Yes, I am one of those people who thoroughly enjoys running. I started running races about 4 years ago, and let me tell you, even as a dietitian, it was a huge struggle to make sure I was getting the proper balance of nutrients. I quickly learned nutrition needed to be a major priority when running. When I was training for my first marathon, I remember planning out my whole running schedule. Each Sunday, I would do my “LSD” run (long slow distance). There was one Sunday when I set out to run 15 miles–it was a complete failure. I ran about 12 of those miles before I became absolutely exhausted. Looking back on it now, I did not fuel enough before or after the run. And that’s when it hit me. “Wow, I really got to do some more research of nutrition for training for a marathon.” 

Training for a marathon requires so much planning on all ends–not just with nutrition, but also with finding time to fit in long runs. Here are the basics of what you need to know about nutrition and running a marathon or any other long distance race.

Running and Nutrition

Fueling Before a Race

Fuel with snacks like fruit and granola

There are different phases of energy breakdown the body goes through when exercising. Your body is going to use muscle glycogen as its first choice of energy. Glycogen is the carbohydrate storage form of glucose. Because your body chooses to use carbohydrate first, you really want to make sure you having a carbohydrate filled breakfast a few hours before the race, maybe a bagel with cream cheese. I would also recommend to have some protein with your breakfast. This combination of foods will help your body with nutrient delivery while running, prevent muscle breakdown and prepare you for a faster recovery.

This may sound silly, but you should practice what you’re eating on your LSD runs so there are no surprises come race day. It will also give you a good idea on whether or not it’s a good breakfast to really fuel your run, at least the first part of it!


Fueling During a Race

Power bars and gels are a good option for fueling

Did you know that your body only stores enough glycogen to fill its stores? This is where I think I went wrong on my first 15 miles LSD run. Even though I was nowhere close to 20 miles, my fueling schedule was so off that I wasn’t giving my body enough to make it through. You really should be having about 200-300 calories of carbohydrates, and even some protein, each hour during your race, except for the first hour. This can be any combination of sports drinks, candies, sports gels or whatever else you find to be safe on your stomach. You also want to be sure you are consuming adequate fluids–water and sports drinks–on your run.

Carb Loading the Night Before

Pasta is good, but carb loading is not necessary

Pasta is good, but carb loading is not necessary

Carbohydrate loading the night before a race is a myth. Having a big bowl of pasta before race day isn’t going to make you run faster or longer than if you were to have another balance meal. What’s more important is making sure you are consuming adequate carbs throughout the whole time you are training. I recommend athletes get at least 60% of their calories from carbohydrates and to include about 60g at each meal.


Stay hydrated!

Stay hydrated!

There is a balance each runner needs to find between drinking enough to avoid dehydration and not drinking too much to cause possible GI upset. This is going to vary person to person, however there are basic guidelines on how much water to drink during a race. A good rule of thumb is to have some water (or sports drink) every 20-30 minutes. You don’t have to have a whole cup, but having a sip or about 2oz should suffice.

Creating a nutrition plan for running a race is not an easy feat, especially if you’re doing it alone! The truth is, there are guidelines, tips and tricks runners should follow, however each individual will find that he or she benefits from different techniques. Some may be okay with having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast before a run while others may find that this has way too much fiber with them. Working with me, as your sports nutritionist, can help you find the path that works best for you. We can work toward tailoring a meal plan that suites your individual needs so you can complete your race feeling great!


Contact us today at 301-474-2499 for more questions about our sports nutrition and race day programs, A Stronger You.

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