Completing a marathon is getting added to more and more people’s bucket lists. Our experts explain what’s important to consume while training and how to work that nutrition into your schedule – all the way up to and throughout race day.
A month before
Eat a variety of foods before and after training runs to determine what your stomach handles best
Start to make carbohydrates like wholegrain rice, pasta, steel-cut oats, bran flakes, peas or leafy greens part of your daily diet. These carbs won’t quickly spike your blood sugar like potatoes, corn and white bread do. Instead, they will store in your body longer and release energy slowly.
Find out which of those carbs settle best with your stomach. Different people’s stomachs tolerate food differently, but try to avoid gas-inducing carbs. Foods like broccoli, cabbage, beans or too much fruit fit into this category. It will also just take a while for your gut to adjust to more carbs. Try varying what you eat before and after your runs. Keep track of how each food makes you feel, and nix the ones that cause discomfort. More runners have to drop out of a marathon for gastrointestinal problems than for injury. That’s why it’s important to start experimenting long before race day.
A week before
Eat extra carbs and protein to fill up your body’s reserves as much as possible
Make a point to add extra calories to every meal in the week leading up to the marathon. Your performance and endurance can improve if you start a race with a full store of carbs. It’s when this store gets low that your brain and muscles get tired.
Fill up on the grains, starchy vegetables and fruits that settle well with your stomach. Your protein intake should also increase as your portions become larger. Greek yogurt and quinoa are two foods that are rich in both carbs and protein.
The day before
Eat mostly carbohydrates, some protein and a big lunch
About 65-70% of your calories this day should come from carbohydrates. Aim to eat something every two to three hours. Good choices for carb-rich snacks include bananas, dried fruit and oatmeal.
Make lunch your big meal – not dinner. This will give your body more time to process nutrients. It will also make you less likely to have stomach problems on race day. Wholegrain pasta is still often considered one of the best pre-race meals. Japanese soba noodles, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, quinoa and brown rice are also good choices.
It's also important to take in protein the day before your marathon. Eat 3-4 ounces of fish, lean meat or tofu at lunch.
2 to 4 hours before
Eat a meal of familiar foods that have a lot of carbohydrates, moderate protein and low fat and fiber
Avoid digestion problems by staying away from new foods you haven’t eaten during your training. Eat a meal high in carbohydrates that won’t spike your blood sugar, moderate in protein and low in fat and fiber. This will prep your body for the duration of your race.
Wholegrain cereal, bread or a bagel with a small amount of peanut butter or almond butter are good options. If you want to eat fruit, choose a banana.
Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water or a sports drink.
1 hour before
Limit what you take in this close to the race
Drink 5 to 10 ounces of water or a sports drink. Energy gels or energy chews should be the only thing you eat.
During the race
Eat a carb-rich snack each hour that releases quick energy, and rotate between drinking water and sports drinks
Shortly after you begin running, you will want to supplement your carb stores. Your body can only store so much, and you don’t want to risk running empty. Energy gels and chews, sports drinks, bananas and crackers are packed with carbohydrates that will release energy for you quickly. Eat 10 to 20 grams of these every 20 minutes.
To avoid over-hydrating, rotate between drinking water and drinking sports drinks. Your sports drink should contain 6 to 8 percent carbohydrates. The average person should drink 5 to 10 ounces of water or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes. However, the exact amount depends on how much you sweat.
After the race
Eat carbs and protein, and drink water and a sports drink, as soon as possible
The 30 minutes immediately following your run are really important. This is the time to replenish your body’s carbohydrate stores, stock up on muscle-repairing protein and rehydrate. After a marathon, your carbohydrate stores will be almost completely gone. It’s also possible that you damaged tissue during your run.
Aim to eat a 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to lean protein. A cup of chocolate milk is an example of a 5-to-1 carb to protein ratio. Other good snack choices include: trail mix with nuts, peanut butter on crackers, pita and hummus, yogurt and dried fruit.
Eat a full meal two hours after your marathon. The meal should have fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats.
Like during the race, it’s important to drink both water and sports drinks to replace the fluids you lost through sweat. Drink 16 to 24 ounces of water or sports drink for every pound you lost while running. This should be done within 24 hours after the marathon.
Have more questions about how your diet can impact training?
Make an appointment with one of our registered dietitians (RDs).
They’ve also weighed in on what foods you should avoid altogether.