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Boston Marathon Sports Nutrition Series


In preparation for the Boston Marathon on April 16th, this new weekly series will provide you with tips and strategies for eating while training for a marathon. I have invited guest blogger Sarah Gold to write this series. Please check back each week for a new topic!


Week 1: The Importance of Training Your Gut

Most runners prepare for a race with a fairly detailed training plan, with a specific number of runs and miles per week, perhaps including some speed work and usually culminating in a long run on the weekends. What many runners forget to include in their training plan is a fueling strategy. A well-practiced fueling plan can enhance performance and minimize stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) upset during runs, and most importantly on race day. While there are many foods that runners tend to gravitate towards, each runner has a different tolerance for foods before and during runs. Finding a fueling strategy that works well for you during your training will make race day less stressful, and more enjoyable. There are a lot of unknowns and things you cannot control about race day, but what you will eat and drink shouldn’t be one of them!


The night before

Your fueling strategy should start with dinner the night before your long run. Your meal should include carbohydrates, some protein, and a little fat. Examples:

--pasta with tomato sauce and turkey meatballs,

--baked chicken with rice, vegetables, bread, and cranberry sauce.

Meals that are high in fat such as a burger may lead to GI upset the next day. As you try different meals, pay attention to how you feel when you wake up the next morning and during your long run. Did you feel energized or did you feel like your meal was still sitting in your stomach the next day? Make note and adjust on your next run if necessary until you find a meal that works well for you.


The morning of

The morning of the long run is often the toughest meal for runners. However, if you eat something before a long run, you will likely feel more energized and be able to run for longer. The best option is a carbohydrate-based meal or snack. Each runner will need a different amount of fuel, but a good estimate is about 0.5g carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Therefore,if you weigh 150 lbs, you would eat 75g of carbohydrates (about 300 calories). Examples:

--a piece of toast (or half of a bagel) with jam and a large banana,

--a bowl of cereal with fruit and milk.

If you are prone to stomach upsetduring runs, start with smaller amounts of food (a banana or a few crackers) and add a little more each week.

     Another option is to test out different foods before a shorter weekday run, so you’re less likely to stress about what willhappen on a long run. Just as you train your legs to run further each week, you can train your GI tract to tolerate food before and during a run.

    Most runners prefer to eat at least 30 minutes to an hour before they run to lessen the chance of cramps and stomach upset during the run. But, food eaten even five minutes beforehand can still get digested while you run, as long as you are running at a pace you can maintain for more than 30 minutes.


During the run

Each runner tolerates different foods and drinks during arun, and each runner will need a different amount of fuel. Consuming between 100-250 calories of carbohydrates per hour after the first hour of exercise will help you to maintain a normal blood sugar level, and enhance performance.There are a variety of engineered foods such as GUs, and sports beans to choose from. But real food works just as well, and it can be less expensive. Examples:

--dried fruit such as dates or raisins,

--candy like jellybeans or Swedish fish.

Also, as your runs get longer, you may find you need a few different options because it can be difficult to consume GU gels for 3 hours. Again, testing out different combinations and seeing how your stomach tolerates it is an important part of training.

The most important thing to remember is that training is the time for trial and error and you want to have if figured out by race day to avoid any surprises!


What is your favorite way to fuel your runs? Have you found that certain foods work better for you than others?

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Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Member since: Jul 8, 2007

Hi! I specialize in nutrition for exercise, and help active people figure out how to manage food, weight, exercise, energy and enjoyment of eating. Let me know if you have any questions!

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