What You Should Eat Before a Marathon

Pumping diesel into your car when you need petrol is probably not the best idea. The same logic applies when you are prepping for a marathon. Most people can barely make it to 5km without puffing and wheezing, but if you intend to keep going till the 42.195km mark, you have to fuel yourself right. What you put in your mouth can make or break your race time.

You’ve trained for months and the marathon is just a few days away. You’re already tapering your runs for it, running less to preserve your energy for the race course, but what about food? How should you prep for it? Should you load up on the carbs like crazy or eat like normal? What kinds of food will give you an advantage over the other runners on race day?

Fuel Up to Win

3-5 Days Before the Race

No, this is not how you should be doing it | Source: fatbeforeitwascool.blogspot.com
No, this is not how you should be doing it | Source: fatbeforeitwascool.blogspot.com

When you chow down on your bowl of noodles, your body stores it up in your liver and muscles as glycogen. Muscle glycogen (and fat) is what fuels you during high intensity exercises (like running a marathon) [1]. This is why it’s important to load up on carbs prior to race day so you charge up your muscles with glycogen to get you in top form during the marathon. 

Foods to go for: It’s best to eat healthy carbs which your body is already used to. The no.1 rule for your pre-race diet (and also attire!) is “nothing new on race day“. If you’ve always eaten brown rice, noodles, oats, or other carbs you love, stick with it. Trying something new right before a marathon could leave you battling stomach issues on the road.

Top tip: While it’s important to carb load before race day, you should choose your carbs wisely. And remember you’re carb-loading not calorie-loading, so don’t go crazy at the buffet line. Try to get a carb intake that makes up about 70-80% of your daily calorie intake, without increasing your calorie intake. Otherwise you risk feeling lethargic or bloated up when race day rolls by [2].

48 Hours Before the Race 

Source: theage.com.au
Source: theage.com.au

Continue carbo-loading and remember to mix it up. You don’t have to get all your carbs from grains. It could also be from fruits and starchy veggies, but remember not to indulge too much in the ones that could cause digestive issues later on.

Foods to go for: While you’re carbo-loading, it’s also good to get some protein into your body. Try to have some fish or meat with your meals, and perhaps the juice of a coconut or two for some electrolytes.

Foods to avoid: Cut out alcohol during this period as it will cause you to be dehydrated. Stay away from rich, fatty foods as they may cause tummy problems. High-fibre foods could also give you gas, which isn’t going to be pleasant when you have 42km to cover.

Day Before the Race 

You don't want this to be you | Source: flickrhivemind.net
You don’t want this to be you | Source: flickrhivemind.net

A lot of people make the mistake of piling on the carbs the night before race day, and end up feeling bloated and queasy on the starting line. Instead of huge meals, experts suggest eating small meals every few hours to avoid stuffing yourself and overwhelming your digestive system [3]. Have an early dinner so you give yourself plenty of time to digest.

Foods to go for: Carbs with low glycemic index (click here for a sample list) are great because you want to feel full faster instead of overeating. Your keywords when planning your food should be “light and digestible”. Small sandwiches are good, as are small portions of rice and meat. Remember to drink lots of fluids to keep yourself hydrated. Don’t guzzle up gallons at a time, but just sip on water throughout the day.

Foods to avoid: Continuing staying away from alcohol, fatty foods, and high-fibre foods.

Race Day

Source: runnersworld.com
Source: runnersworld.com

It’s the big day!! We know you probably have butterflies in your tummy but instead of sleeping in, wake up early enough to have a small breakfast. Try having some food 3 hours before the gun goes off so it can help fuel you later.

Foods to go for: Something light but carby is good. Oatmeal and a banana, or yogurt and a sandwich are great options. If you can’t stomach solid foods, try energy gels.

Foods to avoid: Big breakfasts and new foods. You don’t want to sabotage yourself.

If you’ve fueled up the right way, you should have no problem performing your best on the track! Happy racing and good luck! 

See also:


What’s your biggest worry when it come to prepping for a race? Share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!


Runner’s World
Runners Connect
Marathon Training
The Guardian
Sports Nutritionist James Collins

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