Fall is knocking on the door, and with it comes some of the biggest marathons of the year. No matter if you plan to participate in New York City, Berlin or Chicago, what they all require is proper training. An important part of your training plan during the cool season (as well as the rest of the year) should be your diet. There is a lot more to it than just what to eat before and after your run. You also have to think about what snacks and drinks you can consume while running to improve your performance and make you faster.
Macronutrients for Runners
- Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient, especially for endurance athletes. Around 55 to 65 percent of your energy intake should consist of these nutrients. They are the fuel for your muscles and are stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles. Regular consumption of carbs helps you maintain your performance and achieve your goal marathon time. Well-filled glycogen stores also help your body recover quickly after your workout. Try to stick with complex carbohydrates like whole-grain products, quinoa, (sweet) potatoes, legumes and vegetables. Since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half your grains whole, refined grains can still be part of your diet and provide energy for exercise.
- Protein is essential for effective muscle growth. You should take in 1 to 1.5 g/kg of body weight, depending on the intensity of your workouts. Strength trainers definitely need more of this nutrient than runners. Ideally, you should consume both animal-based (lean meat, fish, eggs, dairy products) as well as plant-based (soy, nuts, legumes), high-protein foods. This ensures that your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs.
- No runner’s diet is complete without a healthy fat intake. One gram of this macronutrient contains nine calories, and thus more than twice as much as protein and carbohydrates. Nevertheless, fat is an important source of energy. It protects your organs, insulates your body and is necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). So how much fat do you need? It should make up about 30 to 35 percent of your daily energy intake. Foods such as nuts, avocados, salmon, vegetable oils, and seeds (flax and chia) provide valuable energy for marathon training.
The Right Diet Gives You Power
A balanced diet with a good variety of nutrients and plenty of liquids, vitamins and minerals is a must for running enthusiasts. Maybe you are asking yourself, “What should my meal plan look like on the day of the marathon?” Pay close attention to what you eat. The right diet gives you power. The wrong foods, on the other hand, can cause problems and slow you down.
Did you know that major carbo-loading before a race isn’t necessary if you are used to eating enough carbs? Runners in training require about 7-10 g/kg of body weight per day.
Breakfast (3-4 Hours Before You Run):
An easy-to-digest, high-carb breakfast gives you energy before the race. Avoid foods and meals that contain a lot of fat and fiber. These can really sit heavy in your stomach. A cup of black coffee can give you a boost when you’re tired.
You could eat:
- cereal with milk
Snack (about one hour before):
If you feel like it and are used to it, you can still squeeze in a small snack before your run.
For a snack, you could eat:
- a banana
- a granola bar
While You Are Running:
The longer you run, the more important it is to consume some food and liquids while you are running. For short distances like 5K, you don’t have to replenish your glycogen stores while running. But if you are running for more than an hour, it is a good idea to drink something and eat some small snacks along the way to provide your body with energy. Ideally, you won’t need to chew these much or at all. We would recommend:
- isotonic drinks
- energy gels
- a banana
The general rule is that you should consume 30 to 60 g of carbohydrates per hour when running a marathon to prevent exhaustion due to empty glycogen stores. A medium-sized banana (150 g) contains 30 g of carbs, and most energy gels have about 25 g.
Isotonic drinks are also a good source of energy during a race. What does “isotonic” mean? An isotonic solution has the same osmotic pressure as blood plasma. This means that the liquid is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and thus supplies the body with energy. Isotonic drinks replace the loss of fluids and electrolytes and are a quick source of available carbohydrates. Plus, they are easy to make yourself!
As a rule of thumb, you should consume about 600 to 1,000 ml of liquid per hour.
Snack (Within the First Hour After Your Run):
Carbohydrates after a marathon help you recover. After a long, exhausting run, you need energy. Sports drinks, energy bars, pasta or white bread are good sources of quickly available carbohydrates within the first 30 minutes after your workout. Ideally, you should combine these with proteins like those found in eggs, tuna or lean meat. You should avoid eating a lot of fat right after running.
After a long run, you should probably stick with the following order: Start by drinking some fluids, then eat something mushy, and finally tackle solid foods. It’s better for your stomach this way. Good choices for all three are:
- liquid: sport drinks, whey drink
- semi-solid: yogurt with banana,cereal with milk
- solid: lean meat or fish (or meat alternative) with potatoes and vegetables (like pumpkin)
Runtastic tip: Don’t experiment the week before your race. Eat your usual diet and don’t try any new foods. This way you can avoid any digestive problems or food allergies while you are training.
Bottom line: Pay attention to what you are putting into your body, no matter if it is before, during or after your run. You can really boost your marathon performance by eating the right diet.