Wise food choices for marathon runners

18 February 2016

Wise food choices for marathon runners

Ever struggle at the supermarket knowing what foods to fill your trolley with? ASICS Pro Team Nutritionist Ruth McKean explains some wise food choices for marathon runners. 

"What are good food options for marathon runners?" the short answer is "base your diet on a variety of natural foods that will cover your energy needs" 


Dietary nitrates

Eating foods naturally high in nitrates may help performance in the shorter, more intense training sessions in the lead up to a marathon or half marathon. 

Foods high in dietary nitrates include: Fennel, leek, parsley, celery, cress, lettuce, beetroot, spinach, rhubarb, rocket salad

 Naturally Fatty Foods

We all need fat in our diets to help our bodies absorb certain fat soluble nutrients and provide essential fatty acids that the body cannot make itself. These fatty acids are used for a variety of functions in our body including the function and maintenance of all cells. A very low fat diet for a runner may increase their risk of injury and fatigue and the efficiency of fat metabolism may be reduced. 

Natural sources of fat include: Whole nuts, unprocessed white and red meats, all fish but particularly oily fish, whole eggs, variety of oils

Fat is energy dense so excessive intake is not recommended. Regular small amounts is highly recommended. 

Milk and Natural yoghurts

Researchers working sports nutrition have specifically recommended milk as the perfect balance of nutrients to optimise recovery after hard or prolonged sessions. Milk has the entire range of amino acids useful to help start muscle recovery processes. In addition it has carbohydrates and is a rehydrating fluid. Protein, carbohydrate and fluid are currently the key elements required in aggressive nutritional recovery. Milk is also a great source of calcium and iodine. Full fat, semi skimmed and skimmed are all good choices depending on your overall nutritional needs. Full fat will have more overall calories, but if you eat little fat in your diet this may be useful to increase the natural fat in your diet plus some fat soluble vitamins. 

Antioxidant Foods

High levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is produced in skeletal muscle during exercise and this has been associated with muscle damage and impaired muscle function. It is antioxidants that can protect against excessive ROS. In certain situations, such as training at altitude or in older athletes, antioxidant supplementation may be useful, but currently it is recommended that an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals through regular food naturally high in antioxidants is the best approach. 

Antioxidants are found in a range of foods: Brightly coloured vegetables, fruit such as berries, teas-especially green tea, red wine, chocolate with a high % of cocoa, many herbs

Foods for Carbohydrates

Although training diets low in carbohydrates are currently very popular and are extremely likely to play a part in optimal training for elite athletes, the clear message is that this needs to be planned into your training. Optimal training at elite level will usually involve a physiologist, coach and nutritionist and as yet even with these groups there is no real certainty of the optimal application to achieve optimal gains.

Athletes should still do a lot of their training with adequate carbohydrate availability in high intensity sessions. instead of highly processed carbohydrate, choose wholegrain pasta, rice and a variety of potatoes in your diet. Check your portions are suitable for your energy needs. 


Food for vitamin D

Finally, consider seeking out safe sun exposure in the summer months to optimise your Vitamin D stores ahead of winter. Some fatty foods such as oily fish will naturally contain Vitamin D and although these may help, food alone in the UK is extremely unlikely to suffice if you wish to optimise your Vitamin D supply without sufficient sun in the summer months.