When eating for a marathon your body requires more carbs and calories, as well as vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats. Proper nutrition is important not only for performance, but also for health. It differs from the recreational runner who runs to maintain their weight. When training for a marathon, it is easy to run more miles in a day than some people run in a week. For this reason, it is crucial to eat right to provide the fuel needed for training for and running a marathon. That means plenty of healthy carbs and an additional 100 calories each mile you run.
How much fat do you need?
When training for a marathon 20-25% of your calories should come from unsaturated fats. This includes polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. These healthy fats are found in foods like nuts, vegetable oils, and fish. To reduce saturated fats and eat more unsaturated fats, use liquid cooking oils in place of solid fats.
Importance of carbs in marathon training
A marathon runner should avoid low carb diets, because carbs provide glycogen. Glycogen and protein help repair muscle. Sixty-five percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates, and most of those should be complex carbs. Sources of complex carbs include fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This includes foods like: apples, bagels, bananas, brown rice, cereal, corn, legumes, peas, potatoes, raisins, root vegetables, whole grain breads and pasta, yams, brown rice.
Sports drinks are another source of carbohydrates. Check the ingredient list to see what each drink has to offer. Most have a combination of simple and complex carbs. Look for a sports drink with more complex carbs than simple carbs.
About 10% of your calories should come from lean protein. The ideal amount of protein differs from one runner to another when marathon training. You need 0.5 – 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. Good sources of protein include: low-fat milk, legumes, lean beef, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, yogurt, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese, tofu and soy products.
Eat the right food at the right time
Eating for a marathon is more than eating the right foods; it is also important to eat the right food at the right time to maintain your energy while running and for post-run recovery.
Before the run: About an hour before the run eat something light and easy on your body’s digestive system such as a banana and whole grain bagel. Eating before your run will help maintain your glycogen stores. Each runner is different, so you’ll have to experiment to find out what foods work best for you.
During the run: When you run 10 – 20 or more miles eating a snack during the run helps replenish the energy needed. Energy bars are easy to carry and make a nutritious quick snack, and energy gels (GUs) are another convenient option. Many experts recommend eating every 30-45 minutes during the run.
After the run: When you’re done with your run, your body will need more cabs and protein to help your muscles recover. Eat carbs and protein within 30 minutes following a run.
Along with eating for a marathon, it is important to stay hydrated. Learning what and when to eat is a process for the marathon runner. With practice, you’ll learn to match your eating plan to your running habits to find what works for you.