Top 10 Marathon Nutrition Tips

by Brooke on October 4, 2011

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Get excited – the Chicago Marathon is quickly approaching!  Nutrition plays a vital role in every althete’s performance and race outcome.  It is important to practice a few key guidelines to reach your athletic potential on race day.  Here are the top ten nutrition tips you can follow to help you cross the finish line!

10.   Get fueled!  Long distance runners are at risk of having low bone density, stress fractures, and amenorrhea.  It is important that you provide your body with enough energy to perform at its best and prevent unwanted injuries.  A simple way to calculate your calorie needs is following this guideline (please consult your RD for a tailored nutrition plan):

  • 30-60 minutes of activity a day requires 16-18 calories per pound
  • 1-1.5 hours of activity a day requires 19-21 calories per pound
  • 1.5-2 hours of activity a day requires 22-24 calories per pound
  • 2-3 hours of activity a day requires 25-30 or more calories per pound

9.  Plan your fiber intake wisely.  Fiber is a wonderful thing, but choosing foods lower in fiber before a race is a smart idea.  Foods like high-fiber cereals, grains, granola bars, fruits and vegetables could lead to uncomfortable intestinal distress and cramping.  Choose foods low in fiber the night before and morning of a big race!

8.  Monitor your sweat loss.  Weigh yourself before and after your long runs.  For every pound you lose during the run you will need to replace it with 16 ounces of water.  For example, if you know you always lose three pounds (48 ounces) over the course of four hours, during your race, you will need to drink 6 ounces every 30 minutes.

7.  Prepare for various weather conditions.  Heat will increase your sweat rate and lead to higher losses of salt.  Sweat is your bodies way of eliminating generated heat.  In colder temperatures, you will require more calories to help maintain your core body temperature.  Hydration needs may also be increased in cold weather if inappropriate clothing is worn.

6. Getting carbs on the run.  When exercising for longer than one hour, 30-60 grams of carbohydrate should be consumed every hour.  Carbohydrates can be consumed during a marathon in many different forms including: gels, jelly beans, sports drinks, sports bars, or a combination of a few of them.

5.  Check your urine.  One great indicator for assessing hydration status is the color of your urine.  The clearer the color the more hydrated you are.  To learn more check out the Urine or You’re Out blog post.

4.  Get adequate protein.  Protein consumption is important for increasing lean muscle mass and aiding in muscle repair.  Endurance athletes require between 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg/day.  A maximum of no more than one gram of protein per pound should be consumed in a day.

3.  Don’t forget to carb-load.  Your athletic performance can be improved if you maximize your muscle glycogen stores prior to a marathon.  Carbohydrate loading can increase your muscle glycogen stores by 50-100%.  Some carbohydrate loading plans start six days before a race, but even if you start the day before consuming a high-carbohydrate diet will help you maintain your high-intensity run for a longer period of time.

2.  Drink your fluids!  Water is the most important nutrient. Losing as little as 2% of your body weight leads to impaired athletic performance.  Follow these fluid replacement guidelines to stay hydrated:

  • Before Exercise:  Two hours prior to exercise consume 16-20 ounces of water and 10-20 minutes prior to exercise consume 7-10 ounces of water.
  • During Exercise:  Every 15-20 minutes consume 6-8 ounces of water.  If you are exercising for longer than one hour, consuming a sports drink with 4-8% carbohydrate will help provide energy to working muscles.
  • After Exercise:  For every pound lost during exercise, 24 ounces of fluid should be consumed to aid in hydration maintenance.

And the number one nutrition tip you can follow is…

1.  Practice, Practice, Practice.  It important to practice your nutrition and hydration schedule ahead of time.  Race day is not the time to try out a new whole wheat bagel, drinking coffee, sports gels, sports drinks, etc.  If you don’t practice your food and hydration pattern before race day you won’t know how your body will react and your performance could suffer.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Krystle October 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Thanks for the nutrition tips Brooke! I have my first long race in a couple of weeks and was a little overwhelmed about figuring out how to prep my body nutrition wise. Thanks for breaking it all down =)


Brooke October 5, 2011 at 1:24 am

Hi Krystle, Goodluck on your race! I am glad the tips helped :)


Kristen @ Swanky Dietitian October 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Great tips! I made sure to practice all the fluids and foods I was eating before doing my half that way I knew what did and didn’t work.
I am signed up for a 12k in November but not sure about anything more than that mileage for a while. Darn those injuries.


Brooke October 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Goodluck with your race Kristen!!!


Lauren October 11, 2011 at 10:14 am

Chicago is such a great race. Tips are good, I think too much avoidance of fiber depending on your baseline diet can leave you feeling poorly for a race too. Blogged about that yesterday. I think the Facebook changes are very annoying btw.


Brooke October 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Hi Lauren! Yes, I needed fiber before my long runs too, but everyone is different. Thus, tip number one – practice, practice, practice :)


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