by Paul Koks in Health + Nutrition, image by Nick Nguyen

8 Marathon Nutrition Tips: How Runners Fuel Up to Reach the Finish Line

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You have a lot to worry about when training for a marathon. You have to worry about your form, ensure your pace will take you to the finish line before the cut off time, and arrange your schedule to make room for those long runs. You even have to worry about chafing, blisters, and challenging weather patterns. Yet, none of that matters as much as marathon nutrition. If you aren’t fueling up properly, you won’t get the most out of your training runs and you will have a more difficult time reaching the finish line.

1. Keep fiber under control.

High fiber foods are important to proper marathon nutrition, since many complex carbohydrates include high fiber content. You need these carbohydrates to fuel your muscles for a long run or race. Yet, some high fiber foods will leave you in need of a bathroom in the middle of a run. Pay attention to how your body reacts to different foods and make sure to limit those that send you running for the bathroom before your runs.

2. Make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of protein.

Your marathon nutrition plan should include enough protein to keep your muscles lean and strong. This will ensure you have the protein on hand to repair your muscles after challenging workouts. The longer and more intensive your runs tend to be, the more protein you will need to consume.

3. Learn how to carb load correctly.

Marathon nutrition tips always include the recommendation for carb loading the night prior to a race. This is simply the practice of consuming large volumes of carbohydrates to store up energy in the muscles. You can do this for your long runs as well. Ideally, you will consume whole grains, fruits and vegetables that are low on the Glycemic index. It is a good idea to eat several small to medium portions of carbs throughout the evening prior to your race. If you really want to take this seriously, you can start loading a three to seven days in advance of a race. Just remember that many low glycemic carbohydrates are rich in fiber. Make smart choices with food selection!

4. Do not eat a large meal right before going out for a run.

Proper marathon nutrition does require fuel to complete a run, but you don’t want to run on a stuffed stomach. Eat a meal two or four hours prior to your run, and then have a small snack to fuel up just before the run. Make sure this snack consists of healthy carbohydrates that will produce energy for your run. Fresh fruit, nuts, or whole grain crackers are good options.

5. Avoid running on an empty stomach.

Just as you can feel uncomfortable running on a full stomach, you can feel uncomfortable running on an empty stomach. You may only need to eat before a short run, but should keep protein bars or other snacks with you for a long run. Give yourself a small snack about every hour, or more frequently if you feel it is necessary. Avoid eating large amounts at one time.

6. Use trial and error during your training season to determine the best race day approach to nutrition.

You don’t want to go into race day uncertain of the best approach for fueling your body. You should use your long runs to try out different fueling methods, from water and sports drinks to gels and solid snacks. You may try out different pre-run snacks with your short runs as well.

7. Stick with foods you eat on a frequent basis a day or two prior to a long run or race.

You never know how your stomach is going to react when you eat something new, or something that you have not consumed in a long period of time. For a day or two prior to a long run or race, you should stick with foods that you eat on a routine basis, so you know they will sit well on your stomach. If there are foods that you know commonly give you stomach troubles, you don’t want to consume them within two days of a long run or race.

8. Hydration is an important part of proper marathon nutrition.

It is easy to get caught up planning your meals and snacks while forgetting about hydration. You need to drink enough water to keep your urine clear or light yellow all of the time. During a long run, try to drink four to six ounces of water or sports drink every twenty to thirty minutes. You may only need water for a short run, but should mix in some sports drinks and gels for longer runs. This will replenish electrolytes while hydrating your body. Continue drinking for an hour or two after the run.