Proper training and enough time to prepare are essential for a successful marathon. An important part of your training plan should be your diet. It’s not just what you eat before and after your run that matters. During this time, too, suitable snacks and drinks can help you speed up and improve your performance. In the best case scenario, you should already sit down more intensively on the subject of nutrition in the weeks leading up to the marathon.
Macronutrients for runners: the basics
- Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient, especially for endurance athletes. This should make up around 60 to 65% of your energy intake. They are considered fuel for your muscles and are stored in the body in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles. Regular consumption will help you maintain your performance and to achieve the performance you want in a marathon.(1) Depending on the intensity of the exercise, approx. 6 to 10 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per day are sufficient to maintain glycogen stores. Personal needs are of course individual. Well-filled glycogen stores also ensure that the body recovers better after a run.(2) Prefer complex carbohydrates like whole grains, quinoa, (sweet) potatoes, legumes and vegetables.
- Protein is also particularly important for effective muscle building. You should consume 1 to 1.5 g / kg body weight daily, depending on how hard you train. Strength athletes definitely need a little more of the macronutrient than endurance athletes. Protein is contained in animal (meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products) and also in plant-based foods (soy and soy products, legumes, nuts, seitan, grain products). The fact is that you have your protein needs too through a vegan diet can cover. A varied diet with lots of fresh foods is a particular focus here.
- One adapted fat intake has become an indispensable part of the diet for runners. One gram of the macronutrient contains 9 kcal, which is more than twice as much as protein and carbohydrates. Nonetheless, fat is an important source of energy. It protects the organs, serves as thermal insulation and is required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). So how much fat do you need? It should make up around 30 to 35% of your daily energy intake. Nuts, vegetable oils, avocados, salmon, flax and chia seeds provide you with valuable energy for marathon training.
Preparation is everything
It is not only the training that is important in the last few weeks of preparation for the marathon. Proper marathon diet will help you run faster. Inquire about the run in advance: How many refreshment stations will there be on the route and what food and drinks will be offered? Especially on the day of the competition, it is important not to do experiments, but to eat and drink what is good for you. You can find out in the weeks leading up to the marathon.
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A dieter specializing in sports nutrition can answer all of your questions and support you on the way to your personal marathon nutrition.
The last days before the marathon
If the competition lasts more than 90 minutes, it can make sense to increase the carbohydrate intake in the days before the marathon. The goal of the so-called “Carbo-loading” is to fill your glycogen stores.
However, this does not mean that you should practically overeat on carbohydrates. Increase your carbohydrate intake the week before the marathon to increase muscle glycogen levels. Are you struggling with gastrointestinal complaints? Dietary fiber is important for athletes. But shortly before and on competition days, the fiber intake should be reduced to a minimum.
Make sure to start the competition with well-filled fluid reservoirs. That is why you should drink enough in the 24 hours before.
Marathon nutrition on race day
Breakfast (three to four hours before the run):
An easily digested, high carbohydrate one Breakfast gives you energy before the run. Avoid foods that are high in fat and fiber. These can be heavy in your stomach. A cup of black coffee perks up tired eyes.
Your breakfast could look like this:
- porridge with berries
- Bircher muesli (soaked the evening before in reduced-fat cow’s milk, soy or oat milk) with banana
- Cornflakes with milk
- Toasted bread with jam, with a small natural or soy yoghurt
Also, make sure to drink enough before the marathon.
Snack (about an hour before):
If you want and are used to it, you can have a bite to eat shortly before your run.
The following are suitable as a snack, for example:
- Dry biscuits
- granola bar
In addition, keep sipping your water bottle.
During the run:
Two things are particularly important during the run: carbohydrates and fluids. The amount is crucial here.
Carbohydrate amounts of 30 to 60 g per hour are recommended for long endurance exercise.(3) For competitions over 2.5 hours even 90 g of carbohydrates per hour are useful.
The following foods are high in carbohydrates:
- Banana (approx. 30 g)
- Energygel (approx. 25 g)
- Energy bar (20 to 40 g)
During long periods of exertion, runners lose a lot of fluids and therefore also electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) through profuse sweating. It is necessary to compensate for these losses. You only know how much fluid you actually lose by weighing yourself before and after your marathon training. This will give you a sense of how much you should actually drink on the day of the competition.
You should drink 600 to 1200 ml of fluid per hour of exercise.(4th) The drink should contain carbohydrates and sodium. Isotones Drinks are great during the run. But what does isotonic mean? An isotonic solution has the same osmotic pressure as the comparison solution, in this case blood, for example. This means that the liquid is absorbed into the blood particularly quickly and is thus available to the body as energy. Isotonic drinks thus compensate for fluid and electrolyte losses and provide quickly available carbohydrates. You can easily prepare your own sports drink for running a marathon yourself!
Immediately after the marathon
There are recommendations for an intake of approx. 1 to 1.2 g carbohydrates / kg body weight / hour in the first few hours after exercise in order to replenish glycogen stores. However, this is only important if you have another competition ahead of you in 8 to 10 hours. That probably won’t be the case, will it? Don’t worry too much after your run. Rather enjoy your success, you made it and can be proud of yourself!
Your marathon diet should be well planned. Whether before or during your run: The right food and drink selection is important so that you can get faster and give your best.