Marathon Nutrition

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about in regards to training is my nutrition.  I can run all of the miles I want and prepare physically but one thing I know I need to work on from last years marathon is nutrition.  Last year at the NYCM was a bit of a disaster as far as nutrition and timing goes and here is why:

I was up at 3am (technically 4 because the clocks fell back).  The race started for me close to 10am.  That is 7 hours of being awake before actually running.  If you know me in real life you know I struggle not eating before a run.  I normally wake up hungry.   I can eat about an hour before running (normally) and not have a lot of issues.

Here is my timeline before the race:

3:00am: wake up have a waffle with peanut butter and coffee

Take the train to the ferry to the bus to the corral.

7:00am: have a bagel with peanut butter and more coffee as well as hot water because it was cold outside.

9am: have a gel

9:50 (I think or was it 9:40) start the race.

I consumed roughly 1000 calories before the actual race.  Before a race that I could wake up a couple hours beforehand I wouldn’t consume nearly that much.  Before all of my long training runs, half marathons and other races I generally eat about 400-500 calories, 2 hours prior.  (This included the majority of my training runs).

I didn’t practice this (at all) beforehand.  I pretended as if it wasn’t real life and went along with it.  I knew what I was going to do, but had not actually tried it.  (You know the age old wisdom, don’t try anything new the day of race…).

I took 3 gels along the way of the course.  Maybe that was enough, maybe not.  Looking back, I claimed that I have never been that tired during a race.  It was most defeinetly true.  The marathon humbled me a lot.  That being said, it wasn’t like my pace went from 7:15 miles to 10 minute miles.  It went more like 7:20 miles to 7:30 miles.

I do still think nutrition played a large role in my training and race day.  It is something I’m actively looking to improve this training cycle. I do know during my next marathon, I think I’ll take four gels.  (Past that I really don’t know).

I don’t really know about main nutrition yet.  For my training runs and half marathons I’ve found eating two hours beforehand has normally always worked for me.  (There have been a few exceptions that I’ve just felt off).  I am hoping I’ll be able to do something similar.  It’s a constant challenege I guess.

Questions for you:

How do you fuel yourself for marathons?

How long do you need between eating and running?


41 thoughts on “Marathon Nutrition”

  1. I have the same battle! Im struggling bc by the time I get to the starting line I am typically already hungry! I’m kind of in freak out mode bc I have a marathon this weekend and I’m not sure what i’m going to do as far as breakfast… luckily my hotel is close to the starting line:( I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else says:) Keep me in the loop:)

  2. this is something I am working on and reading about as well. usually before training runs an hour is fine for me… sometimes i dont eat at all though like today i ran 6 and didnt eat but yesterday i did 11 and had a 1/2 bagel/pb/banana. have you ever read this book? I just started reading it a couple days ago- so far- really helpful- lots of good stuff…

  3. Rookie mistake 😉 You basically ate nothing for three hours before the race (gels don’t count)! You won’t be able to squeeze in another entire meal, but you should definitely eat something more substantial like a ProBar, Picky Bar, Lara Bar – whatever your bar of choice is. And maybe something like a Honey Stinger Waffle – I think they’re pretty easy to get down even with pre-race jitters. The key for me was convincing myself that pre-race food (and gels during the race) are not optional.

    The good news is, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to eat closer and closer to races – I’m at about 60 minutes now… I hope you have that good fortune too!

    1. Yeah in hindsight I should have eaten more before the marathon. I don’t know what I was thinking. Have you done a post about your general nutrition before a race? If not would you be interested in doing one? I know I would be interested in reading about it.

    2. I totally agree about the honey stinger waffles. they always settle so well! i’ve never had a problem feeling like they aren’t digested.

  4. I’m still at a great loss over nutrition. I’ve run two marathons and still haven’t figured it out. I always feel like I’m more efficient with nothing in me prior to running (up to around 14 miles). I’ve always tried to take in nutrition (English muffin with pb or a bit of honey with a banana) a couple of hours before my long runs, took GUs along, and they seemed so crappy. I kept with it, just knowing that I needed calories.

