Nutrition is an essential component to perform at your best, recover faster and more effectively, and to maintain overall health. The food we eat provides the energy and nutrients needed to fuel, repair, and to support the immune system during your run.
Here are some key considerations for nutrition and running:
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for endurance exercise. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is then utilized by the body to provide energy. For runners that are planning on running a half marathon or marathon, aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour for the first three hours, and then increase to 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour if you’re still going. Good sources of carbohydrates right before your race include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. During your run, sports products such as drinks, gels, or bars are great sources of carbohydrates to fuel you during your race.
- Protein: Protein is important for building and repairing muscles. Leading up to the race, aim for 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Good sources of protein include lean meats (chicken, turkey, beef), fish, eggs, and plant-based sources such as beans, nuts, and tofu.
- Fat: Healthy fats provide a source of energy during longer runs, but the timing of eating fats is important because fatty foods can slow digestion and possibly lead to an upset stomach if eaten to close to your run. Limit eating high fat foods at least a few hours before running. Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocado, and oily fish.
- Hydration: Proper hydration is crucial for runners, as dehydration can lead to decreased performance and health risks. Drink water regularly throughout the day and aim to consume 16 ounces (2 cups) of water 2 to 3 hours before running. About 15 minutes before a run, drink 6 to 8 ounces (1 cup) of water. During a run longer than 1 hour, make sure to get at least 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your run. After the race is over, aim for at least 16 ounces of water with food. If you know your sweat rate, hydrate with 20 to 24 ounces per pound lost.
- Timing: The timing of meals, snacks, and hydration play an important role in running performance. It is recommended that you eat a meal or snack containing carbohydrates and protein 2 to 3 hours before running to provide energy, and to consume a small snack, such as sports gels or a banana one hour before running to maximize your energy levels for the race.
Overall, the key is to focus on a balanced diet and hydration leading up to the marathon, and to consume a light and easily digestible meal that is high in carbohydrates and low in fiber and fat on the race day to fuel your body for optimal performance.
John Kim, DNP, is a nurse practitioner in the Christie Clinic Department of Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. He specializes in the prevention and correction of injuries or disorders of the skeletal system and associated muscles, joints, and ligaments.