I'm training for my first marathon but I'm still trying to figure out the proper balance of how to fuel properly. Do you have any suggestions about how to adequately prepare before long runs, and what to eat/drink afterwards to recover?

Good for you and all of your running! I am a runner myself (although I certainly did not complete a marathon!). But, good nutrition is very important during your training and before the race. Runners’ diets can vary greatly. I found that I could eat very little before my race but could tolerate snacking on the carbohydrate rich “gu’s” during the race. My best friend was different. She would devour an ample size breakfast before but got cramps if she took in anything but water during the race. So, I would start a journal and record what you are taking in and how you are feeling on your races of various distances. You may find patterns with eating certain foods and either feeling good or poorly during your runs.

It is very important for you to get adequate calories, especially from carbohydrate rich foods (potatoes or starchy vegetables, pasta, rice, bread, cereal etc.) As your mileage increases, so do the amount of calories you burn so they will really need to work on getting enough calories during the day. They can do this by adding a few healthy snacks between meals. Certified sports dietitian, Janice Dada, recommends getting snacks that are rich in carbohydrate, low in fat and moderate in protein. Examples could include hummus with whole grain pita bread, low fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, chia seeds, whole grain crackers with peanut butter etc. Make sure you try to spread your calories out over the course of the day before the marathon (eat every 2-3 hours) and try to eat your last meal around 4:00 pm-6:00 pm the day before to allow your body time to digest.

In addition to carbohydrates, you will absolutely need a variety of antioxidants also. These can help you utilize nutrients for energy and help boost your immune system. Depending on your height/weight, you may want to shoot for around 8 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, choosing the most vibrantly colored produce for the maximum antioxidant potential. Examples include leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, citrus fruits, cherries etc. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants but whole grains such as fortified breakfast cereals as well as lean meats and seafood also contain antioxidants.

Staying adequately hydrated and fueling with nutritious beverages another key to a successful marathon. Fluid goals vary based on body weight, temperature, duration of exercise, etc. You might want to weigh yourself before and after every run and note your weight loss. Dada suggests for every pound lost you consume approximately 2-3 cups of additional fluid throughout the day. Dada also recommends that you take in between 5-12 oz of water approximately every 15 minutes during exercise. Although, these suggestions may not work for you, so once again experiment with eating and drinking during races to see how you feel. Also, I would not recommend trying something new on race day. For example, if during your training you consumed water during your runs, don’t switch to a sports drink during your big marathon and vice versa.

Eating during the marathon may be an important step to feeling your best. There are many different varieties of sports bars, gels, jelly beans, etc. that have varying amounts of nutrients. I recommend experimenting with a few to see what you like and what your body can tolerate. When I was training for a 25K, I would consistently use a flavored sports gel and take this several times during my long run. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that the race offered an entirely different brand and consistency sports gel during the race. I ended up with a stomach ache and depleted energy levels. What is the moral of the story? Make sure you bring your own preferred fuel with you for the race.

A high carbohydrate /moderate protein snack is encouraged immediately following the race and then you should try to eat within two hours of the competition. I have been told by many of my dedicated running friends that chocolate milk is their favorite post run “snack”. I will admit that I thought they were crazy but I tried it after a few long runs and I definitely felt that it helped with my recovery.

~Whether the upcoming marathon is your first or your 41st, best of luck to each and every one of you!

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