What is a marathon?
A marathon is a long-distance race of about 42 kilometres. It originated with the legend of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, who ran 42km to Athens to inform the city of their victory at the Battle of Marathon. And in 1896, it was included in the first Modern Olympics.
Marathons are no easy task! The fastest marathon runners clock in at around two hours. Many experienced runners aim for a three to four-hour run. Beginners may even opt for a half marathon instead. Building your body to handle this challenge will take plenty of time and dedication. And while running and exercise will form the basis of your training, a proper diet is an extremely important aspect to consider.
Long-distance running requires a different kind of diet compared to other forms of exercise. Diets designed for weight loss like the keto or paleo diet are designed to limit calories by decreasing carbohydrate intake. Diets for bodybuilding focus on high fat and protein intake and calorie management. For a marathon runner, their diet is built to efficiently use carbohydrates as an energy source, while utilising protein to build muscle for stamina.
The marathon runner diet in a nutshell
A runner training for a marathon must manage their nutrition throughout their training period. Before training even begins, the runner must consider what kind of food they’ll be eating all the way up to the run itself. For a long time, ‘carbo-loading’ or eating a lot of carbohydrates before the race was considered the best way to prep for a marathon. But recently, more runners are emphasising the importance of protein in building muscle stamina.
Best diet for marathon runners
Preparation for a marathon begins weeks and weeks before the race itself. For experienced runners, this period can be anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks. If you’re a beginner going for their first marathon, take it slow and start your plan 10 months in advance. It seems like a really long time, but your body needs to learn how to adjust to running long-distance.
The food you eat is essential to your performance at a marathon. What you eat and when you eat it will help your body handle the demands of a long run, as well as help you with recovery.
Here is a list of the best food for both beginners and experienced marathon runners alike:
Bananas are essential for runners. They’re an easy source of carbohydrates and potassium, which prevents cramping. They’re pretty easy to take around and can be easily incorporated into any diet.
More than just a breakfast staple, eggs are important for any athlete’s diet. Their high protein content and ease of cooking makes them indispensable for your pre-run training.
Peanut butter is a good source of fat and protein. It’s easy to eat and it’s a good source of vitamin E. Just make sure to get peanut butter without added salt or sugar.
Oats are a great carbohydrate source during your training. Oats get absorbed over a longer time compared to other carbs, and your blood sugar won’t rise as fast. However, oats have a good amount of fibre, so it’s best to start cutting down on them closer to the day of the marathon.
It’s important to have a reliable protein source at the core of your diet. Lean chicken breast provides a lot of protein and can be cooked in tons of different ways. Getting a lot of protein will help you build the muscle you need for your upcoming marathon.
You’ll want carbohydrates for your marathon, but not so much that you’re bursting. A concentrated carb like pasta lets you get carbs you need without having to overeat.
Salmon is another excellent and healthy protein source with the added benefit of Omega-3 fatty acid, which is beneficial for your heart.
Eating on the day of the marathon
On the day of the marathon, take into account the food you eat before, during, and after the race. Each of these periods will require different kinds of food to help prepare and repair yourself.
Before the marathon
What you eat before the marathon provides your body with the energy you’ll need to sustain yourself throughout the run. It’s recommended that you eat a high carbohydrate, low fibre meal three to four hours before your run. You’ll want something easily digestible so your body can quickly absorb it without much issue.
During the marathon
You need to focus on staying hydrated and having energy during your run. If you drink too much water, you’ll overhydrate which will hurt your performance. As a rule of thumb, try not to consume more than 600 mL of water per hour of running. That comes to around three to four sips every 15 to 20 minutes.
With food, it’s good to get 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. What you eat is up to you. A banana is good, but small snacks like raisins or jelly beans can also work and are easier to take with you. There are also gels designed for runners that you can eat during the marathon. If you’re going to try something new, start incorporating it into your diet while training.
After the marathon
You did it! It’s good to get a substantial meal with high carbs and high protein after your run. There’s a period of 30 to 60 minutes after heavy exercise when your body is most receptive to nutrient absorption. Use this time to get in 15 to 25 grams of protein and 50 to 75 grams of carbs to help your body recover.