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What to eat during a Marathon for a Strong Finish

Avoiding the “bonk” during your marathon

To set the scene, we’ve just run 23.1 out of 26.2 miles in the beautiful Avenue of the giants, redwoods of California, Marathon. We’ve trained for this day, and now our performance will reflect all our hard work. All that was left was 3.1 miles to finish. A 5K, (Which in marathon training) I was confident I could complete in my sleep.

Throughout the course we’ve stopped at each aid station for a quick sip of water and even sampled an energy gummy pack at the aid station. Energy gummy’s that other ‘more experienced runners’ had raved about. But our fueling for this marathon was ill-prepared. We did not pack any water, electrolytes or energy supplements for the run. I “hit a wall” at mile marker twenty-three and had to walk the last three miles of my race. I did not yet know what to eat during a marathon for peak performance.

Although I was extremely grateful to finish the race, I was disappointed in my performance. I had not anticipated that on average,

Runner’s burn through about 100 calories per mile.

That’s about 2,600 calories consumed in a marathon, and greater than the average daily recommended caloric intake! Although I thought we had prepared appropriately (with a carb loaded spaghetti and garlic bread dinner the night before) we needed much more fuel to sustain energy before, during and after our marathon for a strong finish.

What to eat before marathon (1-2 hours before run)

Half and Full marathons generally start at sunrise to beat the mid-morning heat. With an anticipated 7 am start time, you should be waking no later than 5 am to begin your fueling. Anticipate 1-2 hours before your run starts and focus on simple carbohydrates.

Carbs are the easiest source of energy for the body to convert to glucose

Glucose is needed to fuel your brain and muscles. Along with carbohydrates, add in a source of caffeine. Limit your intake of caffeine to what your body is used to before race day; but having caffeine enhances your mental focus for the race ahead.

Most importantly before the race, focus on hydration! Say it with me now: most importantly, before your run focus on hydration! Maintaining hydration is imperative for performance, as it helps regulate our temperature, and enable our bodies to endure our peak performance.

what to eat during marathon

Pre-Fuel Guidelines

  • Carbohydrates: Focus on simple carbs, low fiber
  • Protein and Fat: small amounts of protein for stability- main source of energy will be drawn from carbs
  • Caffeine- enhance mental focus and preparedness
  • HYDRATION: urine should be pale yellow

Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!

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What to eat during your Race

After completing our first full Marathon, my entire focus was on how I failed at the end of the race. I wistfully hobbled across the finish line at a mere five hour finish time. How did that finish time become so slow? We had trained for this. Our longest training run was 20 miles long, so it must have been the last three miles that ruined my goal time. Nearly a decade later I can assure you, I didn’t lose my goal time in the last three miles of my race.

I lost my race within the first 15 minutes it began

Hydration starts early. Within the first 15 minutes of your run you should be taking 2-3 gulps of fluids, and continue hydration every 15 minutes. Along with fluids, bring at least 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour of endurance activity. Consuming those energy gummies in my marathon was game-changing, but put into perspective, I should have brought at least five packets to sufficiently sustain me. Continue to adjust your hydration and carbohydrates based on your environment- (is it a hot day? are you running at altitude?)

During your Run

  • Sustain energy levels. Avoid the “BONK”!
  • Aim for at least 30g of carbohydrates per hour for endurance
  • Hydration starts EARLY! Within the first 15 minutes of a run you should be taking 2-3 gulps of fluids.
what to eat during marathon

What to eat in Recovery

Immediately after the marathon my body appropriately scarfed down a ton of food. Giving in to all of my cravings, I proudly consumed a sushi roll, a chocolate milkshake, chicken fajitas and a cheeseburger all while lying in bed! The key to recovery nutrition is to replenish all the nutrients and electrolytes you have lost during your endurance activity. Aim for at least 20-30 grams of protein for muscle repair.

what to eat during marathon

Recovery Run fuel (15-60 mins after)

  • Replenish the Nutrients and electrolytes you’ve lost
  • Protein: Eat at least 20-30g of protein for muscle tissue repair and protein synthesis
  • REST

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