Nutrition for runners is highly important especially when it comes down to race day. What you put into your body will directly affect your performance. If you have put in the required training, then it can come down to your mental strength and your nutrition in whether you make or break your marathon race. Don’t let your nutrition get in the way! You need to nail it in that final week before your marathon and I am going to share how to do that with this week-before guideline.
One of the big mistakes that runners tend to make is to start a new “diet” or even just try new foods right before a race. This is not recommended being that your body won’t be used to utilizing the new “diet” that you have just started, to meet your needs. Even if you are trying to eat “healthier”.
For example, if you think the week before a marathon is a good time to up your fruits and veggie intake, think again! Fruits and vegetables have a lot of fiber that can make you feel bloated, gassy and uncomfortable. If you are not used to eating a lot of fruit and vegetables then don’t start now. If you are then great! Continue to do so. The key is to stick to what you have been eating and drinking while training and hopefully it will have been a good balance of what you should be eating as a runner. It’s your best bet.
You have hopefully set yourself up though for good nutrition for runners along the way. So the main goal of this week is to focus on eating a high carbohydrate diet (carbohydrates are easily digested and therefore is not a huge “diet” shift especially since you have probably been on a high carbohydrate diet throughout your training. You will still probably want to up your consumption of carbohydrates during this week. By the way, if you are wondering what you should have been eating during training, during taper week, while carbo-loading, why you should eat a certain way, and everything on how to nutritionally prep for your marathon then I highly recommend our 9 Step Marathon Nutrition Prep Plan + our 2 Step Plan to implement the week before you marathon which is all included in EAT LIKE A MARATHONER.
Let me quickly give you some tips on how to crush this week!
Come up with a menu plan. Whether it’s down to the snacks you eat and is very specific or whether it’s just an idea list of foods, do it! It will save you time, energy, and set you up for a successful week.
Do a quick shopping trip once you know what you want to be eating during this week. Only buy food that you will be eating this week. Don’t tempt yourself by picking up things that are going to be screaming at you to eat them all week but don’t serve your running and carbo-loading.
Prep your foods as much as possible. Maybe you can prep your oatmeal for the week, or make a snack bin of only the foods you are allowed to snack on during this week. While you might not want to include the foods and recipes on this specific page, maybe you can get some ideas on this page of what a sample summer meal prep routine looks like for me that complements nutrition for runners.
Let’s get into specifics now on what the nutrition for runners should look like and how to eat the week before your race breaking it down into the week before, 3 days before, the day before, race day, and then after the race!
Here is a Before, During, and After Marathon Race-Day Guideline on Nutrition for Runners
Keep eating a balanced diet. Don’t try any new diets or foods. Focus on eating those foods that make you feel good, that aren’t very high in fiber and try to avoid diary such as cheese as these can be hard on your digestive system.
Make sure your pantry and fridge are stocked with healthy carbohydrate loading foods. Come up with a simple menu, buy some snacks, wash your veggies and fruits. Think of ways that you can prepare for a successful week of eating before your marathon.
Be very aware of how much you are drinking. It can be detrimental going into a marathon even semi-dehydrated. Come up with a solid game plan of how you will get your water in throughout your day and then implement with no exceptions.
3 Days Before:
Stay away from fatty, fried, dairy products like milk and cheese. These will have a negative affect on your running and digestion.
Try to avoid eating large amounts of protein. You still your recommended daily amount just don’t go over that amount. Your body needs to be focusing on storing your carbohydrates.
Keep up your carbo-loading plan if you are following a 5 day plan. However you could begin a 3 day carbo-loading plan at this point.
Drinking fluids, most importantly water, is crucial in nutrition for runners! It is also good to be drinkingsomething that contains electrolytes such as your energy drink – the necessary ions that our bodies will lose during running through sweat loss and large intakes of water.
Keep your focus on eating high-carbohydrate meals and snacks.
Upon awakening make sure to drink water. You probably have not had any water all night and can therefore be dehydrated. This is a key step!
Eat very light foods, those which you know won’t bother your stomach. It can be hard but do try to eat something before the race especially if it’s in the early morning so that you aren't running on empty. Some races provide snacks at their aid stations such as bananas or energy bars but don't count on it especially if you aren't used to these foods while running. A great pre-race snack is your energy drink of choice! The liquid energy will provide you with fast glucose absorption.
If you are eating solid foods then try to avoid high fat foods and proteins as these digest slowly in your stomach.Stick solely to carbohydrates leading into your race. Usually marathons are scheduled in the early morning but this can be tricky if you have a night marathon. If your marathon is at night then it is best to consume your official pre-race meal at least 3-4 hours before the start time. Here are 6 marathon morning breakfasts that you can make/prep in advance!
Keep drinking fluids! If you are running a long distance such as the half marathon or full marathon it is important to drink water and an energy drink such as Gatorade that most races offer. This is to ward off a serious condition called hyponatremia which is explained on ourenergy drinks page.
Nutrition for Runners AFTER their Race
Eat something high in carbs as soon as possible at the finish line or at least within 30 minutes of finishing the race. (I always have a bag of gummy bears waiting for me after a marathon race – only because I love them and they are added motivation to get to the finish line!) The quickest foods to instantly boost your carbohydrate stores is to eat foods in the moderate to high glycemic index range. While you generally want to avoid these foods as they spike your blood sugar levels, your body will need them at the end of a marathon as your blood sugar will be very low at that point and they will help to really jumpstart the recovery process.
Examples of foods in the moderate to high glycemic index range are: fruit juices, white rice, breads, bagels, cereal, and potatoes.
Wait to eat protein until your body has had time to at least cool down and begin to relax. Protein will help to begin the muscle repair process so don't forget all about it. Take the yogurt or milk offered at the finish line. Liquid protein (such as a protein shake) can help your body recover it’s glycogen stores at an even faster race then consuming carbohydrates alone.
Keep taking in carbohydrates throughout the rest of the day. Do this by eating a high carbohydrate meal or if this affects your stomach then spread out your eating into lighter high carbohydrate snacks at regular intervals (every 2 hours) for the remainder of the day/
Keep drinking fluids! You can even continue to drink your energy drink as it has a lot of carbohydrates that will be absorbed rapidly to replace your depleted glycogen stores.
Want to create your own personalized marathon nutrition prep plan? This is your ultimate guide as a marathoner!
The Ultimate Guide to eating and fueling for marathon training and racing success! + get access and develop your own personalized marathon nutrition plan to implement before your marathon with our 9 STEP Prep Plan!
*Disclaimer: While the information on this site is taken mostly from research journals and scientifically based texts it is not meant to replace a doctor or medical professional.