Marathon nutrition

Training for a marathon is totally unlike training for a half. It may not be until later in the training season that everyone will really get the difference but there definitely is one. Not that 10 miles is ever easy, especially if hung over or not properly fueled but imagine 20 miles like that. Nearly impossible!

Fueling for a marathon is very different too. You just can’t treat the distances like you treat shorter distances. Also, you may have a plan for 13 miles when running a half marathon but do you think this is the same plan you’ll have for the first 13 miles of the marathon (or of long training days). No way. You have to think long term and realize that nutrition changes as your mileage changes.

As always, your pre-run meal (Friday night) is important. You’ll want to eat carbs but you don’t have to “carb load.” A meal of pasta is great but you don’t need to eat any more calories than you would normally eat- just make sure about 70% of your calories are coming from carbs. This is just one meal and you will work it off so don’t let it stress you out. *I happen to like pizza on friday nights but i don’t really like thick crust (which i need before super long runs) so i will usually drink some Accelerade before i go to bed or even eat a cup of Easy Mac if i’m feeling like i’m a little empty. (i start following this once i’m at about 16 or so miles in training…or i base it on how i felt the week before- did i feel sluggish? did i have enough energy?)

You must eat something the morning of a long run. What you eat and how much you eat is really up to how much your stomach can handle. You want 80% of your pre-run meal to be from carbs. Protein and especially fat and fiber can be kept low because these nutrients will only take up space that would be better utilized by carbs. The closer you are to the run, the less calories you can eat but 2 or so hours out, you should be able to consume 300-400 calories. Bagels and bananas are great pre-run meals. You’re using this meal to fill your liver with glycogen – this helps your body produce ATP which is basically your bodies battery…it’s all about energy!

Ok, so now we’re running! This is a super important time to fuel. Most of us will be going over 2 hours fairly soon- this is when it all starts to change. You should really try to take in 200-300 calories (carbs) per hour if running 2 hours or more. LOOK at your sports gels- i bet you’ll be shocked at how few calories you’re getting! Don’t forget to count the calories in your sports drink, if you’re using this instead of water.

Here’s an example of a 20 mile training run and how i fueled (**you don’t have to follow this or use these things- just showing you the effort it takes to fuel properly!)

drink sports drink (Accelerade) every 10 minutes until mile 4 (about 80 calories)
mile 4 to 5- eat 1 serving of gu chomps (4 pcs) and wash down with water (90 calories)
water every 10 minutes for the next 20 minutes to help digest food
mile 7 to 8- eat 1 serving of gu chomps and wash down with water (90 calories)
water only for next 20 minutes; then switch to sports drink
mile 10 to 11- sports beans- 1 pkg with water (100 calories)
sports drinks
mile 13 to 14- gu chomps (4 pcs) with water (90 calories)
sports drinks (about 80 calories combined with earlier)
mile 16 to 17- gu chomps (4 pcs) (90 calories)

This is about 620 calories and we ran for 4 hours. So, technically STILL not enough. As you can see though, taking a chomp here and a bean there is not going to cut it! On a 20 mile run you’re burning approximately 2000 calories so you just can’t stress that you’re taking in calories while running!!

things to note:
1. if you’re using a sports drink AND sports gels, you must wash your gels / beans down with water, not your sports drink. otherwise you’re taking in too many carbs at once and you’re going to end up with an upset stomach. that’s why i like my 4 bottle belt- i put Accelerade in 2 of the bottles and water in 2 of the bottles.
2. if you’re not using a sports drink and are only using water, you must look at the carbs, calories, and electrolytes on whatever food your using and make sure it’s enough. you’ll probably need to take in more gels than you’re expecting.
3. if you only have 1 bottle and you want sports drink, make sure you’re able to get water somewhere along the course to wash down the fuel. you’ll need to wash down your “food” with water for 10-20 minutes before drinking a sports drink.

Lastly, fueling after the run. You are not done with your long run until you have properly fueled. After a long run it is key that you rehydrate, replenish muscle glycogen, reduce secondary muscle damage, rebuild muscle protein, and replenish muscle fat stores- the quicker you do this, the faster and more thoroughly you will recover. Exercise related muscle damage can continue after you finish exercising unless you quickly consume carbs and protein to lower cortisol levels and initiate muscle protein rebuilding. Rehydrating with plain water is not going to be enough! You’ll need a carb and protein along with some electrolytes (especially if you have sweated a lot) within about 30 minutes. This will help keep you injury free and, believe it or not, will keep you from gorging on bad foods later in the day. Think of it as medicine for your muscles that you have to take before you eat something. *I drink a muscle milk after all long runs before my shower. I then shower and have time to concentrate and make (or get) a somewhat healthy meal. Again, you do NOT have to do as i do but this is just giving you an idea of a way to refuel.

