26 Jul Marathon Day Nutrition Plan
By Melissa O’Shea, MS, RD, Contributing Blogger
With fall marathon season approaching and training plans ramping up, it’s important to also start thinking about your fueling plan for race day. Training isn’t just about logging miles and working on speed work, but it’s also a time to test out your nutrition and hydration, which are both crucial for a successful race. Here’s what you’ll need to consider before, during, and after the race.
When you think about what to eat before the race, think carbohydrates since this is the body’s main source of fuel during a marathon. Before the race, you should consume anywhere from 400-800 calories that are high in carbohydrates, low in fiber and fat, and contain a moderate amount of protein.
The timing of eating is even trickier than figuring out what to eat. This is where it becomes essential to use long training runs as a dress rehearsal to see what works and what doesn’t work for you. Your main meal should ideally be consumed about 2-5 hours before race time. I usually recommend waking up early enough to give your body enough time to digest. A bagel with all natural peanut butter, yogurt with cereal or oatmeal and fruit are all good options.
You may follow this meal up with something small like a banana or sports drink 30 minutes before the start. If your marathon starts very early and a full meal just isn’t possible, plan to have a late dinner or evening snack and then consume an energy bar or gel in the morning. And don’t forget to start hydrating. You want to consume at least 10 fluid ounces of water before you begin the race.
The more miles you run, the more calories you burn, and these calories need to be replaced to keep your body moving. Exercising for over an hour, like during a marathon, requires additional calories. The average marathoner will be out there for about 4 hours.
Once again, training should be used to teach your body to accept food during exercise and to test out what goes down the easiest. Just like before the marathon, easily digestible carbohydrates become the focus here. Energy gels, chews, blocks, sport beans and sports drinks are convenient and easy to store during the race, but you can also try dried fruit, bananas, figs, pretzels, gummy bears or energy bars. Once you figure out what works best for you, have your family and friends cheering on the sidelines carry these items with them in case you need more fuel than you planned for.
As for hydration, it’s best to sip throughout the race, totaling about 5-12 fluid ounces every 15 minutes or so. Small sips versus stopping and gulping a full glass will be easier on your body and reduce the likelihood of cramping. This is where a sports drink can do double duty by providing you with needed carbohydrates, electrolytes and hydration. Sports drinks can cause stomach upset for some so be sure you know which type will be out on the course and test it out during training.
Once you’ve finished the race celebration is certainly in order. However, don’t forget about what your body needs for proper recovery– you did just run 26.2 miles after all! Just like you would after training runs, you should start consuming small snacks immediately after the race that contain both carbohydrates and protein, which is needed for muscle recovery. It is very common to have slight nausea and a lack of appetite right after the race as your body begins to slowly readjust. Start with something light, such as a smoothie or a turkey sandwich and keep replenishing lost fluids with water. Continue to do so until you’re ready for a full meal and feel free to indulge!