- Keep it simple and practical. Training for a marathon takes a lot of mental energy, leaving you less capacity to experiment with radical changes to your diet. Therefore, stick to the fundamental approaches you use in your diet now, but look for opportunities for simple substitutes, snack reduction or portion control.
- Pack your lunch and all snacks. If you provide only for a constrained but reasonable amount of calories over the finite period of time that you are at work, if you work, you can avoid the need to fill up on unpredictable junk calories from fast-food restaurants or the vending machines.
- Empty your pantry and refrigerator of temptations. If you can't resist the nightly beer, tallying up to over 900 calories per week, then don't keep it around. If you have family members who like their snacks, consider making your quest a family effort to the extent possible. You can find comfort in means other than food.
- Fill up on fruits and vegetables. While some criticize the sugars in fruit, the reality is that they provide quick energy sources. Vegetables have a low calorie density, meaning they can make you feel full without using up all of your calorie allocation. And, as a runner, you can benefit from small amounts of additional salt, so this can help add some flavor.
- Look for opportunities to substitute lean protein options. A quick way to reduce calories without reducing consumption is to look for chicken- or turkey-based alternatives to fattier meats, or to even substitute in soy options. This can be done for such items as meatballs, sausages, bacon and other foods that are dense in fat calories.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains wherever possible. This is one way to make your carbs multi-task, as whole grains provide more protein and nutrients. Use whole-grain pasta instead of plain pasta, brown instead of white rice, and, if you do like to experiment, discover the joys of grain alternatives such as quinoa, bulgur and barley.
- Don't fall for low-fat options. Low-fat doesn't necessarily mean low calories, since fat is often replaced by sugars, which are also empty in other nutritional value. Look at the calories per serving before deciding whether the low-fat option is right for you.
- Think "eat to run," not "run to eat." You've probably heard this one before, but it bears repeating. If you need to reward yourself with food every time you run, maybe you aren't running for the right reasons. Your bigger intake times should be the night before a long run, not the night after. Again, you will feel hungry and need to replenish, but make sure you are listening to your stomach, not your mind, on this one.
- Don't panic over small misses. Allow yourself to slip once in a while, recognizing that you have a long time period in front of you. Obviously, if you don't make progress by mid-way through your program, then you need to revisit your approach, but this is why it's helpful to track weekly intake instead of daily intake, as the latter can fluctuate based strictly on circumstances out of your control (the birthday or holiday party, the night out with the gang, etc.).
- You will gain some weight in the final stages of the taper. As you cut the mileage and, for the last 48 hours or so, start to carbo-load, you may gain back a few pounds. This is normal, and a good portion of that is water—glycogen holds water in your muscles. In fact, it's more than normal—it's good, as this is fuel and fluid you will need come race day, and it will all be gone by 20 miles.
Recommendations on your diet can quickly become confusing and contradictory. But this basic advice will help keep you stress-free as you work towards your ideal race weight. Just don't fall into the trap of assuming you can eat anything you want because you are running a lot. It becomes very easy to take in more than you burn off.
This article first appeared on Predawn Runner.marathon race.