Many folks think training for a marathon is a green light to eat whatever they want, but this could not be further from the truth. Nutrition is a key component of any training regimen and especially for endurance training. In fact, it is just as important as getting in that interval workout, long run, or strength routine. If you are eating the wrong foods and not getting enough of the right ones, you won’t be 100% prepared come race day. And it could mean the difference between finishing the race and not.
Throughout your training, it’s important to make sure you are eating a balanced diet. This is not the time to try out that fad diet you’ve been hearing so much about. Low-Carb isn’t going to get it done when you’re pounding the pavement. Carbohydrate is your primary source of energy; too little carb will cause muscles to fatigue quicker. Protein and fat also play major roles in your training regimen. Protein helps build and maintain muscle and is needed for muscle recover.
Fat is another big source of energy especially in low intensity, long duration activities such as marathons. It’s best to balance your training diet with 50-60% of calories coming from carbohydrates, 10-20% from protein and no more than 30% from fat with most of your fat sources coming from unsaturated fats (think nuts, olive oil, avocados.)
The first step to an optimal training diet is limiting or eliminating the high-fat, processed and high sugar foods that we all love. Try eliminating trips to the drive-thru, fried food, processed foods (frozen, canned and processed meats) and low quality carbs (desserts, candies and bakery goods). These are going to make you feel sluggish and will not provide you with the greatest amount of energy for your workout. Second, you want to replace those foods with fresh fruits and vegetables,
whole grains, fresh lean meats and low fat dairy products. See list of healthy food sources.
Before a big workout or the race, you want to choose a meal low in fat and fiber for easy digestion about 3-4 hours before the event. It should consist of mainly carbohydrates with a small amount of protein to aid in recovery. The most important part about a pre-exercise meal is to go with what is familiar, something you have tried before that you know will not upset your stomach. Never try something new before the big race or even a long run. If it agrees with you, go with it. Click here for pre-exercise meal ideas from eatright.org.
Immediately following your workout or race, your body is depleted of glycogen and needs to be replenished. As hard as it may be, try to get some carbs and a small amount of protein into your body within 30 minutes of completing a workout. Many athletes find it easier to get a smoothie down rather than solids. Some athletes even swear by chocolate milk. Click here for post-exercise meal ideas from eatright.org.
And of course, do not forget to stay hydrated before, during and after a run or race. Hydration is just as important as eating the key nutrients and is the single largest contributor to fatigue. Click here for proper hydration guidelines from eatrigh.org .
Just think of nutrition as one of your essential workouts each week. If you want to ensure that you make it across that finish line, eat well, hydrate often, train hard, and of course… have fun!