Marathon Nutrition

One of the major reasons I posted so extensively about my first marathon training cycle was so I could eventually go back and reread those posts.  I could reread posts and see what worked and what did not work (the internet never forgets).  Sure, I could have written in a diary instead but with blogging, I also received a lot of feedback that helped shape my marathon planning for the Phoenix marathon.

Since the New York City Marathon was 18 months ago it’s hard for me to recall exactly what worked and didn’t.

In 2013, I found nutrition to be one of the key factors I flopped during the marathon.

I categorize the changes I needed to make into two main topics (The week before and actual racing nutrition)

The plan for the week before the marathon: 

Here is what I did for my first marathonCarb Depletion Post 

Long story short: I think I overdid the carbohydrates. In 2013, I depleted my glycogen stores a few days before and then ate carbs to “top them off” until the marathon.  It wasn’t that I went crazy with carbs but my body wasn’t used to that situation. In hindsight, I broke a golden rule of changing something before a race.  I think it changed my digestive system. 

One of my favorite meals

pancakes every meal


I understand this method works for some people but I do not think it was the best thing for me.  I hadn’t practiced it very well and I don’t think I got the the benefits that were intended.

For this marathon I have continued to eat more normal.  I haven’t changed a lot and I haven’t depleted my carbohydrates.  Throughout this training cycle, I ate better all around.  I ate less fried food as well as less junk food.  I didn’t do it to lose weight (I haven’t), I did it because I felt better. My eating is nothing strict or crazy (I did a post about here) but I think I will eat closer to my normal intake. I will do some minor tweaking by adding more carbohydrates towards the end of the week. I’m not going to go for another carb depletion then overload.  Instead of eating only carbohydrates the last few days I am going to up my carb intake but still stay more similar to my normal diet and routine.

The race is on Saturday.  On Thursday and Friday I will eat more bland, easily digestible food.  This will be more difficult since I will be traveling but it will involve planning (and we all know I’m not a planner).

Race Day Nutrition: 

For my previous race,  I was up 7 hours beforehand and I know I didn’t take in enough calories. I had to wake up at 3:30 am to make the logistics of the race. On a normal day that would be like running a marathon at 1pm. On a normal day at 1pm, I’ve already had 1200 calories, if not more. I only had about 800 calories before the marathon.  In hindsight that was a huge mistake.

Phoenix is different because I’ll be able to race about 2 hours after waking up. This is my normal running schedule and it makes it much easier for me.  I’m a morning runner and I like to eat about 2 hours before I run.  So this race time works out exactly how my training runs normally do.

Race nutrition will be the easier of the two sides to attack. I can eat a normal breakfast and then fuel accordingly with gels.

Race plan:
Breakfast 2 hours before (500 calorie waffle with peanut butter…this is what I eat before most races)
4 Cliff Gels (every 45 mins)

My favorite gels right now are the cliff chocolate cherry.  I don’t have a sensitive stomach and have never had issues with gels (unless I mix gel and gatorade). This race I’ll be more fueled prior to the race and take one more gel.

cliff chocolate cherry

Hopefully this is a better plan of attack for the marathon.  Since it is my second marathon I am still very much in the experimenting phrase.

Questions for you:

What do you do for marathon nutrition? 

What is your favorite prerace meal?

Do you have a sensitive stomach? 


42 responses

  1. I have a super sensitive stomach so fueling is always a concern for me. I’ve never run a marathon but even training for half-marathons figuring out fueling was tough. I’ve learned that fueling can be very different for everyone, hope this works for you! I’m sure you’ll rock the race 🙂

  2. I have been trying to figure this out too. It can be tough to maneuver around, but practice is the most important part, and you are doing that. I had a bad experience with those exact gels, but that was because my body was not used to the caffeine……but you definitely are 🙂 It is stressful, and I am trying to work out a plan right now. I will be interested to see what you decide as your final race day meal; I am definitely having a bowl of oatmeal with at least 2 bananas.

