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Marathon Nutrition and Hydration Advice

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Updated June 30, 2014

Women running with water
Photo by Zia Soleil

Nutrition and Hydration for Marathon Training and Running

If you already eat a healthy diet, you don't have to make too many changes when you start training for a marathon. The recommendations for distance runners are not that different than nutritional guidelines for non-runners. Many marathoners-in-training wonder if it's necessary to take supplements or vitamins during training, but it's actually better to get your nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements. You can talk to your doctor to find out if you have any deficiencies that would require supplementation.

Pre-run eating: It's important to make sure that you're properly fueled for your runs to get the most out of them. Try to eat a snack or light meal of about 250-300 calories about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you start running. Eating immediately before running may lead to cramping, and running on an empty stomach may cause you to run out of energy.

Choose something high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Some examples of good pre-workout fuel include: a bagel with peanut butter; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. Avoid rich, very fatty, or high-fiber foods, as they may cause gastrointestinal distress. See also: Best and Worst Pre-run Foods

Post-run eating: After running, especially a long run, you want to replenish energy as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen (stored glucose) stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. If you eat soon after your runs, you can reduce muscle stiffness and soreness.

You'll want to consume primarily carbs, but don't ignore protein. A good rule of thumb for post-run food is a ratio of 1 gram of protein to 3 grams of carbs. Nutrition bars, such as Power bars or Luna bars, are convenient options. Other examples would be a bagel with peanut butter or a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt.

Long run nutrition: Long runs have their own special nutrition and hydration requirements, so make sure you're prepared heading into your long runs. For example, you'll need to make sure you drink sports drinks to replace sodium lost through sweat during runs longer than 90 minutes.

You'll also have to consume calories during your long runs and marathon since you'll be burning through your glycogen storage. A basic rule of thumb is that you should be taking in about 100 calories after about an hour of running and then another 100 calories every 40-45 minutes after that. You may need more depending on your size and speed, so make sure you plan to carry extra food or gels. If you're feeling hungry or low on energy, you can definitely eat "off-schedule".

More: Nutrition and Hydration for Long Distance Running

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