Running a Marathon? Your Fueling Questions Answered

May 1, 2013 | Heather Mangieri

Must See Nutrition Videos

Marathon season is in full swing, and many of my clients have come to me with nutrition questions for their big race. If you’re running a marathon soon, you should already be practicing your fueling plan during long runs, but you may still have one of these common marathon nutrition questions.

Q: Should I carbohydrate load?

A: The goal with carbohydrate loading (also referred to as muscle glycogen supersaturation) is to increase glycogen stores to fuel your run (learn more about glycogen). Proper carbohydrate loading requires more than a big pasta dinner the night before a race. To maximize the amount of glycogen your muscles can store, you will need to increase carbohydrates while decreasing training volume in the days leading up to the event.

Q: What should I eat the week leading up to the event?

A: This is no time to be trying new foods! Your diet should remain fairly consistent during race week. Stick with the same well-tolerated carbohydrates that you have been eating while training. Each meal should be balanced with healthy carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy), lean protein and healthy fats.

Q: What should I eat the night before?

A: The night before the marathon should look similar to the night before your long training run (you were practicing fueling for your long runs, right?) Think "healthy, balanced meal." The most important thing is that you don't consume anything that might upset your gastrointestinal tract or cause you to wake up feeling yucky. Be sure to have a healthy carbohydrate source, moderate protein and low fat. A few of my favorite suggestions are chicken stir-fry over rice, chicken fajitas or pasta (but skip the garlic bread.) If you eat dinner early in the evening, you may want to add a bowl of cereal before bed. (Learn more about pre-activity nutrition.)

Q: What should I eat the morning of the marathon?

A: Be sure to eat breakfast. Although there’s no “right” meal to eat, you should definitely stick with carbs you can digest quickly and food that you’re sure you can tolerate before running. Avoiding high-fiber and high-fat foods is also a good idea (although many runners do great with oatmeal before long runs.) Some good pre-race breakfast options include English muffin with peanut butter and jelly, cereal with milk, fruit, rice cakes with peanut butter and energy bars.

QWhat's the best fuel during the marathon?

A: There is no "best" food for marathons. You just want to maintain steady fuel intake by consuming easy-to-digest carbohydrates such as sports drinks, fruits, dried fruits (pineapples, raisins and dates are good choices) and even candy like gummy bears or licorice. Sports gels, sports beans, chews and bloks also work.

The only way to figure out your own marathon nutrition plan is by experimenting on long training runs. By practicing your fueling plan, you’ll be able to focus on having fun during the race instead of worrying about hitting the wall or experiencing GI discomfort.

If you're just starting your training, check out this 20-week foolproof marathon training plan.

Photo: cantstopendurance.com

Heather Mangieri
- Heather Mangieri is an award-winning expert in food and nutrition and a board certified specialist in sports dietetics. She owns Nutrition CheckUp, a nutrition...
Heather Mangieri
- Heather Mangieri is an award-winning expert in food and nutrition and a board certified specialist in sports dietetics. She owns Nutrition CheckUp, a nutrition...
Must See
Skylar Diggins Attacks the Off-Season On and Off the Court Skylar Diggins Attacks the Off-Season On and Off the Court
Views: 8,050,725
Dwyane Wade Leads by Example Dwyane Wade Leads by Example
Views: 7,969,646
Perfect Dwyane Wade's Signature Euro Step Perfect Dwyane Wade's Signature Euro Step
Views: 1,311,957

Featured Videos

Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Views: 1,015,900
A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce Views: 15,235
Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Views: 69,996
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall
Views: 3,362,659
Paul Rabil's Box Jumps Paul Rabil's Box Jumps
Views: 851,294
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,576,462
Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles
Views: 4,332,938
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,498,992

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

The Boston Cannons' Keep It Real Eating Plan

The Boston Cannons'

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

5 Nutritional Power Combos for Athletes

5 Nutritional Power Combos for Athletes

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

5 Non-Boring Ways To Eat Chicken

5 Non-Boring Ways To Eat Chicken

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

Living Near Fast Food Could Increase Your Odds of Obesity

Living Near Fast Food Could Increase Your Odds of Obesity

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

The 6 Worst Foods for Athletes

The 6 Worst Foods for Athletes

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

How to Eat Organic Without Breaking the Bank

How to Eat Organic Without Breaking the Bank

Spice Up Your Healthy Cooking With These Lively Combos

Spice Up Your Healthy Cooking With These Lively Combos

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

YardBarker