How to Properly Fuel for a Marathon

Is carbo-loading fact or fiction?

Breakfast of Champions

Although many runners experience nerves or already have a routine that doesn't include breakfast on race day, Miller stresses the importance of eating a light meal up to three hours before the gun goes off. Eating breakfast will make a big difference when you are in the later miles of the race and need to tap into those extra energy storages.

Here are some options Miller recommends for breakfast before the race:

  • Oatmeal with honey, nuts and/or raisins (Editor's note: Topping oatmeal with cinnamon and almonds is a personal favorite pre-run meal.)
  • Peanut butter on whole wheat bread and a smoothie or protein shake
  • Low-fat cottage cheese with fruit and granola

More: How to Avoid and Push Past "The Wall"

Last-Minute and On-Course Fuel

If your stomach feels up for it, eat 15 grams of easily digestible carbohydrates 30 to 60 minutes before the race. Miller cites options such as a small piece of fruit, energy gels or chews, or a sports drink.

And just what should you pack in your fuel belt? In addition to the oh-so-vital water, Miller recommends tried-and-true staples like energy gels, chews or jellybeans and, if the race doesn't provide them at aid stations, sports drinks—but stay away from the calorie-free versions. This is a time, you actually need the extra calories.

If you prefer real food to energy gels or chews, take along dried fruit, low-fat trail mix, or a honey and peanut butter sandwich.

The Importance of Hydration

While carbs should be a main part of a marathon runner's nutrition plan, hydration should be at the forefront of your mind as well. Miller says that even the slightest amount of dehydration can lead to fatigue and added stress on your body, which can increase your rate of heat-related illness. She encourages runners to drink fluids before, during and after exercise.

So what and when to drink? She recommends having two to three glasses of water up to two hours before the race. If you are in a humid climate or feel extra thirsty, she says it's OK to have one more glass of water before the race, but make sure you have time to use the restroom before the start.

More: 10 Fuel Tips for Destination Races

Aid Stations: To Stop or Not

During the race, Miller stresses the importance of listening to your body when approaching an aid station. While it's not necessary to stop at every aid station, she says you should listen to your body and how you're feeling. In the water versus sports drinks arena, "water is the best choice during the first part of the race. If you are feeling really depleted or are sweating profusely, reach for the sports drink." Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade help replace the electrolytes and carbohydrates that you are losing as you run.

Being nutritionally prepared when you toe the line could be the difference in a PR or a DNF. Miller says that while it's crucial to provide your body with the proper amount of energy resources while running, you must know what, and how much, works best for you.

More: Why Marathons are the Best Distance

Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest for more tips, recipes and ideas to fuel your ACTIVE life.

Active logoFind your next race.

PREV
  • 2
  • of
  • 2

About the Author

Erica Schuckies

Erica Schuckies is an online content editor for Active.com. After graduating from Colorado State University, she spent time working in the rodeo industry, followed by three years with Berkshire Hathaway's Business Wire. Erica enjoys fitness, running, hunting, fishing and being outdoors. Follow Erica on on Twitter, Instagram or Google+.
Erica Schuckies is an online content editor for Active.com. After graduating from Colorado State University, she spent time working in the rodeo industry, followed by three years with Berkshire Hathaway's Business Wire. Erica enjoys fitness, running, hunting, fishing and being outdoors. Follow Erica on on Twitter, Instagram or Google+.

Discuss This Article