In the run-up to marathon day? Congratulations on entering!
Since you are here, you are planning what to eat before race day and that is a smart move as it’s one of the best ways to make sure you are prepared.
Proper nutrition before a marathon is just as essential as physical training and can mean all the difference between having the energy to finish and fatiguing early.
In fact, what you eat in the week leading up to a marathon, the night before a marathon, in the morning before a marathon, and during a marathon all play a big part in ensuring you not only finish, but achieve your best possible performance and finish time.
No marathon runner wants to hit the dreaded “runner’s wall”, so it’s important to fuel up and maintain your energy right until the finish line.
This guide will explain everything you need to know – including what to eat night before a marathon and what to eat right before a marathon, as well as during the marathon and after you have crossed the finish line.
What To Eat Night Before A Marathon
What should you eat the night before a marathon and why does it matter?
What you eat the night before a marathon can set your hunger levels in the morning and ensure that your digestive system is perfectly balanced.
After all, you don’t want to overeat in the morning before the marathon or have excess fats still digesting while you run.
One of the golden rules of pre-marathon eating is to carb-load. You have probably heard about the popularity of pasta among long-distance runners and there is solid reasoning behind it.
Carbohydrates provide energy through the conversion of glucose and this is essential even the night before a marathon.
But, instead of whole grain carbs, you should aim for alternative carbohydrates that will reduce the risk of stomach discomfort.
Ultimately, the best meal to have the night before a marathon (ideally eaten at least 12-15 hours before the start of the race) is a high-carb, low-fiber, and low-fat meal.
If desired, there is also nothing wrong with eating something like oatmeal or granola before bedtime.
The best pre-marathon foods include:
- pasta, bread, rice, or quinoa
- starchy vegetables – sweet potato, kidney beans, lima beans, parsnip, corn, etc.
- lean proteins – salmon, turkey, and chicken
- fruits – bananas, oranges, raisins, berries
70% of your calorie intake should come from carbs. Starchy vegetables provide extra carb and nutrient intake, while lean proteins are better (but should still be kept to a minimum) for their quicker digestive properties.
What To Eat In The Week Leading Up To A Marathon
What you eat in the week leading up to a marathon is just as important as what you eat the night before as it can condition your digestive system and eating mindset.
While it might be tempting to have a final feast involving your favorite foods a few days before the marathon, this should be done prior to the week leading up to it.
In any case, you should aim to be eating a balanced diet of carbs, protein, vegetables, and fruits as the marathon date approaches – and especially within the three-day period before the marathon where fueling on high-energy food becomes vital.
Another golden rule among marathon runners is to avoid anything unfamiliar, spicy, or exotic that may cause stomach upset.
What To Eat Before Marathon
So, what should you eat right before a marathon?
Like the three-day rule of thumb, the three-hour window before a marathon is an essential period for fueling up on energy.
This should involve a high-energy breakfast, followed by a few high-energy snacks.
Examples include oatmeal, pasta, bread, sweet potato, quinoa, peanut butter, bananas, starchy vegetables, and energy bars.
Some runners also find a small sugar dose, such as a spoonful of sugar, beneficial for providing an energy boost.
At the same time, it’s just as important to hydrate. Aim to drink 500 milliliters of water within the three-hour window, followed by another 300-600 milliliters before the marathon begins.
If desired, you can drink caffeine to provide extra energy and make you feel more alert.
Isotonic sports drinks are also popular hydration options, providing energy and essential minerals that make up your electrolytes.
What To Eat During a Marathon
In general, runners tend to burn 100 calories every mile. And with long-distance runs such as marathons, it’s important to maintain and restore energy levels.
This will reduce fatigue (to avoid “runner’s wall”) and power muscle contractions.
Of course, you don’t want to eat anything heavy while running. This makes energy bars, energy gels, and bananas great options to take with you on the marathon.
But instead of consuming each one straightaway, opt for small bites to top up your energy across a longer period.
You should stay hydrated while running. Again, opt for frequent sips of water (at regular intervals) or an isotonic sports drink to replenish lost fluid without running the risk of bloating your stomach.
What To Eat After Marathon
It goes without saying that marathons are especially draining and exhausting, not just on a level of fatigue, but in terms of the overall depletion of fluid, electrolytes, glycogen, glucose, minerals, and more.
So, while you should take some time to celebrate after crossing the finish line, it’s still important to replenish the essentials that your body needs to avoid nausea, headaches, or even passing out.
The best post-marathon foods to consume include bananas, raisins, energy bars, granola, bread, bagels, milk, chocolate, protein shakes, and anything sodium-rich or with a lot of salt, such as salted peanuts.
After a marathon, it might be tempting to treat yourself and eat anything/as much as possible, but this can have adverse effects. As a result, try to avoid fast food, carbonated drinks, or anything fried or spicy.
Proper nutrition before a marathon is essential to maximize energy and performance and eliminate any unwanted stomach upsets.
The golden rule is to carb-load starting three days before the marathon, making sure that your meals are low-fat, low-fiber, and high in vitamins and minerals.
Protein, ideally lean protein, should be kept to a moderate amount. Eat a low-fat, low-fiber, and high-carb meal for breakfast, before topping up with energy-boosting snacks before the marathon begins.
During the marathon, maintain your energy with energy bars and energy gels, consumed slowly.
Starting from the week leading up to the date of the marathon, avoid fast food, fried food, junk food, high-fat dairy food, and anything unfamiliar, spicy, or exotic that might cause stomach upset.
Overall, follow the above recommendations on what to eat before, during, and after your marathon to ensure that you are fully prepared and in the right physical state to push forwards all the way to the finish line.