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Food Training: What to Eat if You’re Training for a Marathon


Posted by : Tamara Green, Fri, Feb 14 2014

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marathon food

The Winter Games are in full force, which means all of us Canadians are cheering proudly and excitedly for our athletes abroad in Sochi.  As we watch our Olympians, we may turn inwards and start to think about what our own personal sport of choice is.  For many, it's marathon running.  The thrill of a long distance run that ends with endorphins, glory, pride and a much-needed Epsom salt bath is incredibly appealing.  This empowering sport requires quite a bit of training, and while some people only focus on the physical run, nutrition plays a huge role in successfully crossing the finish line and completing a marathon.

What to Eat While You Train
During the training period runners need to fuel their bodies properly to speed up recovery times and optimize their performance.  During this time it’s so important to be consuming tons of antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, minerals and electrolytes to keep your body strong and to train the digestive system for the big race.  During training, the diet should consist of about 50-60% complex carbohydrates. This ensures the muscles in the body are saturated with glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose/energy. This is what fuels runners during those very long runs.  Complex carbohydrates include brown rice, quinoa, sprouted whole grains and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash.

It’s also important to be eating tons of antioxidant and omega 3 rich foods.  Hardcore training puts a lot of stress on the body, which creates free radical damage.  Free radicals are behind many diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.  Your body is brilliant and it does its best to protect against free radical damage, but you also need antioxidants from food to play a big protecting role.  Eat lots of dark leafy green vegetables and colourful vegetables to get an array of different antioxidants.  Also load up on coldwater fish, like salmon, fish oil or flax oil to get those Omega 3’s in the body.  Omega 3’s are natural anti-inflammatories and will really help with reducing muscular inflammation after and during runs. 

What to Eat Right Before a Run
It’s best to eat about 2 hours before going on a run, which may be difficult for some who want to train early in the mornings.  Eat low-glycemic complex carbohydrates to saturate glycogen stores; this prevents fatigue and will provide sustained energy throughout the run. The meal should be low in fat and moderate in protein.  Whole grain toast with nut butter, whole grain cereal with almond, soy or dairy milk or oatmeal with fruit are all great options.

What to Eat During a Run
While you’re running your body needs quick bursts of energy that are easy and fast to digest. Simple carbohydrates, fluids and electrolytes are all very important during a long run. Sports bars, energy drinks, gels and dried fruit are all great choices.  Think of foods that are easy to carry, easy to eat and easy to digest.  However, always be aware of what sports bars and drinks you’re buying, because of a lot of them are filled with nasty preservatives and ingredients.  Make sure to test out eating these foods beforehand to know how you react to them.  No one wants an unfortunate digestive mishap during a run. 

Keeping hydrated is also really important for the body during a long run.  You need to hydrate with electrolytes as well as water.  Some marathon runners suggest drinking 5-12 oz of fluid every 15 minutes.

What to Eat After a Run
After you’ve finished running, you have 30 minutes to get the post-run snack into your system. This snack replenishes glycogen stores that were used up during the run.  Eating a simple carbohydrate with protein helps immediately repair muscle and balance blood sugar.  Some good options are fruit smoothies with a scoop of protein powder or nut butter, raw energy date and nut balls or the very popular choice of chocolate milk.  However, chocolate milk is often very hard for people to digest and the dairy creates inflammation in the body.  Also, remember to drink plenty of fluids to replace what was lost during the run.

Now that you know what to eat to start training for a marathon, it’s time to hit your sole to the pavement… or to a treadmill (it is winter, after all).

And let’s not forget: Go Team Canada!


Tamara Green is Chief Nutritionist and Natural Cook with The Living Kitchen Wellness Group in Toronto.




Posted: by Tamara Green
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