    • Thanks Tina,
      I don’t actually have that much caffeine. I have between 20-24 ounces of coffee before noon then I switch to decaf the rest of the day. I always forget how much caffeine is in those gels but I really like the flavor!

  3. I retooled my marathon nutrition again last year, and it made a huge difference in my training. As for day of, I’ve been able to be pretty consistent with what I have for the race–traditional english muffin, pb, banana, and honey graham z bar. The only problem I”m battling right now is that my stomach is not holding out as well as I would like it to during the run–no bonking or cramping, just need to go now. Which is a bit of a bummer. Hopefully adrenaline will help me through on Saturday!

  4. I only did one marathon and it was pretty much a flop in all ways possible, including nutrition. But sometimes that is how you learn, you do the wrong thing and you figure it out, I think it just takes time and experience in racing and even if you’re an experienced runner, 26.2 is a whole new ballgame. It’s so awesome that you have a plan- you are really smart going into it. Hopefully this will work out better for you, excited to see how PHX goes.

  5. Four gels is what works for me in a marathon, but I split them in half. And I do have a sensitive stomach while running, so I can’t always get them all down, but any less and I bonk.

  6. You are teasing me with the pancake photo. I’m on to you. But on a serious note, a safe bet would be to go to diners or steak houses the days before the race. You can always ask to have the salmon filet broiled with no butter (if grease bothers you) and get a baked potato on the side with a steamed veggie. There are ways to eat blandly, but it requires a lot of “special ordering” for the restaurant. Plus, you can go hog wield after the marathon and get a big dish of carbs! WOO!

  7. I’ve done two marathons now and I really didn’t change the way I ate. The night before I ate a pizza (no spicy toppings!) which is what I do before every half marathon/marathon and in the morning had my usual porridge (oatmeal) and black coffee which I also do before every race. I had three gels during the race and didn’t feel like I ran out of energy at all – for both marathons. I’m not sure I even needed the gels (but who knows? If I hadn’t have taken them I might have bonked – it’s a difficult statement to verify!) I do know that when I took them I didn’t really feel I needed to take them.
    I do all my long runs with no fuel so maybe this helped? I can’t say for sure but it’s obviously a very individual thing. What works for once might not work for another.
    I hope your strategy works well for you! It sounds like a better scenario not being awake for sooo long before the race!

  8. I think the biggest difference between my first two marathons (injured @ 5:20; second was 4:45) and my third (3:59:56) was WATER. All three were the Chicago Marathon, where all three years were pretty chilly weather; I guess I figured that since I was cold, and not thirsty, that I didn’t need it? PSH! I also stated swishing with Gatorade and taking water at just about every other water table.

    My pre-race = tacos the night before. Harry and I have had great luck with this.

  9. I think the biggest difference between my first two marathons (injured @ 5:20; second was 4:45) and my third (3:59:56) was WATER. All three were the Chicago Marathon, where all three years were pretty chilly weather; I guess I figured that since I was cold, and not thirsty, that I didn’t need it? PSH! I also stated swishing with Gatorade and taking water at just about every other water table.

    My pre-race = tacos the night before. Harry and I have had great luck with this.

  10. If I had the magic formula for marathon nutrition, I would certainly bottle it up and sell it. I still don’t think I’ve gotten it right, but…this time around, I am eating all my normal foods right up until race morning. I think in the past I have gone too carb heavy in the days leading up and my body does best when it can access fat–I think I changed my diet and it didn’t tap into fat as well, then I bonked. Who knows? But I’m willing to find out this time through. I hope your plan works for you–you’re such an amazing runner I think you’ll rock it no matter what.

  11. Great plan! I tried to stick with something similar. Although before the Disney marathon I just had a banana & a coffee gu.. Strange I know. I alternate between Gatorade and gels depending upon how my tummy is feeling during the run. 🙂

  12. This is fascinating to read and I’m really thankful that you are posting this up so that I can learn from it too when I attempt to run another marathon! I really didn’t pay enough (any) attention to my nutrition leading up to my last two marathons, but I do remember gagging at the gels when I ran my first one and then trying to sip Gatorade for the last few miles which is probably why I felt awful for the rest of the race – and the rest of the day.

