Does training for a marathon give you free rein to eat whatever you want? Not really. With the higher mileage your caloric need will increase, but rather than focus on quantity, it’s more important to concentrate on what and when you eat.
The science and recommendations around proper nutrition for marathon runners have come a long way. I remember the stories of Bill Rogers (who won the Boston and New York marathons, among others in the seventies) bingeing on junk food. No longer do we hear such tales from the world’s best distance runners. Nutrition has become a vital component of racing success.
Nutrition doesn’t start and end on race day. Just like the rest of your marathon training, proper nutrition should be practised from the beginning of your program.
Most of us know the primary nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbs serve as our energy source and proteins help rebuild muscle after workouts. But how much and when? Individual needs will vary, but in broad strokes, you will require about 60 per cent of your calories from carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and vegetables), 20 to 25 per cent from proteins (fish, lean meats, dairy and beans), and around 15 to 20 per cent from fats (preferably low in saturated fat).
Before long runs, take in some carbs one to two hours before heading out by having a banana or a carb energy snack, such as a Cliff bar. After training, have a 4:1 carb to protein snack (yogurt, juice and berry shakes are great) within an hour for optimal recovery.
Micronutrients include minerals such as magnesium, zinc, iron and others, which are also part of an essential diet. These can be found in green leafy vegetables. Simply add a salad to one of your daily meals to fulfill this requirement.
When you buy a high-performance vehicle, the dealer recommends that you never let the fuel level go below halfway and that you always refuel with high-octane gasoline. The same can be said for marathon training, so start treating yourself like a luxury race car! Eat before you are too hungry and fuel up with quality nutrients. Surround yourself with healthy choices for snacks between meals, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and occasional energy bars. Eat every few hours in medium-sized portions so that you avoid both severe hunger and fullness. This will likely lead to a small increase in daily caloric intake, but keep in mind the additional mileage you are running.
Nicole Stevenson is a running coach and the ninth-fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history. She is a long-time competitor in the Canada Running Series.