Here’s a study i’d like to share:
This was published in the Journal of Physiology. Subjects were given a carb-protein supplement either immediately after exercise or 2 hours later while participating in a 12 week strength training program. The subject receiving the carb-protein mix immediately after exercise has a muscle size increase of 8% and strength improvement of 15%. Those who got it 2 hours later had no improvement. For runners, this would serve the same purpose of preserving muscle after long runs. (and NO, you’re not going to “bulk up” by doing this!!)

One more thing, you may be wondering why i choose Accelerade as my sports drink. At the time i started using it, it was one of the only sports drink with a whey protein. There was a study done that showed that athletes who used a carb-protein sports drink during a workout lasted 40% longer in workouts than those who used a carb only drink. I have nothing to compare it to but i do know i’m willing to take some help anywhere i can get it 🙂 You definitely want to make sure your sports drink has electrolytes- sodium, potassium, and magnesium- this is the stuff you’re sweating out when you think it’s just water.

Again, these are tools for you to use to determine what works best for you. I don’t know if you’re going to do well with an Ensure before a workout or a bagel but i do know that if you’re not fueling properly before, during, and after the long runs, you’re going to suffer.

Don’t use your marathon training as a license to eat what you want. Use it as the time to treat your body with respect. You’re about to expect a lot out of it so “reward” it by giving it the proper fuel…..and, of course, have the occasional brownie and beer 🙂

6 thoughts on “Marathon nutrition

  1. ****Soap Box Alert****People…You must fuel.  I am a little tired of people worrying about too many calories, looking too chubby, etc. but when those same people finish a long run they look like the walking dead!  This is pure science and YOU are not immune to it.  Once you completely bonk you will never want to do it again.  It is also irresponsible to put your running buddies in that situation because you don’t like the way you look in shorts?!?!  I never used to eat or drink just because I did not know.  Now that I do, my performance has improved dramatically since I began fueling and for me it is now a question of “how much” I can take in without making myself sick.  You have got to practice this to get comfortable with it and if you do not, we all have to pick up your pieces when you fall apart.  Please use this advice and ask for more.

  2. What about coconut milk vs. accelerade or other sports drinks?Sometimes I get ‘sweeted out’ (too much sweet stuff) with all those beans and chomps.  I find that if I alternate with a vanilla gu it helps decrease this, but I am concerned that I won’t be able to avoid it with fueling more.If I don’t have time (like this morning) to make a big breakfast of eggs after a long run, I eat coco krispies and drink the milk afterwards for a little carb/protein action.  It’s chocolatey too so I figure it is a good reward.However, I do find that a nap makes me happy on long run days.

  3. I have heard that coconut oil can be a good energy boost but I am not sure about coconut milk. (it may have oil in it) I know it takes a lot of trial and error to find some good combinations but as long as you are trialing you will have less error when it counts.  any thoughts coach???

  4. I like to mix it up and bring several things with me.For me, I don’t care if I ever see another lemon/lime sport bean as long as I live.  I overdid it on them on the greenline one saturday bc I liked how they tasted the week before and bought a sackful of them.  *barf*  I’ve been thinking about getting some plain gu to cut the sweet thing down a bit.  Only thing is, with 26 miles worth of fueling, it seems as though I may need to carry a suitcase with me for the food/water etc.

  5. I’m not sure coconut water has enough carbs or sodium for prolonged activity.  I think it’s super high in potassium which is great but that isn’t necessarily the balance you need for distance running.  I think coconut water would be good pre-run or on shorter runs or even in addition to but i don’t think it will be enough to supplement sports drinks.  The sweet factor is one reason i really like having several bottles so i could alternate sports drinks and water.You can also try things that aren’t necessarily “sweet”- fig newtons, raisins, honey stinger waffles- these are all things you could eat on the run instead of gu’s and such.Fortunately for me, i have a serious sweet tooth 🙂

  6. oh, and trey, you may just have to break down and get a fuel belt that has some pockets for all your goodies 🙂  either that or jenn is going to have to run along side of you as your sherpa.

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