Nutrition for Marathon Running

For most, completing a marathon, at 42km’s in length, will be a considerable challenge in terms of effort, commitment to training and preparation.

Increasing your carbohydrates as a percentage of your daily nutritional intake is recommended for running events lasting longer than three hours and should be carried out for the three days leading up to the event. The goal is to top off your carbohydrate stores for race day, meaning that muscle and liver glycogen levels are as close to full capacity as possible. Taking additional protein supplementation during the week leading up to the marathon will ensure that your muscles are in as the best possible, as protein will help your muscles to repair. A quality protein supplement should also contain zinc and magnesium will lead to better sleep quality, something that is vital to performance during an endurance event such as a marathon.

Science in Sport have produced SIS Go + Nitrate – the world’s first sports gels containing naturally occurring nitrates. These are designed to be taken in the lead up to a race or event and increase the concentration of nitric oxide in the body, helping to deliver oxygen and nutrients more efficiently. Guidelines suggest taking SiS GO + Nitrate gels from six days before your race, with the last gel up to one hour before the start to enhance your body’s natural nitric oxide production.

Starting your run fully hydrated is also key to performance. Making sure that you drink lots of fluid in the days leading up to the event and sipping on Electrolyte drinks before the start will mean that you will start in the best hydration state possible.

You should plan to eat your last large meal around twelve hours before the start of the run, as this will allow your body enough time to fully digest the food. You should try to stick to a simple balanced, high carbohydrate content meal such as plain pasta or rice with lean protein.

Breakfast on the morning of the event should be eaten two to three hours before the start. Again this ensures the body has enough time to empty the stomach and process the food for use. Eating upwards of 100g of carbohydrates in the morning can be difficult due to the amount of pasta, oats or rice you need to consume. Often people prefer to eat a more normal portion and then take the extra carbohydrate in the form of a drink or energy gel.

Often you can wait on the start line during a big event for quite a long period of time. A significant amount of energy can be wasted during this time from just standing around getting nervous, so it can be a good idea to take a small Energy bar or a gel with you.

During the run we recommend taking between 60-80g of carbohydrate per hour. However, carrying a bottle can be quite cumbersome, and for that reason gels are a great product to run with. Four or more gels will keep your energy levels topped up and you should plan to take one every 30 minutes. You could take a Caffeine gel towards the end of the race, giving you an extra mental and physical boost.

As with any endurance event you should practice your fuelling strategy during training to find out what does and doesn’t work for you, as different people can tolerate different amounts of products and foods. Normally during marathon training you will run up to 30km. This distance will give you a reasonably good idea as to what the nutritional demands of the full marathon will be. This “long” training run will also give you an opportunity to figure out the logistics of carrying gels and bars.

A well thought out and practiced fuelling strategy can make all the difference come race day. The professionals have very specific plans at feed stations during a marathon. For example, in the 2009 Tokyo Marathon, at the 35km feed station, Salim Kapsang dropped his bottle and turned back from the lead group to pick it up. After having his caffeine gel he went on to win the race.

Most importantly don’t forget to recover after training and racing. The first 30 minutes after the event are the most important for recovery. Just one 50g serving of a quality protein drink will give your body 13g of protein and 30g of easily absorbed carbohydrates to help your muscles recover and give your body some fuel for the impending post marathon socialising. Not only that, but it contains a balanced blend of electrolytes, vitamins, minerals and glutamine to rehydrate you after the run and boost your immune system.