A Simple Guide To Proper Marathon Nutrition

Proper marathon nutrition can be described as eating as few things that are processed as possible, and eating a balanced ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrate. Macronutrient ratios, grams of intake, and overhauling your whole diet can get overwhelming, so let’s start with the basics.

You are about to challenge your muscles and joints in a whole new way.  In order for those muscles to fire properly they need adequate fuel.  If your body doesn’t get the right fuel for these increased demands it will break down. As well, the body needs an increased amount of food nutrients to stimulate your immune system.  Running is a constant balance of healing tissue and cellular changes in muscle.


A common mistake new runners make is to think about calories. A non-nutritious frozen burrito may have the same “calories” as an apple but a tenth of the nutrient content for minerals, vitamins and fiber. Instead the focus should be on the right blueprint for your personal body of carbohydrate, protein and fat from whole food sources.

A common percentage ratio I have found to work for new marathon runners is:  50% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 30% protein.  This ration can fluctuate greatly with:

-body type
-prevalence of pre-diabetes or blood sugar resistance
-work duties outside of training
-previous level of fitness prior to training for a marathon
-ancestral background

I personally train at 40% carbohydrate, 30% fat and 30% protein.  But I’m constantly listening to my body for input.  I tend to crash with rices and find my body can’t handle gluten as do many of my patients so I use beans, sweet potatoes, yams, yogurt, cheeses, avocado, and fruits for my carbohydrate sources.  There is no definitive research yet on the perfect ratio.  But there is a general consensus that we heal and train better using foods that are minimally processed.

Eat to Run

Here are some ideas to begin to eat to run, instead of running so you can eat bad. The easiest way to keep track of your food intake is to keep a food journal and record how you feel from day one.  Man runningIf you haven’t, start now.  If you begin to notice a pattern of fatigue and brain fog, it’s time to assess your meal timing and the amount you are eating.

There is great controversy about the true ratio of carbohydrate ratios.  It is reported the ethiopian and kenyan runners eat approximately 75% of their diet in carbohydrate.

The beginning runner does not have to go that far to have a great run season.  What you do need to do is listen to your body.  The research differs heavily on ratios but a new runner can fall anywhere from 2.5-5 grams per pound of body weight.

Skip the processed cereal and go for the steel cut oats with fruit and a nut butter.  The steel cut oats sugar to fiber ratio will be easier fuel for your body to manage.  Processed cereals spike blood sugar and stress the bodies insulin system.  The nut butter will provide fat and protein and the fruit, more carbohydrates and antioxidants.  My favorite are blueberries or blackberries.

(Want another great option;  Try a cup of black beans and two organic eggs, or pre cook sweet potatoes on a weekend, reheat and add sautéed spinach and an egg)

Skip the white bread and processed lunch meat sandwich and choose a sweet potato with organic butter and a salad with dark greens and protein.

Sweet potatoes are loaded with Vitamins A, C, and B vitamins.  As well as being a great balance of carbohydrate fuel because of their fiber content.   The greens salad will provide the phytonutrients you need for optimal recovery, and an olive oil/balsamic dressing will provide the fat content you need.  Olive oil is also shown to fight inflammation, which is a constant battle in runners.

(Other options:  A cup of wild rice, or 1 cup of black beans, over a greens salad with cucumber celery and apple.  Add chicken or minimally processed turkey meat for more protein, or another idea, Ezekiel bread sandwich with avocado spread, spinach, protein and cucumber)

Skip the processed food bar, cookies or chips and try an organic apple with nut butter.

Apples contain 25 g of carbohydrates and have a low glycemic index while being high in vitamins and minerals.

– Other great snack options are organic yogurt, with blueberries.
– Avocado mashed and spread on celery or cucumber.
– Organic fruit and nut bars (lara bars, kits originals)
– Almonds and dried cranberries.

Vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds are awesome:  These foods highly underrated for their effectiveness in both healing and fueling your body.  Many runners for some reason in there minds eye see white bread, white pasta, and white rice as the epic fuel source they will need to fuel their body.  A cup of black beans is both high in protein and a great source of carbohydrate.  A win win!  Almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds provide great protein and fat for recovery. (one handful is an approximate serving)

Poor Marathon Nutrition Solutions

Cramping, extended days of soreness, and injuries are all linked to poor marathon nutrition.

If your soreness does not go away in two days after a session, try upping your carbohydrate intake by one serving as well as your protein:
– 1 more sweet potato
– 1 cup of black beans
– 1 more apple
– 1 more cup of rice.
– 1 more banana
– 1 more sprouted bread toast with nut butter

Before and After a Run:
Higher glycemic carbohydrate sources such as banana and oranges are great fuels right before after and even during a run.

How to prevent cramping:

– Don’t skip breakfast
– Hydrate with coconut water (It’s like natural gatorade with no food colorings or dyes)
– Foods high in Magnesium: Raw spinach, nuts and seeds (most in pumpkin seeds)
– Foods high in Potassium: Beans, Yogurt, Avocado

Dr. Day has treated hundreds of injured marathon runners and got them back on the road.  Not only that, they often find with regular chiropractic and soft tissue alignment they begin to run with better performance and precision.

- He has worked with Sole Runner’s marathon team as the team doctor since 2009.
– He has also been a regular speaker at A Runner’s Experience in Long Beach, CA.

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