What to Eat When Training for a Marathon

This is a guest post from Richard Kerrigan.

On top of the hours and hours of time spent pounding the pavements building your cardiovascular fitness, it’s important to ensure you are eating the right foods along the way, to give your body the best possible chance to perform during, and then to repair and recover effectively after your training session or race. The right nutrition really can be the difference between a good run and a great run.

Before you start a long training session, choose some high energy foods that will provide your body with the fuel it needs to perform at an optimal level. One of my go-to favourites is (low salt) peanut butter spread on toast and topped with a sliced banana. I find it’s not too heavy and provides me with some simple sugars, a tonne of energy as well as some fat to get through a solid training session. Sometimes I’ll skip the bread altogether. Try to avoid foods that contain a high level of salt and saturated fat before your run, as these will leave you feeling very thirsty.

During a long training session or endurance race, your body will predominantly be burning carbohydrates as its main fuel source. Once you eat a carbohydrate-rich meal, the body converts those carbohydrates into glycogen, which is then stored in the liver and muscles ready to be used as energy.

Unfortunately, your body can only store a limited amount of glycogen at one time. So, it’s important you top up these stores along the way to prevent a loss in performance. If your training sessions last longer than an hour you should look at extra supplementation.

You can find glycogen in the form of energy gels, chews or sports drinks. I’d advise testing these out during your training sessions though as sometimes they can upset your stomach. It’s much better to find this out during a training session than on race day.

After a long training session try to refuel within an hour to give your body the best chance of recovery. Opting for high GI (glycemic index) foods such as white rice or white potato along with some lean protein will help to repair your muscles.

One of my favourite meals to have after a tough training session is some Mexican white rice, (90 second instant), sliced chicken breast with some steamed spinach and a good drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Remember the more efficient you can become with your recovery, the more quality training sessions you can fit into your training block, resulting in a stronger performance on race day.

Hydration leading up to and during an endurance event also plays a huge part in overall performance, get this wrong and you could really suffer. To avoid muscle cramps, headaches and fatigue drink plenty of water. You can also add electrolyte tablets to your water which contain sodium, potassium and magnesium to help.

Treat race day like any other successful long training session. Don’t change anything, if it’s worked before it will work today. I’ve seen too many people eat different foods or try something new on the day of the race ending in disaster.

Once your race has finished, you’ll probably want to celebrate, but try and get a good amount of water and some proper food into your body before consuming alcoholic drinks. Remember you’ll be dehydrated and fatigued so go easy on those post-run beers.

Good luck and remember the better prepared you are the better you will perform on the day.

Richard Kerrigan, the PT, chef and nutrition coach, combining his love of food, nutrition and fitness to help everyday Aussies find a sustainable path to living well. Find free recipes, cooking tips and training advice, at rkthebeachlife.com.au and on Instagram at richardkerrigan_