MARATHON TRAINING NUTRITION 101

Updated: Apr 22

Saturday 21st March 2020. The first time I have run 26kms in 3 years. Amidst all the uncertainty around us, a small group of optimistic runners have continued to train; despite almost all of our upcoming races being postponed or cancelled. Side note, I had not planned to train for or run a full marathon this year, I just seem to have gotten swept up along the way!

En-route, (26kms is quite a long way!) I chatted to the ladies about nutrition and took note of who was snacking on what; we discussed their pre-run meals and hydration plans. I myself struggle with GI distress, a condition quite unique to endurance runners and I have been looking for ways to keep it at bay, trying different pre-run snacks and on the run fueling strategies. What all of this has highlighted for me is the importance of diet and nutrition within the context of marathon training. The truth is, your nutrition through your months of training is just as important as the kilometres you log every week. Proper, balanced nutrition will boost performance, prevent dehydration, keep your energy levels stable and aid in quicker recovery time after those long, hard runs.


Key Points That Keep My Nutrition On Track During Training


1/ The Protein/Carbohydrate Mix: Every runner knows about ‘carb loading’, especially the night before a race; the reality is though, that your body’s glycogen stores will build up over time and have a homeostatic set point that it will attempt to maintain. This is why it is important for you to get a good balance between carbohydrate and protein intake during your training as this will keep you full and fueled through all of your long runs as the kilometres add up. The rule of thumb is 50-65% of your calorie intake should come from unrefined, whole grain carb sources and approximately 30% of your total calorie intake should be from healthy, non-fatty protein sources like lean chicken, oily fish, tofu, beans and lentils. If you don’t know how many calories you should be consuming in a day use this link to calculate – an easy way to eyeball portions is to fill ¼ of your plate with protein, and a ¼ of your plate with whole grain carbs at each meal. The rest of your plate should be filled with vegetables!


Research has found that runners who increased their protein intake performed better as it helps to build new muscle fibre and mitochondria which are the cells in your body that help you burn fuel whilst exercising. Needless to say, the more efficient your body is at burning fuel, the better you perform.


2/ Eat Your Fruit & Veg:Your mum was right on this one! There is no better source of all the essential nutrients your body requires to stay fit and healthy and recover than from fruit and vegetables. Some of the most important ones to focus on as a runner are iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, Vit E, Vit D, Omega-3 and Zinc. Variety is key here. The more variety of fruit and veg you implement in your diet the better. So, don’t be scared to experiment with new recipes and try things a little out of your normal comfort zone, you will most certainly reap the benefits.

3/ Hydration: Even a 2% dehydration can affect your body’s ability to perform. This is why it is so important to stay hydrated, replenishing water and electrolytes throughout the day and most especially during and after those longer runs. Some runners like to weigh themselves before and after a run and compare the amount they have lost through sweat to track their hydration patterns, others use an app (Garmin includes this feature on their Garmin Connect app); I tend to be a little more old school and analogue about it, keeping an eye on the colour of my pee (my husband says its more professional to say Urine)!


During runs longer than 10kms I will always carry at least 500ml of water with me to sip along the way. For distances longer than 15kms I put ice and water into my camel back and drink periodically through the whole run and take an electrolyte solution as soon as I get home. I also make sure I’m drinking at least 2 litres of water through the day on any given day. If your urine is a clear to light yellow colour your hydration is good, however as soon as it starts going a darker yellow towards orange/brown you’re in trouble and need to up fluids and electrolytes.


4/ Balance: RUNGER; “An out of control ravenous desire to eat ALL THE FOOD preceded by a long run or a period of running consistently”. Runger is not great for your waistline, and the only way to keep runger under control is balance. If you are at a happy weight and aren’t looking to shed any extra kilos, then eat small, balanced meals periodically, listening to your body as and when you need to. However, if part of your goals during marathon training is to lose weight (this is actually quite difficult contrary to what people believe, simply because you are constantly hungry!), I suggest planning your meals in advance, knowing what you’re going to eat at what time and ensuring that each time you sit down to eat, you focus on a balanced meal with enough protein, whole-grain carbs, healthy fat and vegetables.

Stick to your portion sizes and see if 3 meals a day can keep you satiated, if not, add an additional snack either mid-afternoon (this is when I am the hungriest) or mid-morning. I try to have a low calorie, high protein smoothie at about 4pm when my runger seems to peak. I cannot stress the importance of balance and preparation here. If you are eating too much of one type of food, the kilos will pile on regardless of how many kilometres you run; and if you aren’t prepared for when runger hits you, you will eat everything in the house but the kitchen sink!


5/ Pre-Run, Run and Post-Run Fueling: I tend to do most of my runs fasted if they are in the mornings, with the exception of my Saturday long run, or an actual race. My pre-race meal consists of something small and easily digestible, 60 minutes before I head out. Peanut butter on whole grain toast with banana slices and a sprinkle of cinnamon or a couple of spoons of high protein Futurelife usually does the trick for me. It’s quick, low fuss and easy on your gut.

During long runs gels work for most people. On race day, one gel every 45 minutes will give you enough fuel to push your body to perform at its peak. Due to my GI distress, I have been experimenting with more natural foods such as raisins, date bars and bananas. I find these to be much easier on my gut. Experiment with different options and find what works for you. On a normal long-distance training run I will have ½ a date bar at about 10kms and the other half close to 20km. This has worked well for me so far. If you are looking for more natural fueling alternatives, I highly recommend Charlie Watson’s ‘Cook, Eat, Run’ for ideas and recipes.

CHARLIE’S HOMEMADE FRUIT SMOOTHIE GEL


350g Frozen Blueberries

100g Frozen Raspberries

170g Medjool Dates, pitted & roughly chopped

4-5 Tbsp Maple Syrup

Pinch of Salt


  1. Combine the frozen fruits and dates in a large saucepan over medium heat.

  2. Cook for 20-25 mins, stirring every few minutes to stop the fruit sticking to the pan.

  3. Allow to cool slightly.

  4. Transfer the cooked fruit to a blender along with the maple syrup and salt and blitz until smooth.

  5. Let it cool completely, then divide the mixture among freezer bags or squeeze gel tubes to bo eaten on the go.

  6. Will keep in the freezer fo up to one month.

Your post-run recovery snack is important because it replenishes amino acids for protein and assists in repairing your muscles and tissues. Eat/drink your recovery meal or snack within 30 minutes of your long run for the best results. A recovery shake (I use the XS Recover from Amway), a protein smoothie or just good old scrambled eggs on toast are all good options.


6/ Alcohol, Abstain or Moderate? If you’re taking marathon training seriously and are aiming for a BQ (Boston Qualifying Time) or a PB (personal best), then my advice would be to abstain completely. However, if you’re a social runner and are doing this more to see if you can, rather than to compete, the best advice I can give you is to moderate your alcohol intake to a couple of servings a week. A glass (or two) of wine on a Saturday night at dinner won’t affect your training regime much and is full of polyphenols and antioxidants. So long as you’re able to be moderate in your consumption, Enjoy it!


In these difficult and uncertain times, I like to remind myself why I started running – for my health, fitness and to keep my depression under control. If you are in a country where you are still allowed to go outside to exercise, I highly recommend running. It is one of the few exercises you can do on your own or with your family, no matter your fitness level.


Stay Safe. Stay Sane. Stay Healthy.

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