    When I started running, I had a stomach of steel. I feel like I could have eaten a Snickers bar and continued running. Now, I can barely stomach anything other than Honey Stinger chewy things for long runs, and Gu (no or little caffeine) during races. I can only stomach one gel for a half-marathon, so the idea of taking 3 or more is intimidating to me, but it seems like that’s a “standard” among anyone I’ve asked!

    I hope this approach is successful for you!! 🙂

  13. I think you have a very sensible nutrition plan sorted. Sticking to what you know and being able to replicate your normal long run routine should make for smoother sailing as far as fueling goes.

    I never change anything at all leading up to a marathon – I’ve just never felt the reason to. I’m also very routine-driven and it takes a lot for me to alter anything, so the stress of that would only add to my already sky-high nerves before a race.

    My stomach is better than it used to be, but still rather sensitive. I can’t eat on the run unless I’m running at a very easy pace (which is fortunate, because that’s how I’ve been able to get through ultras without running out of energy) so I rely on energy dense, small bars before racing, along with a banana. I aim for about 800 calories as well, which seems fine as I don’t burn off that many while I run (I assume) due to my body adapting to the mileage over the years. I have run on just a scoop of protein powder in water before, and I do not recommend it! Physically it didn’t make as much of a difference as I would have thought, but mentally I was all over the place. I had no drive or determination left when things went South due to my dead leg, and I finished that race an emotional mess.

  14. I had a similar experience with carb loading. I find that for big races, I do best if I basically eat normally and add a little bit of carbohydrate-rich food in the days leading up to the event. So I’ll eat my normal roasted veggies and chicken for lunch, and add a small potato, too, just so that I know my glycogen isn’t falling into the tank.

    I thought this was weird, but Angela Naeth (a pro triathlete) said she does the same thing and eats broccoli and salmon with a bit of rice the night before half ironmans. It’s good to experiment to see if a different approach works for you, but stick with it once you find it.

  15. I don’t have a particularly sensitive stomach and can pretty much run right after I eat but the marathon is an entirely different beast so I don’t know what I’ll do for that. I don’t usually eat much, if anything, before i run because I don’t like the feeling of being full of food/water. Obviously for longer runs I can’t do that. It’s great that you were able to record what you did for your first marathon so you can pinpoint exactly what you did right and wrong and that way you could plan better for this one. It’s all about learning curves and it sounds like you’re going into this one with a much more confident plan. I’m really excited for you to see how it goes 🙂

  16. oh snap, i love the cliff gels! i hoard my fav flav – espresso. dang that stuff is yummy and gives me the smiles.
    your plan sounds like a good one, solid.

  17. I’m still working on trying to figure out what works for racing and what doesn’t. Pizza has been both a winner and loser in the past. I did find that pasta meals the night before are a major no-no. This was before I got the no gluten message so now I’ll need to start over!

  18. All about learning.!! and you’ll only keep figuring out all the little (but important) details as you run more marathons.!

    I’ve never ran a marathon.. but I don’t have a sensetive stomach at alllll. I ate peanut butter right before my half marathon and I felt good. ONce I even ate 9 donuts before a 5k.!!! and still PR’d. haha

  19. I eat Greek yogurt always before a race because it REALLY helps settle my stomach! I used to have really bad issues with getting sick after races, but since incorporating the Greek yogurt it’s basically been a non-issue.

  20. I am definitely not marathon training, but made the mistake of eating something new before my last half marathon. In a way, I don’t regret it (sweet potato & peanut butter) because it calmed my nerves and my stomach, but my legs definitely did not react well. Like you, I need to focus on eating things that are easier to digest and that I am very used to in training. I’m also incredibly happy that I will be home for a month before my next half marathon so pre-race waffles can be a thing. 🙂

  21. One Powerbar Performance Energy 20 minutes prior to the race. 7 Roctane gels (Starting at 5K and at every 5k to 35K). 2 Litres of water, and 2 salt packets (restaurant style) at 21K and 32K. That mixture provides you with the exact amount of carbs, calories and electrolytes you require to run a marathon, and the exact volume of water you require to ensure full absorption of the gels. As a 46 year-old male, I’ve run 2 marathons on this plan (3:19:35 and 3:16:16) and will be using it again as i attempt a 3:10:00 this spring.

