9 Healthy Dietary Tips For Marathon Runners

Shivangi Karn

Being a marathon runner is not an easy task. A trainee has to undergo a long training session without losing their strength and endurance. The process is not at all easy as they should be well-nourished before, during and after the race. Therefore, the food taken by marathon runners is given high importance as it should be something which can keep them active and strong throughout the running period.

Many nutritionists believe that a marathon runner should fuel their body with foods which are nutrient-rich and acts as energy boosters for the runners. Such foods should have a low GI, low fat, moderate carb, more protein and should contain fluid. During the marathon, there's also a chance of muscle breakdown. In that case, the experts suggest foods which are rich in antioxidants.

In simple terms, a marathon runner has to take a lot of care on their diets and fitness. If you are a marathon runner or planning to be one, here are a few diet tips to begin your training.

1. Don’t starve yourself

Starving yourself before the run is never a good idea. It not only drains your energy during the run but also increases the risk of wear and tear after the event. Consider having a light nutritious snack, energised meal, fortified foods or some nutrient-enhanced drinks before the run to take off minimize your cravings and stay active throughout the run.

2. Avoid eating heavy meals

A marathon runner should completely drop the idea of having heavy meals. Instead, they should prefer small meals after every three-four hours which will not only prevent their hunger but also help to maintain a balanced glucose level. Remember to avoid eating foods with more calories and choose food with more nutrients.

3. Protein is a must

Protein plays an important role during the long race. It helps to repair damaged tissues and rebuild the muscles after the run. Consuming a protein diet gives us a feeling of fullness and helps to normalize our blood sugar. A marathon runner is suggested to consume a protein-rich snack every 20 minutes after the workout. Such foods include eggs, barley, milk and yoghurt.

4. Carbohydrates are equally important

A marathon runner often tends to break down during the race due to low carbohydrates in their body. Carbohydrates are stored in our muscles and break down into glucose during intense activities to provide us with energy. When the carbohydrates get low, the body uses fats and protein to provide energy (ketosis) and the process, often causes side effects like brain fog, nausea or weakness. Thus, it is suggested to consume carbohydrate-rich foods like potato, fruits or oatmeal a day before the run.

5. Seeds are special

Seeds or foods made with seeds comes with healthy-boosting compounds like phenols, ferulic acids and antioxidants. It includes beans, nuts like chestnuts and hazelnuts, and whole grains like millets, oats and barley. Such foods help maintain healthy body weight and provide instant energy to the runners.

6. Fruits and vegetables should not be missed out

Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals including carbohydrates. They also possess antioxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities which prevent any kind of muscle soreness and muscle tears during the long race. Fruits like strawberries, peaches, raspberries and plums, and vegetables like potatoes and kale are considered vital for marathon runners due to the rich amount of nutrients they contain.

7. Milk and milk products

Dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese are equally important for runners as foods. Milk is rich in calcium which is vital for our bones and consuming it helps to make our bones stronger. Also, dairy products contain a specific compound called whey protein which helps to strengthen our immune system, improve body cholesterol and lower blood protein, making us nutritional-ready for a marathon.

8. Stay hydrated

Marathon requires a lot of running and running means sweating. Marathon runners always face a risk of dehydration which is why they should focus more on keeping their body hydrated throughout the day. Keep a regular-sized water bottle always with you and according to the weather, sweating rate and distance you need to cover, drink it whenever you feel thirsty. Also, avoid drinking too much.

9. Seafood and meats

Vitamin B12 is very essential for the buildup of red blood cells, a less amount of which causes anaemia and makes people weak and tired. This vitamin is mostly found in animal products like fish, meats and eggs. A marathon runner should have enough vitamin B12 in their body for endurance and stamina to finish a long run successfully. Vegans can opt for legumes, soy, fortified cereals or foods rich in folic acid.

Foods To Eat

Not all types of food are good for a marathon runner. Therefore, they should be strict on the foods they consume. Foods which are suggested for marathon runners are broccoli, bananas, oats, peanut butter, dark chocolate, sweet potato, walnuts, yoghurt, potatoes and coffee.

Foods To Avoid

A marathon runner should avoid consuming high fats, high sugar and high sodium foods. Such foods include packaged snacks (cookies and crackers), soft drinks, foods high in butter or transfat, creams, alcohol and frozen meals.

Suggested Meal Plan For Marathon Runners

  • One week before: Complex carbohydrates like pasta, whole-grain bread, fruits and vegetables.
  • Night before the run: Steamed vegetables, salad or grilled chicken/fish.
  • Before the run: Oatmeal with low-fat milk/yoghurt or porridge with fruits.
  • During the run: Water and foods with high GI like bananas or dried foods.
  • After the run: Any sports drink, chocolate milk or any fruit smoothie.

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