Fueling for Marathoners & Half Marathoners

Posted on Apr 29, 2021, by

Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand, and training for a marathon or half marathon is no different. Proper fueling can make or break your training program and race day success. Nutrition will impact how well you recover, how well you adapt and how well you perform in your workouts and on race day. Recovery is 24/7 during any program so please read on for helpful strategies so you can perform at your best!

A key aspect of sports nutrition is timing. What we eat and when, can have a significant impact on performance and recovery. This blog will explore key nutrition recommendations for your daily diet, as well as your nutritional needs before, during and after exercise.

Daily Nutrition

Quality in = quality out! The better quality the fuel, the better outcomes you will see. It’s the age-old car analogy…the better the fuel you put in, the better your machine will run! Be sure to include:

  • Colorful and nutrient dense fruits and veggies
  • Healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and veggies, starchy veggies like sweet potatoes and beans
  • A variety of proteins that can be found in many foods: meats, poultry, eggs, tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, yogurt and other dairy & some whole grains as well.
  • Healthy fats that help improve nutrient absorption and meet our calorie and nutrient needs. Examples include: avocado, healthy oils, nuts and seeds & more.

Pair quality carbohydrate and protein with your meals.

  • As your mileage increases, you may need to add more carbohydrates to your meals to balance the additional demands of training.
  • Including a quality protein with each meal will help promote muscle and tissue repair throughout the day.

Hydrate regularly throughout the day. Hydration can be easy to forget but we do not have a reservoir of fluid as back up, so it is important to bring fluids in regularly. Keep a water bottle on hand at all times.


Before, During and After Exercise Nutrition

Before Exercise – It is important to dial in what works best for you before your key training bouts or race days.

What to include:

  • Easy to digest carbohydrates. Find what works for you! Toast, banana, cereal, oatmeal etc.
  • Moderate protein
  • Water! Use your urine color as your guide. Aim for lightly straw colored.

What to limit:

  • High fiber, high protein and high fat.
  • NEW foods. Stick to what you know works for you

During Exercise – For exercise longer than 60 minutes, it can be helpful to include a source of carbohydrates. The goal for endurance exercise is 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour, sticking to sources that are easy to digest.

For ultra-endurance events, you can aim for up to 90g of carbohydrate per hour if it is coming from multiple sources. Most sports nutrition products are geared around meeting these recommendations.

Carbohydrate options can include: sports drinks, gels, bloks, beans & more. It’s important to test out what works best for you BEFORE you get to race day. If you are consuming a gel or bloks or other carbohydrate fuel, make sure to also include fluids at the same time to aid in digestion.

After Exercise – Timing is of the essence post workout, especially taxing workouts. The sooner you are able to bring in a quality snack or meal, the faster you can jump start your recovery process in preparation for the next training bout or race.

Aim to include a quality source of protein (~20-25g) paired with a source of carbohydrate (1.0-1.5g/kg). Easy to digest carbohydrates will break down more readily and absorb faster in the post workout window.

Worth the Effort

Though it may seem like a lot of information, the more you can dial in your sports nutrition plan, the less you have to worry on race day and you can approach the race with confidence in knowing you have fueled your body well. It is important to start testing out what works best for you early in the training process so there are no surprises come race day. As Vince Lombardi once said, “perfect practice makes perfect.”

I wish you all the best on your marathon and half marathon training endeavors. If you have individual questions on your sports nutrition plan, be sure to visit the YMCA of the Fox Cities and check out our nutrition services. Our dietitians can tailor a sports nutrition plan to YOU to help you run your very best Fox Cities Marathon!

Kate Harrell, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian and fitness specialist with the Neenah-Menasha YMCA. Kate also teaches in the Kinesiology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Contact Kate at [email protected].

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