    I’m going for a different approach this time. It’s going to take a lot of testing out, and I’ll have to get out of my comfort zone regarding caloric intake and my fear of overdoing it.

  5. Don’t forget you were sick and couldn’t really carb load properly before the race. I think this makes such a big difference to up your carb intake starting 3-4 days before the race. Then the morning meal isn’t as crucial! I suck at eating before races, but I know that if I’ve been taking in lots of carbs for days it’s not a big deal. I usually try to eat at least a banana and some type of bar when I wake up and then try to eat another one close to the race (maybe an hour before).

    1. I find that too – the days leading up are so crucial. And not just cramming the day before. I have an extra breakfast (about 2 hours after my first one of the day) for all 5 days prior to the marathon.

    2. That’s true, thanks Mollie. I think I was a bit hard on myself too. I didn’t take that into account because I wondered if it made a huge difference since it was 4-5 days out.

  6. That is one of the reasons I’ve always thought I’d stay away from Boston/NY, I really don’t think I’d run well after so many hours of being awake and moving around and having to change my eating. I usually only wake up 90 mins early and eat about 300 calories before I run but obviously that wouldn’t hold up for 7 hours.

  7. I usually eat about an hour before long runs, because I just can’t make myself get up any earlier than that. It usually works out well for me, but for anything longer than 2 hours I find that I start to get hungry and I haven’t figured out how to deal with that. Not that I’ve had to worry about it lately, but I need to work on that eventually.

  8. The biggest thing for me is fueling properly the 2-3 days before the race. Even though Boston didn’t go the way I wanted this year my legs did feel full of energy and ready to run fast because I really upped my carb intake the 3 days before the marathon. I really have a hard time taking fuel during my runs and am still looking for a brand that doesn’t upset my stomach/send my running to the restroom. Instead of taking a few gels I use the little chews and eat one every 3-4 miles so that I am putting a constant flow of energy into my body. That seems to help me avoid hitting the wall (like I did in my first marathon).

  9. I never used to have much of a problem eating before running – I could eat a good sized meal and be ready to go an hour later. But now that I’ve been doing more runs in the morning before breakfast (fitting them into the weekdays) I’m finding my stomach hurts a LOT when I try to eat before long runs. My legs also feel flat on the days I run before eating but my times don’t suffer. I only have one more long run left to figure this out! D:

  10. The NYCM was tough for me last year, too. I struggled with fueling so long before the late start, and also with during the race. I avoided the water stations due to crowds and didn’t hydrate as much as I have in other marathons. As a result, I also took only about 2 Gus. I was beat by Mile 23.

    Typically, my pre-race meal is oatmeal and a banana two hours before the race. If I run the NYCM again (or another big city race with screwy logistics, like Boston) I will do that plus bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something to eat at the start village.

  11. This is actually very helpful. My first marathon is coming up in February and I had no idea how to handle the fuel situation during the race. Thank you very much.

  12. “That being said, it wasn’t like my pace went from 7:15 miles to 10 minute miles”
    That would be my marathon pacing, except it was more like 8 minutes to 18 minutes. Haha, whoops!

      1. Almost positive I’m going to PR my marathon time on the Ironman course in July now that I’m training more. Not sure how often a PR there happens…

  13. That’s one good thing about trail races, I don’t have to worry about. You typically take your car and have it parked within a 2 minute walk of the start line, loaded with an onslaught of food 😉

  14. This is something I am struggling with when I begin my decision to tackle the marathon! I have run a half marathon and luckily it wasn’t until 2:30 pm so I got a good breakfast, lunch and a protein bar for a snack in before the race, but lately anytime I eat before I run I have an issue! I have heard it is about trail and error and messing with the fiber intake you consume, if you have any suggestions I would love to hear them 🙂

  15. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic too. I really don’t have it down. But I did just find a gel that is so easy for me to take…Huma Gel. I took 3 on my 30k trail race this last weekend and I actually enjoyed taking them as opposed to gagging. Eating before the race doesn’t usually affect me much…I can eat and run almost immediately. I tried to take 5 gels in Boston but it was so hard to keep down at the end. At mile 20 I threw everything up after trying to get a gel down. Uggh. This next marathon I will definitely stick to this Huma gel and wear my water belt with Nuun Energy.

