I work with a range of running levels from novice to the well-seasoned ultra-athlete. This blog has information for all runners; however, it is intended for the newer marathon runners.
I ran my first half marathon with no knowledge of running, nutrition or recovery. I went in 100%, I trained at 100%, every run was at effort, I thought if I ran every run as fast as I could, I would naturally start to run faster, wow, was I wrong! I was under fuelling, not intentionally, I truly believed I was eating well at the time. I trained with an old school phone (way before owning a Garmin) that shouted out when I had hit another “k” that I for some strange reason decided to not take to the event. This all led to a bucket load of excitement at the start line, went out hard and fast, have no recollection from 13k, collapsed at 18k and woke up in an ambulance with no idea who I was, where I was, and thought I’d been hit by a car. I heard all sorts, I wasn’t designed for running, maybe stick to yoga, everyone had their opinion.
My thoughts were to learn from what I had done and sign up for the Gold Coast marathon the next year, forget the half, I was going to do the 42.2, find a trainer who would guide me, eat well, stretch, roll, sleep, do the right things. And I loved it, I loved the training, I loved the event, and it led me to love running as my primary exercise.
Many runners focus on the training and forget the key factors such as fuel, sleep and recovery. A car doesn’t go far without fuel, your body is the same. Nutrition is not the cherry on top, it is a foundation to successful athletic performance.
Top 10 General Nutrition Recommendations for Runners
- Hydration! Proper hydration is essential for athletes to function effectively and minimise fatigue. There are recommended mls per kilogram, however, it depends on variables such as temperature, exercise output, and sweat rate. Urine should be a pale straw colour and it is a good idea to do a sweat test for marathon events. I conduct sweat tests for all athletes to allow them to practice consuming the correct level of water intake on training runs so it is well rehearsed for race day.
- Do not be afraid of carbohydrates, they are not the devil! They are the body’s primary fuel source and are the quickest to convert to ATP (the body’s fuel source). After your training sessions, replacing carbohydrates is essential to replace glycogen. Glycogen synthase is high post-exercise, meaning the body utilises carbohydrates for energy storage much more efficiently post-exercise and allows cortisol to decrease by regulating blood glucose post-training.
- Good sources include fruits, vegetables, oats, rice, legumes and whole grains.
- Of course, don’t forget about the macronutrient, protein! While carbohydrates are super important, protein is essential for muscle repair and recovery.
- Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, eggs, beans and tofu. Protein powders can be beneficial if struggling to hit your protein targets. I have my athletes ranging from 1.3-2g per kg of body weight per day, depending on the athlete’s goals.
- Dietary Fat does not make you fat. In fact, it is necessary for healthy hormone production, brain function & absorption and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K).
- The best kind of fats to be eating are the unsaturated fats from foods such as nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout). Good quality dairy and grass-fed butter are delicious & good quality butter is beneficial for gut health due to butyrate content. These don’t need to be removed, but fats such as these are saturated fats and shouldn’t exceed 10% of your total fat intake.
- Micronutrients. Macronutrients seem to gain all the attention, however, the micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) are key to ensuring the body performs well. Load up on your vegetables and include fruit daily. Some of the micronutrients marathon runners can need to monitor are iron, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, and electrolytes. Other nutrients worthy of mention are the B vitamins, zinc & vitamin K.
- Balanced meals. Including protein, fat & carbohydrate in every meal, starting at breakfast will support regulated energy throughout the day. Forgetting the protein and fat at breakfast can set you up for big energy crashes and sugar cravings in the afternoon. Using coffee as your energy source is going to end up in a big downer, coffee will provide you with a sense of energy and reduces perceived effort but does not provide actual fuel and often results in the energy rollercoaster.
- Pre-training Nutrition. Training on an empty stomach is ok if the session is less than 1 hour. Higher intensity efforts will benefit from a small amount of carbohydrates i.e. fresh juice, date, banana and sessions over 1.5hrs will require fuelling during the session.
- Post-training Nutrition. When you eat is just as important as what you eat. Aim to eat a meal or snack containing carbohydrates and protein within 30-60 minutes of finishing a training session to aid in muscle recovery and glycogen stores (particularly important if you have a second session later in the day).
- Eating enough! Training for a marathon requires the correct energy intake to ensure you are performing and recovering like a rock star. Under fuelling can lead to menstrual changes, injuries/stress fractures, mood disruption, poor performance, fatigue, decreased body temperature and lowered immune function.
- Practice your race nutrition. Whether you have designed your plan yourself or have a professional help you with a plan, make sure it is well practiced in the long runs. This includes your hydration, what gels/chews/drinks you are going to utilise, and how many grams you are planning on having an hour. Practice can make an ok race into an epic one. And no one wants gut issues on the day!
Essential Race Day Tips
- Take a moment to sit, breathe and visualise the race whilst sipping on water.
- Consume a higher-carbohydrate, low-fibre meal the night before to top off your glycogen stores. One of the easiest approaches is to increase your carbohydrate intake from 7 days out from 50% of your total daily calories to 70% of your total daily calories for the three days prior to racing. You can do various other carbohydrate-loading approaches, I recommend working with a professional to do this effectively.
- Race day should mimic your long run days. Do not try anything new on race day.
- Replacing glycogen post-sleep is key on race day. Aim to eat a light breakfast 2-3 hours before the run or race, consisting of easily digestible carbohydrates. Aim for 1-2g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight. Foods such as toast, smoothies, honey, and bananas are good. Be careful with oats if not tested on long-run days due to the potential for gut upset when racing.
- During the run or race, consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour to maintain energy levels. This can be in the form of gels, chews, or sports drinks. Always take gels/chews with water, not sports drinks.
- Don’t forget to hydrate! Drink water at regular intervals throughout the run or race to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can affect body temperature, cognition & reduces gastric emptying which can lead to gut upset and not gaining the benefits of the gels you are consuming. Sweat rate should have been calculated in training and hydration practiced prior to race day.
- Avoid alcohol post-run and follow all your post-training nutrition to come back to running sooner.
Training & Recovery Recommendations
This is not my area of expertise, and I would recommend speaking to experts in the field such as Dave at Coombs Running or Matt at Online Run Coaching for running programs. Strength training & cross-training are key elements to minimise injury risk and I would recommend speaking with one of the following amazing coaches Brad Hewat , Graeme at Coast PT, or Josh Smith
Some general recommendations are:
- Start slow: As a novice marathon runner, it’s important to start slow and gradually build distance.
- Cross-training & strength training can help prevent injury and improve overall fitness.
- Rest days are just as important as training days. Give your body time to recover by taking at least one rest day per week, and consider incorporating active recovery activities like foam rolling, stretching, and massage treatments into your routine.
- Listen to your body: Your body knows best, so listen to it. If you’re feeling tired or run down, take a break. Pushing through pain or fatigue can lead to injury and hinder your progress.
- Sleep is your time for the body to repair, to allow for effective immune function, cardiovascular health, ability to cope with stress and the ability to perform and improve.
Nutrition is simple yet complex.
If you have any questions or are interested in gaining more personalised nutrition or further education on how to plan your event nutrition contact me to perform and recover like a rock star.