Marathon Nutrition Tips

November 15, 2023
people running in a race down a city street

At this very moment, someone, somewhere is training for a marathon.

The marathon is often the gateway to a lifetime love of endurance events for many people. I have found that the folks who continue down this path are the ones who get their nutrition figured out, otherwise it feels like too painful to continue the pursuit. I’m all about feeling good throughout our athletic endeavors, these tips can be beneficial for the long-haul. 

There are many tips that I could give, but I’ll focus on a few more general ones that should form the basis of your nutrition strategy.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As a former competitive gymnast, it was instilled in me that practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. So, while I have loosened the reins on the drill sergeant style, I do still believe that you must, must, must practice what you plan on doing for race day.  You should not expect to have a successful race day nutrition execution if you have never practiced consuming your targeted race day intake (calories and fluid) while running……at a race pace intensity.

Practicing nutrition gets easier (and feels better) when you come to think of it as part of your training plan. For example, I have ______ workout planned today so the nutrition plan should be _______ [fill in the blanks].

Your final long runs leading up to the race should be a dress rehearsal.  Practice your planned pre-race dinner, race day breakfast, and race day nutrition plan. 

This strategy can help alleviate some pre-race stress because you can be more confident in this part of your plan and reduce the question marks for race day. There will always be more variables to deal with so nail down your nutrition well before the start line.

Pre-Race Hydration

In the days leading up to your race you know that focusing on being well hydrated is a key preparation strategy. When you have more fluid in your body at the starting line, it will take more time to reach a level of dehydration that impacts your performance.

What exactly does that mean?

The purpose of pre-race hydration fluid is to increase blood plasma volume by drawing more water into your blood. The best way to do this is to drink a fluid with a high concentration of sodium in the evening prior to your event. The solution should be an amount that you would have drank anyway (not adding extra) and only needs to be about 16oz. Keeping tip #1 in mind, this should be practiced as well and is very effective prior to your long runs. 

Note of Caution

Loading up on lots of plain water leading into a race can dilute your sodium levels making you more susceptible to dehydration and hyponatremia. Extreme changes in your regular habits don’t usually work out well for race day.

Timing of Race Morning

You never want to start a race hungry. Every race has different logistics making the timing of race day morning quite variable. Figure out what that is going to look like for you and make an eating plan accordingly.  How much time from wake up to start village? How much time from the starting village arrival to the race start? These are the things you should map out to figure out when, how much, and how many times you might have to eat on race day morning. It’s always good to have a liquid breakfast option and to plan for a few extra calories, just in case.   

Training and racing are always a learning experience with so many variables at play, and I hate to see someone not able to perform to their ability because nutrition was overlooked. It’s one variable that can be your advantage when given the proper attention throughout your training.