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Marathon Nutrition: What should Runners eat?

Stick to a healthy, balanced diet:
A healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, lean meats and proteins is important whether you’re training for a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon.
You need to increase your carb intake, which will aid your muscles and give you energy in the middle of physical activity. Glucose from carbs helps prevent runners from running low on energy during physical activity.

Hydrating before, during and after exercise is very important to runners’ overall nutrition.
Runners who are exercising for an hour or more should drink water during exercise, too. Sports drinks are good options as well to replenish sodium and potassium.
Hydrating after a run is vital, too. Most people should drink approximately 2L of water a day, but runners should drink more if they are losing a lot of fluid through sweat.

Some of the carbs that will give runners the energy they need to get through a race are pasta, bread, rice. It is recommended to add more carbohydrates into your diet about 3 days before a marathon or longer training run. This will give your body more time to store the nutrients in the muscles as glycogen. Recommendation is 7 to 10 g of carbs/kg of body weight. Also, the day before the race, about 70% of your calories should be from carbs. Note that, these carbs don’t have to be pasta and bread; they can be higher-fiber whole grains like brown rice for instance. On the other side, cutting out fibers the day before is wise to avoid gastrointestinal distress.

Eat what you know is ‘good for you’ before a race:
When it comes to what to eat before, during and after a race, it differs from a runner to another, yet one thing remains the same: sticking to what you know is good for your own body.
Everybody should know before they get to a race what works well for their own body and not try something new on a race day. Runners should focus on getting easy-to-digest carbohydrates which are low in fiber about 2 hrs before a race as pre-run meals. Bananas, peanut butter & jelly and sports drinks are often desired.

Plan for what to consume during a race:
During a race and as a way to replenish electrolytes, runners should focus on hydration and turn to sports drinks. While you’re running a race fluids and fluid-based carbohydrates are a great option. Sports drinks during longer runs can help boost glycogen levels, which in turn helps with overall energy. As for food, you don’t need it during a race since your body is going to be focused on running and being physically active, consequently it’s going to divert attention away from digestive tract.

Replenish post-race:
After a race, it’s important to focus on replenishing glycogen stores and drinking plenty of water. To get food back in the system, an immediate sports drink, banana or bagels are good options to recover. Also, runners should drink until their urine is pale yellow or clear.
Within 2 hrs after a race, make sure to get a good solid meal which contains protein for helping with muscle recovery and carbohydrates to keep glycogen stores being replenished.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon


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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian