It was Saturday morning and all I wanted to do was sleep in.  Without fail, however, my alarm wakes me up at 5:45am, 5:52am, and once again at 6am.  I go through the mental battle once again to do a long, 18 mile run.  Even thought I would love to sleep in, this time is different.  I am back in Chicago, where I once use to live, to run amongst other Chicago Marathon trainees.  As I start crawling out of bed I start to nibble on a muffin.  Even though I am not horribly hungry I continue to nibble on this muffin, water and prep for a 3 hour run.


Just as running is an essential part of marathon training so is the nutrition.  No matter how physically trained an individual may be, without the proper nutrition there  is nothing.  Nutrition is complicated and a lot of work.  It is not just putting on your running shoes and running for the next three hours but rather, something that needs to be thought through and experimented with.  Everyone is different and reacts differently to different foods.  What works for me might not be what works best for someone else.  With that in mind, here are a few simple things that an endurance athlete, such as a marathon runner, needs to keep in mind.

Training Meals:

The point of Carbohydrate Loading is to help maintain glycogen stores in the muscle.  Glycogen is the storage form of sugar and sugar is the main source of energy when training or competing in endurance exercises.   For years research has shown that carbohydrate loading is not necessary for races/training runs under 90 minutes long.  However, more recent research has shown that consuming a slightly higher carbohydrate diet 4 days leading up the short race may actually be beneficially.

For those who do compete in much longer endurance races such as marathons, century rides or Iron-Man triathlons your carb-loading stage starts 7 days prior to the race.

7 days prior to race day with training being tapered:

  • Decrease total calories by 100 for every mile you deduct from training (helps to avoid weight gain)
  • Reach for low fat, high carbohydrate foods (whole grain cereals, breads, pastas, vegetables, fruits)
  • Take a Multivitamin

4 days prior to race day with training being tapered:

  • Shorter races – taper nutrition by cutting back slightly on calories
  • Keep carbohydrate levels at 60-65% of total calories
  • May consume food sources of carbohydrates or liquid sources such as fruit juices

2 days prior to race day with training being tapered:

  • For those competing in long races (>90 minutes) consume carbohydrates at 65-70% of total calories
  • Load up on fluids by drinking plenty of water to make sure urine is a pale yellow/clear color

Day before the Race

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • 800-1,000 calories should be high in carbohydrates
  • Avoid high fiber and fatty foods
  • Keep protein intake high
  • Don’t experiment with new foods


Pre-Race Meals:

  • Eat a light meal in the morning that contains complex and simple sources of carbohydrates
    • should contain 200 grams of carbs and approximately 800 calories for long runs
  • Consume meal 2-4 hours before race

Energy during race:

During an endurance event having a regular source of carbohydrates and salt is necessary.  The carbohydrates provide energy while the salt keeps the blood pressure up and water in your system.

  • Practice consuming sports drinks  along with water (3-4 ounces every 15 minutes) during the duration of your training
  • Experiment with energy gels, beans, blocks, etc.  Some of these have caffeine in them so be aware and be consistent. It is also best to start consuming these energy gels before the need for energy hits as it wont be as helpful then.

Post Race Meals:

  • Drink as much fluid as you can
    • Each pound you lose you want to replenish with fluids.
  • Consume protein
    • Research shows protein may help speed glycogen rebuilding
  • Consume carbohydrates
    • Consume 50-100 grams of carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing the race
    • Follow up with 50 grams of carbohydrates every 2 hours to reach 600 grams of carbohydrates within 24 hours

The important thing about nutrition and endurance training is to experiment with what works for you during the training period.  Once you know what works, stay consistent with your nutrition plan for the week leading up to the race.  This will only help when it comes to the race day.  Also, be pro-active.  Even if you are not hungry, thirsty or running out of energy you know your body.  Listen to it and start consuming sources of carbohydrates and fluids during the race not just when you “need it.”


All in all, good luck and enjoy the experience!