  16. Hope I don’t jinx myself but it’s worked for me in the past 3 marathons – 3 hours before the race, i have a protein powder mixed with water and chia seeds, one banana, oatmeal (about 1 cup dry measurement) made with almond milk (about half cup), topped with a peanut butter GU (don’t knock it til you try it! delicious 🙂 ). Then about 30 minutes before the race, I pop a very little homemade brownie or cookie piece.

    Every 5 miles I have something but I have to mix it up. Mile 5 – a Honey Waffle, Mile 10 – chocolate covered caramel candies and some nuts (cashews and almonds), Mile 15 – GU, Mile 20 – coconut water and some pretzels. Throughout, I have about 8 ounces of gatorade but wash all the fuel down with water.

    I actually look forward to my snack at every 5 miles (until mile 20 when I don’t want to eat anything but FORCE it down because I think it helped a bit to prevent a bonk).

    1. That is interesting! Thanks for sharing, as I always enjoy hearing people’s routines. I think I’m going to go for more gels next day. Maybe even the honey stinger waffle as that seems to be popular!

  17. Oh -and throughout training, I just have oatmeal about an hour before running long. And always try to stick to that “every 5 miles” rule for fueling WHILE running.

  18. I have a hard enough time trying to figure out how and what to eat for a pretty average activity level, so I can’t even imagine how much more complicated it must get when training for something like a marathon. I imagine a whole lot of trial and error would be involved…

  19. I usually only have a few hours from when I wake up until I run/race, so I usually have a bagel and banana with peanut butter. I’m not sure what I would do if I had more time before running. I’ll sometimes have a honey stinger waffle right before I run. I can usually run pretty soon after I eat with no issues, just the bigger the meal the more time I would need to digest.

  20. My marathon fueling is fairly consistent. When I wake up on race morning, I have a bagel (or a PB sandwich), a Picky Bar or Larabar, and an apple. This is usually spread over the 2-3 hours prior to race start. About five minutes before race start, I gulp down a Clif Shots vanilla gel. Then, during the race, I have gels (same Clif Shots vanilla ones) every five miles until mile 20.

  21. It has always seemed to me that one of the most challenging things about the NYCM must be the race logistics. As someone who doesn’t handle food well with running, I rarely eat before I run and never eat on the run (granted my longest runs are 15 miles at most).
    I would have no idea where to start marathon training! Good luck, I can’t wait to read about what you learn works best for you!

  22. I just ran my first marathon and was so confused about what to do beforehand in terms of carb loading and what to eat before. I was staying at a hotel, which didn’t help because I couldn’t control what I ate. They provided a good breakfast though since so many runners were staying there. I had a bagel with peanut butter, yogurt, and coffee. I had a gel right before and then 3 on the course also, but they were these weird gels that didn’t really do too much (should have brought my own). Next time I would bring all my own food and not rely on what was provided. Big mistake!

  23. I’ve only done 2 marathons, and the first one didn’t go as well as planned (3:33:16) with a serious bonk at Mile 23. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance for my second attempt and probably overdid the nutrition:
    – Egg, cheese and yogurt 3 hours before the race
    – Powerbar 20 minutes before the race
    – 7 Roctaine Gels (every 3 miles up to Mile 21)
    – Salt packet (like from a fast-food restaurant) at Mile 13 and Mile 19
    – water every 2 miles
    I finished in 3:16:16 running a steady 7:25 pace for the first 23 miles. Over the last 3 miles, with a 16 MPH headwind, my pace faded to 7:42. I’m pretty sure the fade was due to the wind, otherwise, the nutrition/hydration plan worked perfectly.

Comments are closed.