FAQs on marathon nutrition

ASICS nutritionist answers some of the most common questions about Marathon nutrition.   
FAQs on marathon nutrition

What are the common mistakes you see in runners?

When training for a marathon runners often continue to eat three meals a day and their snacks are unplanned and unsufficient for their needs. They also often bunch a lot of their calories into the evening. If you’re eating lunch at 12 noon, training after work and not eating dinner until 8pm, you can’t expect to eat a banana at 3pm and expect to do a hard or long run and not feel the effects of low blood sugar. You’re also more likely to overeat after your training as you will be staving! It will also take you longer to recover.

Lots of runners don’t understand the importance of nutritional recovery after long runs either. Eat as soon as possible after training to help make adaptations.

Iron levels can become lower when increasing training loads too. If you think this is a problem you’re facing, don’t just self-supplement, get a blood test and find out if this is the reason you are not progressing/feeling excessively tired or sleeping so much.

In a training programme, when should a runner begin carb loading?

I would only do this for a race (unless practising for marathon as you have not tried this before). In runs over two hours, consider a good pre-run meal four hours before and then a snack two hours before. If you’re running early, eat a little more before bed and then a light snack in the morning. If can’t eat anything, bring some fuel with you on the run unless you’re intentionally aiming to run with low carbs.

Do recovery bars really help and is there a window when I should be eating these?

The science behind recovery bars is no different to what you can get from food. As a general rule, we suggest that when you do very intense training / prolonged daily runs or intense interval sessions then you should recover with at least 0.8 – 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass and 10 - 20g of protein. Many of these bars go some way to fuelling these needs, but there’s no reason why regular food cannot be used. There’s nothing magical about these bars but they are convenient (especially when travelling) as you can look at the pack and see the protein and carb intake you are eating. It is possible to recover on carbs alone immediately post exercise as long as it’s 50g + then follow this up with protein within a couple of hours. But a superior recovery food will contain both protein and carbs.

How can I figure out how many energy gels to take? Is there a specific guideline or is it dependant on the brand of gel I take?

The need to fuel mid race will vary from person to person but there is a standard/safe fuelling method that I feel works for most people sub-elite and that is to start early with carbs. Elites that do fuel during a race will often do this much later into the race but these athletes are physiologically different from the years oftraining.If you’re a beginner, aim for 30-60g per hour. Start at the lower end and build up to see what works for you.

 What are your top five foods for a marathon menu?

  1. Lots of leafy green vegetables as well as a range of different brightly coloured vegetables, such as beetroot, carrots etc.
  2. Eat a regular intake of carbohydrate foods (make this your base food at every meal and snack). The portion will depend on your individual needs and body composition.
  3. Eat a variety of protein over the week: meats, fish, lentils, beans, eggs, etc, but as little processed proteins as you can manage.
  4. Eat a small daily dose of healthy fat each day: oils such as rapeseed, olive oil, etc), and seeds/nuts and oily fish.
  5. If you can, aim for plenty of dairy foods: yoghurt (natural or fruit), milk or smaller amounts of milk-based products (rice pudding or custard, for example). These make excellent recovery foods from running due to the mix of proteins in them and the carbohydrate. If can’t tolerate them then calcium-enriched soya is a good alternative.
  6. Add in a little bit of what you fancy!