10 Ways to Fuel Your Body Before Running a Marathon

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Race season has arrived, and as certain as the leaves will begin to fall, runners will line up to grab their race packets and don their numbers. There’s a lot of preparation and recovery, both pre- and post-marathon, and fueling your body is one of the most important things to consider.

Tara Martine, MS, RD, LDN, overall women’s winner of the 2014 Savannah (GA) Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon, registered dietitian, licensed dietitian/nutritionist, and founder/owner of Whole Impact Nutrition, gave us 10 fueling tips for marathoners and says, “Wise marathon preparation is a holistic endeavor. Sleep, recovery, cross-training, and most of all, nutrition, all play essential roles. Ask any experienced runner: the right foods, eaten in the right quantities and at the right times, can make all the difference when race day arrives.” Here are 10 nutrition tips any runner would be smart to follow.

1. Plan ahead

Many marathoners wait until a week or two before the big event to start thinking about their diet. But race nutrition is much more than five days of carb-loading. Start thinking about what you’ll eat at least a couple months before the race. As you’ll see below, there’s a lot to do.

2. Train your stomach

About eight weeks before your race, figure out which brands and types of sports nutrition products settle best in your stomach. The only way to determine this is to experiment. Simulate your race-day nutrition plan during your long workouts. Aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates, 24 to 48 ounces of water, and 400 to 800 milligrams of sodium per hour.

3. Plan your final meal


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Within a month of the race, you should have your race-day meal plan dialed in, as well. General guidelines are 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight one to two hours before the race, or 3 to 4 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight three to four hours before. Practice eating a variety of breakfast foods before your long runs to see how they digest. Avoid high fat foods because fat takes a long time to digest. Good options are bananas, toast, oatmeal, bagels, fruit, cereal, potatoes, or rice.

4. Be good to your body during race week

During taper week, the goal is to rest your body and fully recover from all the hard work you’ve put in. Replenish with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Avoid processed foods. Shoot for 70% of your total calories from high carbohydrate foods.

5. Don’t worry about your weight

Don’t be alarmed if you gain weight during taper week. For every gram of stored glycogen, the body stores three grams of water, which is used to help convert the stored carbs into energy once you begin racing. So drink plenty of water and relax.

6. Load up on nitrates

red beets

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Everyone knows about carbs, but few realize how important nitrates are to performance. Nitrates, found in plant foods like beets, arugula, and Swiss chard, are converted into nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator that increases blood flow to the heart and working muscles. A good idea is to drink eight daily ounces of a performance juice like Beet Performer for seven days prior to your race, and another eight ounces the morning of the race.

7. Eat your pre-race dinner early

Eat an early high-carbohydrate, low-fat meal to ensure that your body has enough time to fully digest and eliminate everything. Avoid foods that can trigger heartburn including spicy foods, high-fat foods, deep-fried foods, and highly acidic foods like tomatoes, chocolate, or mint. Foods that are lower in fiber, like regular spaghetti, may help prevent diarrhea, intestinal cramping, and bloating.

8. Don’t try anything new on race day

The biggest rule of thumb for race-day nutrition is don’t try anything new. Eat the breakfast that you have perfected over the last month at the time that works best for you.

9. Fluids matter

Coffee beans, mug

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If you normally consume coffee in the mornings, then do so on race day. Hot tea or coffee often helps clear out your bowels before the gun goes off. Hydrate yourself with 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fluid two to three hours before the race. This will ensure you are fully hydrated and allow enough time to void excess fluid before the race starts.

10. Add carbs a half-hour before the gun

To top off your energy stores, you might want to consume 15 to 30 grams of carbs within 30 minutes of the event start in the form of a gel, chews, or sports drink. Following a thoughtful nutrition program will give you confidence once your race starts. So plan early, follow the plan, then get out there and enjoy your day. You’ve worked hard for it!

Post-race, it’s also important to remember our bodies need to recover after such physically challenging events, and certain products can assist us in properly healing our bodies. Created by a Chicago Chiropractor and her husband, the Tru-Align Body System by Kacelia is a revolutionary, self-care treatment system that is clinically proven to alleviate back and neck pain and other bodily ailments, and is the perfect way to align and relax your sore and tired body and joints after running. We’re also fans of using essential oils, such as Organic Infusions, which can help with tense muscles, or even speed up recovery and healing time — naturally. If you are dealing with overworked muscles, peppermint will cool down the muscle and also has anti-inflammatory properties — just simply dilute with a carrier oil, such as Jojoba oil, and massage into the area. Your body will thank you for it.

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