I’ve run over 50 races, including two Boston Marathons, and thought my nutrition was pretty solid considering how clean I eat. But I was surprised at what a registered dietician had to say about my marathon training diet eats.
One of my best friends, Christian, is a registered dietitian and also getting his doctorate in Nutrition Sciences. Oh, and he is also the Director of Performance Nutrition for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In short, the dude is smart and knows what he’s talking about when it comes to sports nutrition. So, naturally, I had him analyze what I eat in a day during marathon training. Here’s what he told me.
If your “what I eat in a day” is a representation of a “normal” day, my knee jerk reaction is that you are not eating enough — by a pretty good bit — to meet your needs. More on that below. But you’re doing a lot of great things already.
What you’re doing well
- Keep eating pre-workout
Your pre-run breakfast looked good, especially for someone who is not a fan of eating before morning workouts.
- Keep taking your iron supplement
Take on an empty stomach with citrus (so long as it doesn’t upset your tummy). Try to avoid caffeine 2 hours before and after you take the pill. Also avoid consuming dairy around the same time. Shouldn’t be a problem for you since you don’t eat dairy!
- You hydrate throughout the day.
I especially liked seeing that as soon as you woke up, you went straight for a glass of water. Lots of folks are concerned that this will upset their stomach but if you keep it to an 8-12 oz glass at least 30 minutes before running, you should be good to go.
I like to fill a glass with ice and water the night before and put it in the fridge so that it’s already made for me when I am groggy and just want to get back in bed! Plus, the ice cold water really helps me wake up, which makes it a lot easier to eat!
- You are doing a great job with protein. Yay, happy muscles!
Not only are you doing a good job with the amount of protein you are consuming, but you do a pretty great job of incorporating protein into each of your meals and snacks throughout the day. As active as you are, it is important to make sure that you are eating high quality, protein-rich foods all day so your muscles have it for use when they need it.
One recommendation is to add some kind of protein snack right before bed. A lower carb protein shake is a great option here. Your muscles do a lot of healing overnight so assuring that protein is around is a smart practice.
- Dried fruit for the win!
I like seeing that you incorporate dried fruits into your meals and snacks. They are also a GREAT alternative to sports gels during runs as they provide the same burst of easily digested carbs without the added processed sugars. They are also a great source of fiber. Yay, happy colon!
- Quick note on alcohol – good job limiting your libations.
Among other performance deceasing effects, alcohol in excess can seriously mess with your hydration. Stick to 1-2/night when seriously training for a race. And have me over for wine when you do imbibe.
Biggest concern: not eating enough
You are NOT eating enough and need to increase your calories. A few tips to do so:
- Eat slightly larger portions with meals and snacks
You need to increase your portion sizes just slightly – no need to stuff yourself.
- Put peanut butter on EVERYTHING
- Eat an avocado EVERY day
I split mine down the middle and sprinkle with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. I mash everything together right in the skin and spoon it out on toast with some halved cherry tomatoes or just eat it by itself!
- Add a smoothie as your snack (w/ avocado)
- Snack more frequently
What else to improve:
- SLEEP MORE!!
You made good points about sleep during marathon training in this post. Follow your own advice.
- Eat more the night before a big AM run
Since the pre-run meal you have before a longer/more intense workout is so small, its critical to make sure that you have a quality dinner the night before.
- EAT MORE CARBS. Why? Here’s why.
We all know carbs should be a staple in a marathon training diet. I know you don’t love carbs (unless it’s toast or potatoes) but you need to add in more. Try bagels, rice and crackers. Don’t get so obsessive about clean eating that you under fuel.
Remember, fruits and vegetables are almost entirely carbohydrate, and they’re gluten free. 😉
- You MUST fuel and hydrate on any run over 45 minutes!
11 mile, hour and a half run and no fluid/fuel?! You know better! Remember, any sustained physical activity lasting more than 45 minutes needs to accompany fluid and carbohydrate replacement for optimum performance and to avoid bonking.
- Eat sooner after you finish a workout
Your run ended at 7:35 and you didn’t have solid food until 8:45. Remember the “metabolic window.” Post workout, your muscles are torn up, damaged, and looking for some love. That 30-45 minute window after a workout is a critical nourishment period to assist in proper/expedited recovery and stronger/better performing muscles!
- Get blood work done
It’s especially important now since you are likely at your peak metabolic and physical health. Knowing these values now will serve as a standard by which you can gage your health as you get older.
What happens when you under-eat
- It’s super important to remember that not eating enough can affect your performance and ALSO lead to illness and injury.
Also, if you happen to be trying to lose weight, under-eating can actually prevent weight loss! This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s been shown in multiple studies.
I actually have a paper in review at the moment on a study I finished last fall examining energy balance and body composition in NCAA division 1 female soccer players. We found that athletes who ate less and less often had greater body fat and less muscle mass than those athletes that ate more and more often!
Since Christian gave me some tough love about my nutrition (which came just in time about three weeks before the Boston Marathon), I took all of his advice. I’ll do another post in more depth about what happened but, in short, turns out he knows what he’s talking about.
Thank you Christian! (Y’all can follow Christian on Instagram here! He posts adorable pictures of his frenchie.)