What you eat leading up to, during, and after a marathon will have a big impact on your overall performance.  When it comes to eating for a marathon, getting the basics right every day is the first step to a successful race.

Below are some things to put into practice on a daily basis:

  • Eat plenty of different coloured vegetables and fruit
  • Choose high-fibre, wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Include some low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives
  • Include healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and fish – particularly oily fish such as salmon and tuna
  • Include good sources of protein such as lean meat, seafood, poultry, legumes and eggs
  • Drink plenty of fluid, preferably water
  • Limit alcohol consumption

Here are 5 nutrition tips to help optimise your performance on marathon day:

1) The week before the marathon:

Continue with the basic good nutrition habits mentioned above, there is no need to make any dramatic changes, just remember to stay hydrated (aim for pale yellow urine).

2) The day before the marathon:

Keep up your fluids and adjust your carbohydrate intake to make up 60-70% of the food you eat.  Choose whole-food carbohydrates (whole grains, fruit and starchy veggies). A suitable evening pre-race meal would include high carbohydrate foods such as pasta, baked potato, kumara or rice.

Male runners in 15k road race

3) Marathon Day!

The aim of pre-run food is to top up muscle glycogen stores. It’s best to choose easily digestible carbohydrate that is low in fat, fibre and protein as these nutrients slow down digestion.  Ideally, try to eat something 2-4 hours before the race.  If your race is first thing, and eating at 3am is unrealistic, it is crucial to eat a decent carb rich meal and snack the evening before.

Examples of pre event meals:

Some appropriate foods to eat 1-2 hours pre-event include:

  • Fruit smoothie (fruit, milk, yoghurt)
  • Crumpet + jam/honey + chocolate milk
  • Fruit flavoured yoghurt

Some appropriate foods to eat within 1 hour before a marathon include:

  • Banana
  • Small can creamed rice
  • Small jam/honey sandwich (avoid grainy bread too close to a run)

4) During the Marathon

Again, easily digestible carbohydrate may be beneficial for optimum performance.  Popular foods among athletes include sports bars, sports drinks, energy gels, gummy lollies and bananas. Practice food and fluid strategies during training sessions to work out what suits you and talk to a dietitian/nutritionist about how to make this work.

5) After the Race

To ensure the best recovery, ideally rehydrate with water, but a carbohydrate and electrolyte containing drink may be beneficial and aim to eat within 30 minutes of finishing the race.  Eating during this critical window should also be a habit whilst training. Quick and easy food options include a bowl of cereal and milk, liquid meal supplement, glass of milk + banana, can of creamed rice or tuna and crackers.