Marathon Diet Guide: What to eat whilst marathon training Part 1

VOOM’s Marathon Diet guide discusses what to eat whilst training. Fuel well, recover quickly & maximise your training plan.

By Beau Smith


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We know it’s important to get the best diet during marathon training, so we're going to show you some of the best food combinations to give you the necessary energy, recovery and repair as we look at what to eat for marathon running. No single plan fits all, but we’ve come up with the VOOM Marathon Diet Guide to give you tips on how to fuel your marathon or distance running training. When it comes to marathon training how much to eat is important but it’s salient to remember calorie requirements can vary substantially between individuals.


We hope this training guide will help you enjoy your journey, and feel great during your marathon preparations, thanks to the meals you eat. We split the topic of marathon fueling into two elements with this article is part 1 focusing on diet for marathon training. Marathon race day nutrition, including what to eat before, during and after a marathon, will be covered separately after parts 2 and 3.


A healthy plate of brocoli, veggies, prawns and rice


Quick tips on Fueling Marathon Training


For our in depth recommendations and reasoning, including some of our best marathon training meals and an example weekly marathon nutrition plan, read on below. Just as you wouldn’t run a marathon without training, you shouldn’t train for it without thinking about your nutrition and diet. So, if you’re a time-crunched runner we have summarised some of our best marathon nutrition advice which we discuss in this, part 1.


Have a good breakfast!


For many it can be beneficial to move some calories earlier in the day, i.e. a bigger breakfast and slightly reduced evening meal. A pre-run breakfast may not need to be quite so big, but that may come down to your marathon training schedule. If there’s sufficient time, ideally 3hours, between breakfast and your running then make sure to fuel up!


Consider what to have before bed


A warm glass of milk certainly carries some support - the right nutrients before bed aim to improve sleep, boost recovery and fuel tomorrow’s workouts.


Find a suitable balance of macronutrients for running


How many carbs should marathon runners have can obviously vary but as a general rule a balance of 55-65% carbs, 15-25% protein and 20-30% fats seems to fuel marathon training nicely.



A Marathon Training Diet - General Rules Part 1



Why Runners should have a big breakfast


Breakfast like a king, the saying goes, and this can be particularly beneficial for athletes. A large breakfast can ensure you’re adequately fueled for training later in the day meaning you can enjoy the session rather than dread the ordeal. Research has also shown that individuals who eat more of their calories in the evening tend to consume more calories in total (than those eating more in the earlier half of the day) which may lead to unwanted weight gain.


A bowl of porridge with berries for a runner's breakfast


There may be health benefits for those who eat more calories in the morning compared with those who eat the same total calories but more in the evening. Individuals who are tired or stressed can end up overeating in the evening and while not every marathon runner aims to lose weight, most want to be at a healthy weight so overeating later in the day is not advisable. When more calories are consumed earlier in the day, hunger cravings and that ravenous post-workout feeling are likely to be reduced and you’ll therefore be in a good position to make healthier food choices, rather than gorging on the closest thing to hand.


Many people tend to have their largest meal of the day in the evening, but for marathon training moving around 500kcal from your evening meal to a bigger breakfast can reduce the amount of time the body spends in energy deficit (more calories burned per hour than consumed). Energy deficit is linked to reduced testosterone (males) and increased cortisol which inhibits the recovery process. Therefore avoiding or reducing time spent in calorie deficit can improve the efficiency of your marathon training plan.


What should runners have before bed?


Whilst wanting to avoid too many calories later into the evening, many people feel they need something before sleeping, so what is best to have before bed in a marathon training diet? It may sound like something your Granny would say, but milk is a good source of whey protein which is thought to aid muscle recovery, so this could be a place to start! 


Some researchers suggest that drinking a warm glass of milk, which contains tryptophan and melatonin, may help you get to sleep quicker and have a more restful night’s sleep which becomes even more important when marathon training gets hard. Tryptophan plays an important role in production of serotonin which boosts mood and is a precursor to melatonin. Melatonin is naturally produced in the brain and is also known as the sleep hormone. In reality the levels of tryptophan in one glass of milk may not be enough to induce sleep, but any regular bed time routine is likely to reduce any anxieties and help you unwind so may improve sleep quality. In addition, warm drinks can have a calming effect on the nervous system, so a warm glass of milk may well help you sleep - just ask Granny!


Balance of Macronutrients for training


The ideal balance of macronutrients, as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine, suggests a diet for an active adult should be around 45-65% carbs, 10-15% protein and 20-35% fat. This typical runner’s diet might differ somewhat from the average person, but with good reason. The main difference you’d expect when endurance training would be carbohydrate intake to be at the top of this range. Conversely, someone focusing on strength training might boost protein intake with fewer carbs. 


As marathon weekly mileage increases the calories required grows but not all runners increase their energy intake creating a runner’s recipe for disaster! Regular running requires greater energy intake than a more sedentary lifestyle, and additional carbohydrates are the main recommended source, as the primary energy for runners during exercise. Carbs are one of those marathon essentials!


Several plates of food each with different quantities of rice, carbohydrates and protein from meat


While you might be wanting to link weight loss and marathon training you should not drastically reduce fat intake as fat metabolism is a good source of energy when working at lower running intensities and basal metabolic rate and essential within the body. So, will marathon training lose weight? The chances are most people who undertake a beginner or intermediate training program for marathon running will alter their body composition somewhat by reducing their body fat percentage due to the additional activity being undertaken.


You can read part 2 of the marathon diet guide here and part 3 will be available soon...

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