It can be confusing to know what you should be eating in your marathon training diet when there is just so much advice and contradictory diets and research and evidence. However it all comes down to what your goals are. For example, if you are wanting to lose weight, your diet will be different than if you are trying to reach your peak performance in the marathon. No one diet will be perfect for everyone. Also, no one diet will be perfect for you at all phases of your life. As you goals, health, and exercise patterns change so should your diet. This is important to keep in mind!
So I want to talk to you about what your marathon training diet should look like if you are in training for a half or full marathon coming up! There is so much to talk about concerning your diet when running which is why I put everything together in the Eat Like a Runner Nutrition Course which is a fast paced course but one that will leave you very knowledgeable on the topic of eating while training for a marathon.
I want to give you the framework though right here and now though!
1. Include lots of complex carbohydrates. We talk about why we must eat carbohydrates in the Eat like a Runner Course however it basically comes down to the fact that carbohydrates are what we can metabolize the fastest. When we are running we are performing high intensity exercise and so therefore need a very steady stream of energy delivered to our muscles in order to be able to continue running for long periods of time. Carbohydrates are the key to getting that energy fast! If there is one staple of a marathon training diet it would be this! Carbs are not bad for you! You just need to choose the right kinds!
2. Eat fruits and vegetables at every meal. It is a fact that we are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. We should be eating about 5-9 servings every day! This can be difficult for a lot of people but we need to make the effort. One of the simplest ways to make sure we are eating enough fruits and veggies is to eat one of each at every meal. So when you sit down for breakfast, lunch or dinner, include some sort of fruit and vegetable on your plate. If you eat 3 meals a day you will then get 6 servings of fruits and vegetables. Score.
3. Lots and lots of water. As runners we lose a lot of water when we are out running, sweating, and burning through energy. Dehydration is no joke. We need to make sure we are always hydrating. Figure out a way to keep yourself motivated to drink whether it's buying yourself a 32 oz water jug that you refill twice a day or putting lemon wedges or strawberry slices in your water to make it more appealing.
4. A great energy drink that is at least comprised of 4-8% carbohydrates. When you are training for a marathon and performing longer and longer runs you will need to bring some sort of carbohydrate drink or snack with you on runs over and hour in length. The best form is through an energy drink that contains carbs and electrolytes. Not all energy drinks though are created equal and there are some poor choices out there on the market. Here is a rundown of some of the best out there (including the one Meb Keflezighi uses and swears by) and some to just say no to.
5. Includes protein as a recovery nutrient and not a base. There is a huge hype over eating tons and tons of protein. Sure it's incredibly beneficial and a key macronutrient however there is a limit to how much we need since we can eat too much! (The Eat Like a Runner Nutrition Course actually personalizes your macronutrient needs towards your body and how often you are running through a series of calculators so that you know exactly how much you need!) As a long distance runner though you actually do not use protein (almost at all!) as energy for your running. It does help in any muscle repairs that you might need after a long run but as far as being capable of running the marathon it's use is almost negligible. Therefore think of it in terms of recovery food but not vital for eating before your long runs.
6. Eat healthy fats! Fats is an essential macronutrient that you need to intake every day as part of your marathon training diet. Healthy fats boost brain power and also help you to perform many bodily functions. It also will be the macronutrient that you will use for your energy during your marathon if you do run out of carbohydrates. However you need to eat the good fats! That is fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oils!
7. Include healthy doses of Vitamin C every day but especially long run days! Your immune system can take a bit of a hit after each long training run that you do. You might find yourself worn down, achy, runny nose or sore throat after a long run especially if this is your first marathon training cycle. Try to help it out by taking Vitamin C before and after each long run. If you are getting in your fruits and vegetables each day (especially citrus fruits and potatoes that contain lots of carbs and vitamin C) you might be fine. Otherwise take a supplement of some sort that contains the vitamin. (This is the Vitamin C that I use - it is the most unprocessed, highly soluble and has been found to increase absorption rate and maximize benefits. I find that when I feel a cold or sore throat coming a 1/4 tsp will nip it in the bud!)
So there you have it. The framework that your marathon training diet should consist of. If you find yourself lacking in certain areas figure out a way right now to make it a bit easier to eat better! Just one simple step versus many bigger steps will be incredibly effective in getting on the right track.