  22. I’m glad I blogged about my first marathon training too! I carb-loaded a lot the second time around and thought it helped. I ate a lot of bananas and complex carbs with PB though. I use gels and Nuun during the race.

  23. im laughing to myself because I did the same thing before my first marathon- I carbo loaded the crap out of that thing and ate a ton of sugary foods that I don’t normally eat and felt bloated and gross on race day! Definitely stick to your normal diet with a bit more carb padding the days before but keep eating fruits and veggies so you feel good!

  24. I don’t really think carbohydrate loading is the best plan either. Sticking with what you know is best. I have been experimenting with different running nutrition lately from just drinks, to gels to dates. I think I like the water and either date or gel combo best. I like something to cleanse my palate and I was never a Gatorade drinker. The breakfast of a race I eat a pb, J and banana sandwich and coconut water. Coffee is too dehydrating and I don’t like to drink it in the AM.
    I’ll have to try those gels. Do you use them on your long training runs?

  25. Generally I don’t have a sensitive stomach but there are certain things I can’t tolerate while running. I know I can only do a few shot bloks or anything like that so I started fueling with Apple slices during long runs. So far it works! Excited for your race!

  26. I carb load but am very careful to not overeat, only have a higher total percentage of carbs in my diet. I think I’ve nailed down my race nutrition by eating a bagel with jam, a banana and a bottle of beet juice race morning, a gu 20min pre-race, 4 total gus during race (every 4-5 miles), and alternating between water and gatorade between aid stations.
    I’m so excited to read about how you do! Your nutrition plan sounds good, now the hardest part is actually choking down all those gus hahaha.

  27. In the days leading up to a goal race, I’ll eat more sweet potatoes, but don’t overdo it. I’ll also be even more diligent about hydrating. It still blows my mind you were up for seven hours before you actually ran NYC. That’s nuts!

  28. I usually eat a bagel, coffee, and half a banana two hours before and a ClifBar gel 15 mins before the gun goes off. My stomach can be fickle lol this routine is what’s worked like a charm for me. Oh, and always spaghetti the night before 😉 I’m definitely a morning runner as well. I don’t think I could race an afternoon event. My stomach doesn’t do well during noon runs. Oh, and best wishes on your upcoming marathon!!!

  29. I could never run a marathon because it just seems so stressful, but to everyone who does, including yourself, I give you all so much credit! I also have avery very sensitive stomach, it would take tons of trial and error to figure out what I could eat prior to running to keep me energetic and RARING to go!!! I have a few go – to foods because I used to chow them down prior to snowboarding competitions, but those competitions don’t last as long as marathons that’s for sure!

  30. I LOVE everything about your nutrition plan for race week/race day. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think you nailed it with the idea of staying as close to normal as possible with some minor tweaks to accommodate additional carbs the last few days…. and I love the simple foods the days before… I usually do oatmeal for breakfast, turkey sandwich for lunch, rice and chicken and veggies for dinner…. so bland, but my stomach is glad for it. You are going to kick ass! I cannot wait to hear how it goes 🙂

  31. Thanks for sharing your nutrition with us. For marathon nutrition I usually eat 2 honey stinger waffles or toast with PB an hour or two before the race, then a Gu every 6 miles.

    The last several marathons and half marathons have been the same dinner the night before… Bob Evans grilled chicken breast, half portion of pasta, a little vegetable and a biscuit or roll. For whatever reason this has worked for me so I’ve stuck with it. I have no idea if there is a Bob Evans in Virginia Beach so I need to start looking at restaurants now!

    • I actually don’t think there is. If you need any food recommendations or are looking for something in particular, feel free to send me an email!

%d bloggers like this: