Running a marathon is an incredible achievement for which you must train for months. Most of that training is about the running itself, but a lot hinges on your pre-race diet, as well.
The wrong food could cause you great gastrointestinal distress, even forcing multiple pit stops. Eating too much or too little can also lead to fatigue and make it hard to cross the finish line.
To avoid food-related issues, the number one rule to observe for your marathon is “nothing new on race day.”
That means that you should incorporate carb-loading and meal choice experiments right into your training regime. It is important know exactly what meal works best for you before hitting the starting line on your big day.
Best Food for Race Day
Your morning meal provides fuel not just your body, but also your brain, which helps to sustain motivation and concentration during the long race. After weeks of training, you know that endurance is just as much mental as physical.
Carbohydrates are the best source of easily used fuel to sustain your body and mind throughout those 26.2 miles.
Traditionally, pasta is a favorite carbohydrate choice among marathon runners. Other smart options for ready fuel include bread, potatoes, oatmeal, cereal, quinoa, rice, bagels, and sweet potatoes.
When it comes to fruit, you’ll find that many of them are high in carbs, but also fiber. Too much of that will have you running for the bathroom, not the finish line, so stick with lower fiber choices like bananas. You can also peel fruit like apples, peaches, and pears to reduce the fiber.
Be sure to finish your breakfast at least 90 minutes before the marathon starts to give your body adequate time for digestion. Don’t overeat, don’t experiment, and don’t forget the water. If it is going to be a hot day, a sports drink like G2, Nuun, or Propel can help bolster your stores of the electrolytes sodium and potassium – but again, drink these only if you have done so during your training.
Best Food for the Day Before
Your body also needs some protein on race day, but it is actually better to eat this for dinner the night before. Eating 3-4 ounces of fish, meat, or high protein fruits and veggies is ideal.
Things to avoid the night before are any high-fiber or gas-forming foods, like beans and cruciferous vegetables. These can upset your digestive system and interfere with sleep. In general, about 65-70% of your day-before calories should come from carbohydrates.
Pasta, rice, or bread makes a great base for lean proteins such as a turkey or salmon burger, sushi rolls, or homemade stir fry (just skip any cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, which cause bloating). You can even eat pizza, as long as you go a bit light on the cheese and avoid greasy meats.
When to Eat
Proper marathon nutrition is something that should be a part of your training, with special attention paid to the days before the race. On the day before, try to spread your calories out more or less evenly throughout the day for steady energy.
Three normal-sized meals and 2-4 snacks are ideal. Eat dinner somewhere between 4 and 6 p.m. so that your body has plenty of time to digest it, but if you eat on the earlier side, a small snack before bed is also okay.
As mentioned earlier, try to finish your race day breakfast about an hour and a half before the starting gun. This can help to avoid cramping due to a full belly.
If You’re Traveling
Many times you will need to travel for your marathon, so it’s important to do a little research and make sure your favorite pre-running meals are available in the host city.
If you have found that what you eat makes a big difference in your performance, it may even be wise to pack your favorite foods at home and bring them along.
All of your training, discipline, and hard work come down to this, the big day. Best of luck on your marathon! Whether it is your first or your fifteenth, simply participating in a race like this is a big deal. If you have planned your meals as carefully as you timed your miles, we know you will be a smashing success.