Fueling Before, During & After a Marathon

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You would think that after running a number of marathons and other long distance races, I would know how to fuel my body correctly. For years, I thought not eating before a long run and only replenishing with water and the occasional energy gel was enough to get me through training for – and eventually – running 26.2 miles on event day. And although I finished consistently, I always felt I could do better if I only knew how to get this “eating thing” just right.

After reaching out to a nutritionist and fellow running coach, I changed my habits completely and was able to come up with a fueling plan that fits my needs. Now, I’m running faster, I have more energy and I feel less depleted after a long run. By following these fueling tips, you too can perform your best from start to finish.

Proper Hydration is Crucial

A good rule of thumb is to drink at least 16 ounces of fluids an hour before you start and then continue to hydrate as necessary during the run. The recommended fluid intake is0.5 ounces of water per pound of body weight. In hot conditions, increase up to 0.75 oz. You can also find out if you’re drinking enough water by checking your own sweat rate. I use CamelBak, but there are many other sweat calculators on the internet to choose from.

Another helpful product I wasn’t aware of is salt stick or tablet. During a very long run, especially in warmer weather, make sure you have salt sticks or the equivalent in your pocket and. Take one or two each hour. They work wonders! These can help minimize muscle cramps, heat stress and fatigue. Do you remember feeling the urge to vomit and thinking where is this coming from? This will take care of it.

Note: It is a good thing to hydrate effectively. You can monitor your levels each day by checking the frequency and color of your urine. Put a hydration tablet or powder in your water in case you feel like you need more.

Figure Out What Nutrition Works Best for You

Before the Run: I was always afraid I would get sick to my stomach by eating too much before a race, so I would just eat nothing. That affects the outcome of your race. It’s best to try different things including amounts and timing during your long training runs to determine what best works for you. I tested four different products before settling on a Honey Stinger Waffle and some water about one hour prior to running.

During the Run: Consuming carbs and drinking fluids along the course is crucial for sustained energy. So, be sure to take enough carbohydrate blocks or gels with you for mid-run fuel. I like to have something every 40 minutes of my run. I learned that runners need 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour if running for more than an hour. Use the products that worked for you during training. DO NOT switch up or experiment with new products on event day.

After the Run: Personally, I cannot eat anything for at least 30 minutes after my run, but I do drink a sports drink to give me that extra electrolyte boost. Do what’s best for you. It is known that consuming protein right after a run helps with the recovery process. I also recommend having some chocolate milk and carbohydrates to restore glycogen. Pickle juice after a very hot run has been helpful for me as it contains sodium and potassium needed to restore those electrolytes.

What a difference this learning experience has made in my running journey! I run faster, I’m not as exhausted to do other things and I can actually enjoy more of what I love to do.

Written by Angela Anderson

Angela Anderson is the Deputy Director of Business and Marketing at the MCM Organization. She is a running coach with numerous marathons and triathlons under her belt and loves to help or learn from fellow runners.