Nutrition Tips for Marathon Training

Nutrition Tips for Marathon Training

The marathon training process places a high demand on caloric resources, so during the weeks leading up to a race, runners need to pay careful attention to marathon nutrition and a well-designed marathon diet plan. The two most important factors to keep in mind will be 1) volume, and 2) balance. Runners need to eat. The calories burned during long training sessions can be surprisingly high, and if those calories aren’t replaced, the body may not have the nourishment it needs to rebuild the incremental damage inflicted on muscle tissue and attend to the daily requirements of health and function. At the same time, a healthy marathon diet should be balanced, and should contain a slightly higher proportion of both simple and complex carbohydrates than an ordinary diet, even for an athlete. Here are a few simple marathon nutrition tips to keep in mind during the weeks leading up to a long run.

Marathon Nutrition: Carbohydrates

Every healthy diet requires variety. Athletes and non-athletes alike should take in a varied proportion of green leafy vegetables and colorful fruit supported by a base of whole grain carbohydrates. But for runners, carbohydrates take on a larger significance, and should represent more space on the plate at every meal.

During the training process, carbohydrates should supply a runner’s primary source of fuel. More carbohydrates support greater endurance in general, and about two days before a race or long run, the excess carbohydrates a runner eats will be stored in the muscle tissue as easily accessible glycogen. Once the running body burns through a supply of simple carbohydrates provided by sugar, fruit, or last minute snacks, the muscles will begin to draw on this stored glycogen. The greater the stored supply, the longer the muscles will be able to work before turning to the liver and fat cells for new sources of energy.

Simple carbohydrates are important and should not be overlooked, and a balanced marathon diet includes plenty of healthy sugars like the kind found in fruit and milk. But complex carbohydrates hold the key to healthy endurance training and marathon success. These include whole grain bread, oats and oatmeal, rice, pasta, and healthy cereal. During the weeks before a race, runners should make sure carbohydrates supply about 70 percent of their overall marathon diet.

Marathon Nutrition: Protein

Endurance athletes sometimes overemphasize the value of protein while training for a race or demanding event. Protein is important, since it can help stressed muscle tissue heal and regenerate, but it isn’t the most efficient source of fuel. A healthy marathon diet should not contain much more than about 10 percent protein as a proportion of daily caloric intake. For every 2.2 pounds of body weight, runners should consume about 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein each day. Protein sources should be clean and lean, which means less red meat and more poultry, fish, and eggs. Nuts and legumes are also a great source of protein and should have a place a healthy marathon diet.

Marathon Nutrition: Fats

Just as endurance athletes sometimes overemphasize the importance of protein, they tend to underappreciate the value of healthy fats. Fats are essential to balanced marathon nutrition and should actually make up a minimum of 15 percent of a healthy marathon diet, a slightly higher percentage of caloric intake than protein. After the body burns through its supply of simple carbohydrates, then complex carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, it turns to fat resources. Metabolic processes shift and the body begins depending on the stored energy in fat cells. This usually happens after about 1.5 to two hours of sustained demanding activity that keeps the heart rate high.

Marathon runners should not deliberately try to carry excess weight in the form of subcutaneous body fat, but it’s easy to underestimate the importance of stored fat resources during a 26.2 mile run. During the training period and the weeks leading up to the long race, runners should take in plenty of healthy fats in the form of olive oil and nuts. While animal fat supplied by milk, fish and poultry can support a healthy marathon diet, the best fats are those that come from plant sources.

Marathon Nutrition: Hydration

Endurance athletes often have questions about hydration and the comparative value of water over juice and sports drinks. Water has always been an excellent source of hydration for athletes across every sport. During the first two hours of any intense, sustained activity that keeps the heart rate elevated, water can and should supply all of the body’s hydration needs. Water helps every body tissue function more efficiently and there’s almost no such thing as too much of it (a condition does exist called water toxicity, but this is very rare and involves extreme levels of water intake).

After about two hours of intense activity, the body can benefit from the additional carbohydrates supplied by sports drinks. At this point, endurance athletes can make the transition and benefit from the electrolytes and simple sugars that juice and sports drinks provide. For additional energy, consider supplements like the Kbands Booster Kit for balance and mental focus.

Marathon Nutrition: Calories

The most important part of a healthy marathon diet—basic caloric volume-- is often the most overlooked. Endurance athletes frequently underestimate the body’s increasing demand for fuel sources, any fuel sources, during the intense period of training leading up to a marathon. Most runners should not be consistently losing weight throughout the training process. While the actual number of calories a runner takes in will depend on the runner’s body size, training schedule, experience, age and metabolism, a healthy runner should replace diminishing body weight with an active increase in calories consumed.

Marathon Nutrition: Final Notes

A balanced marathon training program requires preparation, planning and careful attention to all aspects of health and fitness. In addition to long training runs, runners should make time for rest breaks, healthy eating, stretching and sleep. Runners should also dedicate at least a few hours each week to toning and strength training. For specific guidance with each of these aspects of a marathon training program, consult the trainers and experts at Kbands Explore the website for more information on total body conditioning with the support of Kbands resistance training equipment.


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