When prepping for a marathon, your physical training is obviously important—racking up the miles, crushing interval workouts, and practicing spending hours on your feet—but you also need to practice your nutrition, a crucial part of getting you through 26.2 miles. What to eat before a marathon is always tricky to figure out so even if this isn’t your first big race, these tips can help power your miles so you show up at the starting line feeling confident.
1. Nothing New on Race Day
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: Don’t try anything on race day that you haven’t practiced during training. It’s not always easy, but test different midrace fuel options, amounts, and timing on your long runs and take note of what works for race day. Once you find nutrition that works for you, bring it to the starting line. Research the race: If it carries your brand and flavor at its fuel stops, great! If not, BYOG (bring your own gel).
2. Midrun Fuel is a Must
Maybe you got by on a few long runs without refueling (tsk! tsk!), but over the course of 26.2 miles, your body will not be able to propel you forward without fueling every 30 to 45 minutes after the first hour. It’s better to have a little extra nutrition stowed away than to not enough and hit the dreaded wall hard. As noted above, start experimenting with different fuel sources—everything from gels and gummies to whole foods like candy—during your training, so you know what will work for your stomach on race day.
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3. It’s All About Timing
For runs longer than 60 minutes (your long runs and your race), start with 30 grams of carbs every 30 to 45 minutes. Your stomach can absorb up to 60 grams of carbs per hour when diluted with water so be sure to also hydrate properly along the way.
4. Listen to Your Body
While you’re practicing your fueling strategy during long runs, pay attention to how you feel toward the end and once you finish. If you finish feeling good, you likely have a great nutrition plan in place. If you’re totally wiped out, try adding 15 grams of carbs per hour. If you finish feeling energized but with GI distress, you probably ate too much, didn’t drink enough water, or need to experiment with other fuel sources.
5. Read the Labels
Gels: In order to dilute the high sugar content, chase these with a few sips of water. Try taking gels when you’re approaching a water stop. It may also be helpful to consume a gel slowly, over the course of a few minutes.
Chews: Like gels, chase these with water. Split packs of six chews into two fueling stops to avoid consuming too much sugar.
Sports Drinks: Drinks and mixes often provide about 15 grams of carbs per eight ounces, but choosing a brand that has less sugar—six to 12 grams per 16 ounces—can keep your stomach settled. Try alternating water and sports drink at each fluid stop, drinking to meet your thirst.
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6. Top Off the Tank
Midrun fueling will help maintain your energy levels over the course of 26.2 miles, but your prerun meals are also crucial. For the two to three meals before your race, choose high-carb, moderate-protein, and low-fat and fiber options. Try: pasta primavera with chicken for a prerun dinner, and a bagel topped with scoop of peanut butter and a banana for a prerun breakfast.
7. Fueling Doesn’t Stop at the Finish Line
Within 30 minutes to an hour postrun, refuel with 15 to 30 grams of protein to prevent further muscle breakdown and kick start the recovery process. It’s also important to replenish your glycogen stores and the harder the workout, the more you’ll need. When in doubt, aim for 60 to 120 grams of carbohydrate in addition to your protein postworkout. Trust us, your body will thank you the next day if you refuel properly past the finish line.