Marathon Fuel: 5 Tips for Crushing Your Training

Sports dietitian Meghann Featherstun breaks down the essentials of marathon training nutrition.

Training for a marathon goes far beyond running. 

Building up your ability to run long distances — pushing your body to its limit — doesn't only consist of training runs, tracking your pace and finding the perfect running shoe. Our bodies need more. 

More fuel, to be exact. 

Let's start with the basics: What is fueling? 

It's exactly as the word "fuel" would imply. We're essentially powering our bodies and supplying them with what they need to train for a marathon.  

Marathon fuel can range from a bagel for carbohydrates to an electrolyte drink for hydration, and much, much more in between. It looks a little different for everyone, but Meghann Featherstun, sports dietitian and seasoned marathon runner, has a few golden rules for fueling that all runners can keep in their back pocket (or running belt).  

1. Start Fueling Early and Often

If Featherstun had a catchphrase, it'd be "fuel early and often." Why? Simply put, carbs are a great source of fuel, but our bodies can't store enough of them for a longer run. 

Featherstun recommends that for shorter runs (fewer than 70 minutes), have a snack like a couple of graham crackers and at least 8 ounces of water or an electrolyte drink, like Pedialyte, before your run. And keep sipping that electrolyte drink during your run if it's warm outside.  

For longer runs (more than 70 minutes), she recommends a larger snack like a bagel and at least 8 ounces of water or an electrolyte drink before the run. Then, throughout the run, fuel with a gel every 25-40 minutes and 8-16 ounces of electrolytes every hour.  

Fueling your body before and during your run with quick carbs and hydration will allow you to have consistent energy throughout your entire run.

With that said …  

2. Always Eat Before a Run

Featherstun insists: No matter how early your run is, fuel beforehand.  

If you had a meal in the 2-3 hours before your run, you may not need a snack. But if you haven't, Featherstun recommends a snack in the hour before your run.  

If you don't appropriately fuel beforehand, you're more likely to burn through the glucose and carbs your body has stored up, and you may not have enough easily accessible fuel to finish your run feeling physically and mentally strong.

Even a quick bagel or toast in the hour before you head out the door can make a world of difference. 

3. Recover with Protein and Complex Carbs

You may wonder, with the emphasis on carbs before a run, when do protein, complex carbs and other forms of fuel come into play? The answer, according to Featherstun, is in your post-run recovery meal.  

Within the hour after your run, have a balanced meal with protein, complex carbs and healthy fats to both aid in recovery and help prepare you for your next training run. Proteins, especially, can help speed up muscle recovery, and can't be overlooked in the training process.  

If your schedule doesn’t allow you to spend time cooking a balanced meal in the hours after your run, Featherstun recommends a protein-rich snack (like our Ensure Complete protein drinks or our Zone Perfect bars) to jumpstart the recovery process until you can get a balanced meal. 

As Featherstun puts it, "you have to look at the big picture. The better you recover and replenish your nutrition, the more prepared you’ll be for your next run." 

4. Ensure that Your Overall Nutrition Supports Your Training

Like Featherstun said, look at the big picture. 

Regardless of your training schedule, you likely need three full, balanced meals each day to uphold general health and nutrition. Take a page out of Featherstun's book and do your best to incorporate carbs (bread, potatoes, rice and fruit), protein (chicken, eggs, meats, seafood, lentils and beans), healthy fats (avocadoes, nuts and seeds) and some color (fruits and veggies) into your daily routine. 

Upholding that baseline of nutrition is crucial, even when it may not directly contribute to a long run. 

5. Never Underestimate Your Hydration Needs

Even without a marathon training regimen, the truth is, many people aren’t staying hydrated enough day-to-day to begin with.  

And, Featherstun warns, "if you go into a run already dehydrated, that run will feel much harder. It can impact your heart rate, your muscles and your recovery." 

And considering that for most of us running means sweating, we're only losing more sodium and water as we go.  

For runs of >70 minutes, Featherstun recommends an electrolyte drink. Our Pedialyte Sport includes five essential electrolytes to replenish sodium, muscle function and muscle repair, making it your best friend before and during your runs. 

And overall, don't underestimate the importance of hydration. Keeping hydrated regardless of your training schedule is critical for everything from proper organ function to getting a quality night of sleep. 

While marathon training nutrition, and marathon training in general, can look a little different for every runner, keeping Featherstun's golden rules handy can help ensure that you're putting the thought and care behind your nutrition that your body deserves. 

So, while runners know that marathon training is much more than running (read: sacrifices, early nights, early mornings, lost toenails, aching muscles, etc.), fueling, including proper hydration, is a major way to get the most out of your runs, all the way up to race day. 

MOST READ