The Runner’s Diet – Marathon Running Nutrition
Nutrition really is key to your performance on the day of the marathon and just like your training schedule, needs as much forward planning and preparation as possible. Good nutrition practices will accumulate and result in better overall health, which is what you will need in order to train effectively and repeatedly, maximising performance and the essential recovery and repair you’ll need in order to minimise injury and illness.
An athlete’s diet doesn’t really need to differ that much from a normal diet – it just requires more energy! A good by-product of all that running is that you can eat a little more! To find out how much energy you need daily, use this simple calculator.
The Food Pyramid is still recognized by the Department of Health as the best illustration of how we should construct our daily diets.
There really is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to constructing a daily diet. It depends largely on how you work best with certain foods. With that in mind, it’s important for you to listen to your body’s signals; if you perform better with certain foods in certain quantities, then stick with that. Use the principles of the following advice and apply it to your lifestyle and performance. When your body tells you to rest, rest, when you’re thirsty, drink and when you’re hungry, eat! You’re training for a marathon, this is not the time to deprive your body of calories or fuel; fuel your body with what it needs; which are the following:
Carbohydrate is our preferred fuel for energy and so it is widely accepted that a runner’s diet should be primarily (40-70%) Carbohydrate based, using foods such as bread, pasta, rice, potato, sweet potato, fruit and vegetables. Our body breaks down carbohydrate into its simplest form, glucose, and uses glucose as fuel to power our cells. Some organs, for example, the brain, have a daily requirement for glucose. We store excess glucose as glycogen in our muscles and liver. This glycogen can be converted back to glucose when energy is required.
Included in each meal, you have should have a starchy based carbohydrate and some fruit or vegetables in order to increase carbohydrate content and vitamins and minerals. Wholegrain varieties are preferable for endurance training sessions so that there will be a steady flow of energy throughout the day.
However, on long runs over 90 minutes and on the day of the marathon you will need to replenish glycogen and blood glucose levels, quickly. So, on these days you can go for simple sugars to refuel quickly.
Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass and preventing illness and injury. Good sources of protein are meats and fish along with dairy and eggs. There are plant sources of protein as well, such as legumes like beans, nuts and seeds and grains such as quinoa, oats, wheat, rice etc. The average person needs 0.8g of protein for every kilogram of body mass but an endurance runner will have higher protein requirements, from 1.2g-1.6g. For example, a 75kg male would need approximately 90g-120g protein per day, which could be broken down into 3 -4 meals yielding 30g-40g protein. It is possible to eat more protein, especially if you’re training to increase/preserve muscle mass, with some people eating 2g per kilogram body mass. Aim to have protein at each meal. An average serving should resemble a deck of playing cards and about the size of the palm of your hand.
Fat, or fatty acids, is the third macronutrient to consider and is an essential fuel source for our bodies. Fats are incredibly important and play a critical role in our overall health. They make up the structure of membranes around the cells, transport fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats fuel certain organs such as our hearts and are an abundant source of energy, giving us over twice the amount of energy than carbohydrates and protein at 9kCal/g. 20-30% of our daily energy intake should come from fat and mainly from unsaturated fat.
Fats can be categorised into saturated and unsaturated, depending on its chemical structure. An easy rule of thumb to know which is which is: Animal fat is generally saturated and solid at room temperature, e.g. lard, butter etc. and plant fat is unsaturated and liquid at room temperature, e.g. sunflower oil, olive oil etc. There are some exceptions to the rule, such as coconut oil, but this is the easy way to remember.
Micronutrients are essential nutrients, needed to sustain life but in small quantities and include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Most of us are aware that vitamins and minerals are vital to our health. A balanced healthy diet should give us all of the micronutrients we require so, where possible, our main source of micronutrients should be natural, whole food, especially fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. It is recommended to eat a ‘Rainbow Diet’; fruits and vegetables representing the colours of the rainbow. Each colour is created by a group of phytonutrients, so to get the benefit of the health giving properties of nature’s bounty, go for the reds, oranges, yellow, greens, blues and purples! It’s not just fruits and vegetables that contain micronutrients but meat, dairy, grains, tea and even dark chocolate as well. To get a full list of important micronutrients for running, click here.
Water is not technically a nutrient but is critical for life and health, especially for exercisers as sweating induces a fluid loss that needs to be replaced to maintain a nice fluid balance within our cells and tissue. On average, a person can lose 1.5l to 2l a day through urination, breathing and sweating. Aim to drink at least 1.5litres a day or 25mls per kilogram body weight and if exercising and sweating more than normal, you can increase this to 2-3litres a day or 35mls per kilogram bodyweight.
This advice is based on generic recommendations to the healthy, adult population. If you require more specific advice, tailored to your individual needs, we would be more than happy to help you. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 01 293 87 99.