4 Keys For a Healthy Marathon Runner's Diet

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Training for a marathon or half marathon can ask a lot of your body. Your body may be in some state of recovery almost continuously. If you are eating exactly what you should be now, you may need to take in more calories.

But more important than how much you are eating is WHAT you are eating and WHEN.

Unless you are running 70 miles a week, you probably can’t eat ice cream every night without gaining weight.

Do the math. Running a mile burns roughly 100 calories.You will put 80 calories back in with a banana. An 8oz bottle of Gatorade has 150 calories so you would need to run  1 1/2 miles to burn off that Gatorade.

What is the optimal marathon runner’s diet?

The optimal marathon diet is simply a balanced diet. Here is a detailed description of the guidelines you need for a healthy marathon diet including a discussion of balanced ratios of carbohydrates, proteins, fat and fiber.

At Optimal Nutrition for Life, we are not big fans of counting calories. Tracking your marathon calories , can however, help us figure out what the starting point is for fueling your marathon training.

Why is it hard to lose weight while training for a marathon?

Most of us underestimate how much we eat and overestimate how hard we workout.You may not be losing weight because you are underreporting your calorie intake. For 3 days, keep a log of all the food you eat; it might surprise you to discover how much you actually eat. Calculate the calories you ate.  Don’t leave out the Starbucks ice cream drinks you call coffee. It’s pretty much a given that when you measure something you improve it’s outcome, so multiply your calorie intake by 1.2 since you probably ate better during the days you were monitoring your eating.

Here are some tips to help if you want to lose weight during your training.

Don’t skip meals. This won’t help. You may burn less calories the day you skip a meal because you don’ t have the energy to train at your usual intensity.

Another way that skipping meals trips you up is by making your body nervous that you are going to quit feeding it.  When this happens your body stores the calories you do eat rather than using them for activities such as growing hair and nails.  (OK I am over simplifying but the concept is valid.)  Your metabolism actually slows.

To get the most out of each workout, start each run fully fueled. Each workout is meant to provide a distinct training stimulus. You are either training your body to run long distances, or run fast or be efficient running up hills.You won’t get the same training boost if you start the workout empty.You can test this by doing the following workout.  Tonight after dinner go for an 8 mile run.Don’t eat after the night time run. First thing in the morning go for a 6 mile run.  Next week do the same workout but do the 8 mile run BEFORE dinner.(Or if an 8 mile run is your long run, then do this test on fewer miles) You will be convinced of the importance of eating before your run.

See food as fuel for your training rather than “good” or “bad”.As a marathon runner, you need to make food choices that will fuel your workout.  Picture yourself slowing to a crawl during your workout and then picture yourself finishing strong.A snack you bring from home can fuel your workout whereas the chips from the vending machine can sabotage it.

Get rid of the mindset that you “deserve” that ice cream.Remember what I said about my second marathon and not losing weight.  Unless you are running over 70 miles a week, chances are you aren’t burning enough calories for that nightly ice cream.  What you deserve is a strong marathon finish as a reward for the hard work you are putting in.

Practice for marathon race day during your marathon training season

Don’t leave anything to chance – practice your eating plan for race week, race day and the race itself – during the training season.Make sure to plan ahead (especially travel) for what to eat during marathon race week and your marathon breakfast.

How do you practice eating?

You need to practice which foods will agree with you the day before and the day of the race.  For example, I wouldn’t suggest cauliflower or broccoli the night before a long run or race.  Both of these add fiber that may still be in your stomach at the start of the run.  My husband can’t eat spicy foods the night before but they don’t bother me.

You want to discover out the optimal amount you can eat before running.You may need more than an hour to digest breakfast.  You will only know this by getting up 2-3 hours before training runs and practicing exactly how much and what you are going to eat. Many runners can’t eat solid foods the second they get up; if this is you, you need to know this and figure out how you are going to take in those calories.  If you need help with race day nutrition, let us know.

Practice your eating plans on runs that closely simulate the race.  This means if you are training for a 10k, practice before a tempo run.You probably should not eat as much before an intense run as you do before an easier run. When you are running hard your body shuttles blood and oxygen away from the stomach and to the muscles.  Therefore, digestion slows.

Many marathoners don’t understand the importance of rising early during the training season to practice their marathon breakfast.By trying out different foods during your training runs, you will know whether your 6am bagel will hold you through the race or whether you will be hungry.

One Response to “4 Keys For a Healthy Marathon Runner's Diet”

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