Is Your Diet Getting in the Way of Your Marathon Success?

When I look back on my first half marathon...

...I was feeling unfit, nervous, and totally self-conscious. Why? Like many runners who are new to the scene, my diet was getting in the way of my success. Psychologically, I believed I needed to load my body with carbs (or that I could eat whatever I wanted!) throughout my training. This resulted in unwanted weight gain and a lot of emotional defeat, which is the last thing anyone wants to experience after months of training. 

If you're starting to train for a marathon this fall or want to improve your sports performance, continue reading. I'm not only familiar with the downfalls of not having the right diet in place, I'm now a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach, so I've learned a few things. I've also figured out a diet regiment that works for me and have successfully completed close to 20 long-distance races. Why devote yourself to 40+ hours of training a week for the next four months if you're not going to feel great on race day? 

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What I Know Today.

Unless you're running for more than an hour at a time, you don't need performance drinks, bars or gels. They are intended for long, sustained efforts and are not meant for people running for less than an hour.  

Additionally, take it easy on the carb loading! While you need carbs, extra carbs mean a lot of extra sugar, which creates inflammation and an increased risk of injury. It's no wonder 50% of people who train for a marathon are injured at the start line. 

Training for your first marathon? Congratulations! You'll want to check our our blog "From 5K to Marathon: What to Expect When You're Training." You've got to put in some prep work if you want to be a marathon runner. 


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Let Me Break it Down. 

Your body has very different needs based on how many miles it travels. If you have a 4-5 mile recovery run, keep the carbs at bay and amp up your intake of healthy fats (i.e. avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butters, coconut oil). Your body will become efficient at burning its own fat stores for energy instead of using carbohydrates it obtains from starchy foods. This strategy, known as fat-loading, can easily be adopted for most training days and will help you keep you at your optimal weight.

Long runs and hard run days are much more demanding, requiring readily available glucose to sustain performance. In stark contrast to fat-loading days, you will want to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction by reducing your fat intake and opting for higher carb foods (i.e. potatoes, rice, rice noodles, granola, bananas). That, in a nut shell, is the secret to "carb-cycling, a strategy widely used by some of the most successful runners in the world. 

As far as protein goes, you'll want to be eating between .8 - 1 gram of protein per pound of your desired body weight daily. Runners don't realize it, but they are tearing down muscle when they are pounding the pavement mile after mile (this is also referred to as muscle wasting). A balanced diet with the correct amount of protein helps to repair and maintain muscle mass.

Don't just take it from me - experts like Mark Sission of Mark's Daily Apple are also spreading the news about diet regiments for long-distance runners. He talks a lot about the benefits of Keto, Paleo, and low-carb diets, and how they can improve sports performance. Click HERE to learn more. 

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What to Eat the Day Before? 

The day before your big race is when you'll want to top-off your glycogen stores (i.e. carb-load) and decrease your fat content. Why? No runner wants to be on a race course needing to use the bathroom all the time. 

Throughout the race, be prepared to eat and drink on the run. Marathoners need to replenish their glycogen stores before they run out or they will “bonk” or “hit the wall.” To help put it into perspective, distance runners should consume about 100 calories for every 30 – 45 minutes on any run longer than an hour. This is where your gels, gummies, beans - whatever works for you! - come in handy.

There is one more important rule of thumb about what to eat before and during your race. This might be the most important rule of all. ONLY consume those drinks and foods you have successfully tested during your training season. Stay away from samples at the race expo. Stick to your plan. Save treats for after the finish line.

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Do What Works For You. 

There's a lot to learn - it's all part of the sport. There will be good days and bad days. There will be races you'll soar through and others you might not complete. Nonetheless, your diet regiment has a huge impact on your overall performance. And, while there are dietary rules to play by, remember that it all depends on the individual. I always tell my clients to talk to other runners. Learn from one another. But, at the end of the day, you've got to figure out what works best for your so you can make those gains in pace and distance and feel good about yourself and your achievements. 

Lastly, if you're looking for a custom diet regiment, I can help. I've not only learned by experience how to fuel my body for a long run, I've been helping other runners cross the finish line, too.  You can easily contact me HERE

If you liked this blog, here are some additional insights from Coach Karen...

Karen Berenson