spend running and doing other kinds of exercise, you’ll also benefit from a change to the food you eat. You’ll want to choose a diet which is tailored to the fact you are doing more exercise than normal, while demanding a lot of your muscles too.

Read our nutrition tips for marathon training to understand what dietary changes it’s worth making and why. We’ll also look at what to eat before a marathon on the day of the race itself.

Why your diet needs to change when training for a marathon

Preparing for a marathon will see you covering hundreds of miles over the course of your training. There will be a couple of major changes happening with your body – and so your diet needs to respond to all of this:

  • You will be burning much more energy than normal, so you need to feed your body with quality carbohydrates
  • You will also be perspiring more than usual – so remember to hydrate and replace your salts
  • Your leg muscles in particular will need to repair and become stronger – so consuming additional protein will help a lot
  • It’s likely that you’ll lose weight. If you’re already relatively lean, you don’t want to lose so much weight that you’re in danger of injuring yourself – so make sure you eat enough to stay at a healthy weight for you

Your essential nutrition tips for marathon running

Here are our top nutrition tips for marathon running and training:

1. Focus on a balanced diet first

Especially over the course of the training months, few runners need to follow any kind of ‘specialised’ nutritional regime. Instead, aim for a balanced diet . Essentially, you should be aiming to eat a well-rounded mix of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins and dairy every day (if not in each meal) – this will ensure that your body has everything it needs to cope with the strains of training, generate enough energy for your runs and repair itself.

2. Aim to cut back on alcohol

If you are a drinker, it’s definitely worth considering cutting back on the booze during your marathon training. Your body will already be under more strain than usual, so asking it to repair the additional damage caused by alcohol is just going to make you feel more tired and sluggish.

3. Carb-load in the week before the marathon

‘Carb-loading’ basically means that, in the final seven days before the race itself, you should consume more carbohydrates as part of your diet than usual. When you eat carbs – from pasta, potatoes, bread and other starchy foods – your body converts it into glycogen. Glycogen is essentially a store of easy-to-use energy held in your muscles. Over the course of 4 to 5 months of training, your glycogen levels will naturally deplete. So, adding extra carbs into your diet during the week before the race will help ‘top up’ your levels.

This is not about gorging on endless plates of pasta. Instead, just try to make sure around 60 percent of your plate consists of quality carbs of some sort – you don’t need to go overboard!

4. Eat a light meal the night before

While carb-loading is important, you also don’t want to wake up feeling sluggish and bloated on the day of your race. Opt for lighter meals the day before the marathon – perhaps a pasta salad, a sandwich or a baked potato.

5. What to eat before a marathon on the day of the race itself

With 26.2 miles ahead of you, thinking about what to eat before a marathon for breakfast is really important. Some marathon runners have a specific breakfast they swear by, but until you’ve figured out what that is, aim for another light meal with plenty of complex carbs. This could be something like a bowl of porridge with honey, some granola or peanut butter on wholemeal bread, and a banana. Complex carbs release energy more slowly than refined, sugary foods, so you avoid a sugar crash too early on.

It’s also smart to hydrate before a marathon, but make sure you don’t drink too much either! There’s a good chance you’ll be waiting behind the starting line for a while before you actually start running – so you don’t want to have drunk too much without a loo in sight.

6. Food during the marathon

As the marathon progresses, you might benefit from a banana, gummy sweets or energy gels taken every 30–45 minutes. It’s generally a good idea to avoid eating for the first hour or so of your run – you’ll have plenty of energy left over from breakfast, so you won’t want to waste these extra energy sources yet. Again, finding the in-marathon foods usually involves a bit of trial and error until you find the right mix for you.

With the right diet in place, you give your body the best chance to complete your marathon in more comfort.