Marathon Training/ Nutrition/ Recent

My Marathon Training Diet + What I Eat in a Day

When training for a marathon, you may be running 40-80 miles a week on on top of a full-time job, full-time parenting, or both! You may be so focused on getting in the miles that you just grab whatever food is convenient and quick throughout the day. But focusing on your marathon training diet is just as important as logging the miles. And while I’m not training for a marathon this fall (I’m training to be a first-time parent instead), I know many people are planning to do their fall races virtually. So I wanted to share some tips on fueling today!

When I’m logging serious miles, I often get asked what I eat in a day. And, to be honest, it’s not very exciting. When I was training for the 2018 Boston Marathon and then again, for the 2019 race, I ate pretty simply for a few reasons:

  • Convenience – I don’t mind eating the same thing over and over because it’s less thinking. 🙂 Plus, when I was training in 2019, I was working a LOT on top of a pretty intense training schedule, so convenience was key!
  • Time – it’s faster to eat simple things! Tossing things with olive oil, salt and pepper — which is how I serve basically everything — is faster than following a recipe.
  • Dietary restrictions – When my mileage ramps up, my stomach often gets more sensitive. Heavily processed carbs (e.g. white bread, crackers, etc.) and dairy wreck me. As a result I tend to eat the same things that I know work for me.

When you’re training to run a marathon, it’s easy to overlook your diet and sleep. But both are crucial to your success. Plus, most of us know too well that awful feeling on a run when your gut gets MAD and you immediately think back to what you ate the night before. And stomach aches aside, how you fuel your body contributes to how you perform. It can contribute in a positive manner or undermine your running. And wouldn’t you rather have your food add to your success?

You simply can’t ignore nutrition when you’re going after a PR or tackling a hard distance. While I use a training plan for my marathon training, I don’t use a true “meal plan”. I just eat things that I know will make me feel great, help my digestion, and keep me full. Oh, and I eat LOTS of carbs and I eat all day long. But if you really don’t know much about nutrition, it may be worth working with a registered dietician who specializes in athletic performance to help you identify where you may need to make some adjustments.

What to Eat When Training for a Marathon

What a marathon runner eats will differ from person to person. We all have different preferences, mileage levels, goals, body weight, and food sensitivities (or lack there of). What’s consistent is that carbs are super important for all runners. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 4 grams of carbohydrate for every pound of body weight.

Some of my favorite resources for runners dietary needs are linked below:

The first three have recipes, as well as information about the various aspects critical to runners’ diets. The last one talks about the importance of timing certain macronutrients for performance and recovery. This post about the importance of carbs is also a must read.

A simple thing to analyze is simply paying attention to any neglected food groups. Do you eat a LOT of protein but not many carbs, e.g. keto? If you’re relying solely on vegetarian protein sources, make sure you are getting enough protein to help your muscles rebuild and recover.

Do you love fat (e.g. nuts and nut butters), but neglect protein? And are the fats you’re eating healthy fats (from nuts and healthy oils) or are they coming from trans fats and fried foods. Or maybe you get 99% of your calories from carbs? And what types of carbs are you eating? Are they mostly processed (e.g. crackers, pretzels, cereal) or do you have some non-processed carbs as well (e.g. potatoes, fruit, rice, whole-grain bread, etc.)

There is definitely a time and place for processed carbs (the Nutrient Timing book explains that well) but you should also make sure you focus on getting high-quality, slow digesting carbs too!

A typical day of meals and snacks

Pre-run

I’ll eat a couple energy balls or a couple pieces of toast with honey. Other times I’ll do a sliced banana with peanut butter. Whatever I eat, I usually sprinkle salt on top! If I’m doing toast pre-run, I typically stick to a gluten-free toast since anything with too much fiber (i.e. the sprouted options linked below) will be rough on my stomach mid-run. You may be able to eat whole grain toast pre-run, but I’d suggest giving yourself a 30 minute window before heading out to help it digest.

Breakfast

It’s never anything really glamorous – just some kind of eggs and toast and berries with coffee + collagen. However, on Sundays I make french toast, waffles (these are a favorite!), steel cut oats or a batch of baked oatmeal to eat throughout the week. Sometimes I’ll break my breakfast into two meals about an hour apart if I really can’t stomach eating too much right after training sessions. (I almost always run in the morning.) I’ll have some toast and berries within 30 minutes of finish to help replenish my glycogen stores. Then, I’ll eat another round of breakfast with more toast and eggs about an hour later. Other times I have a smoothie with protein powder as my second breakfast. (I like the Gen UCan protein powder – you can get a promo code here.) You can see more breakfast ideas here.

Lunch

I make lunch at home most days, usually a salad with protein, like chicken or tuna. And, I have a side of toast with it and/or an apple. I don’t spend a ton of time on putting together the salad, since I usually have meat already made. (This ebook has a bunch of my favorite salad recipes!) If I’m craving a sandwich or wrap, I’ll stuff it with deli turkey, cucumbers and lettuce. Other times I make an open-face tuna sandwich. You can see more lunch ideas here.

Dinner

We eat out or pick up food 1-2x a week, but otherwise I make a simple dinner at home. It’s sort of protein (beef, chicken or salmon) + roasted sweet potatoes or brown rice + whatever veggies are in season. I don’t love pasta but Tommy does so we typically have a pasta-based meal at least once a week as well. (This egg and spaghetti dish is one of my favorites! And Tommy loves this ziti recipe.) You can see more of our dinner recipes here.

Snacks

I typically have 3-5 snacks a day. I have a snack between breakfast and lunch, and 2-3 snacks between lunch and dinner. And sometimes I eat a snack right before bed. We eat dinner pretty late (between 7:45 – 8:30 most nights) so I either have multiple snacks between lunch and dinner, or I have another small meal. My go-to snacks include:

  • trail mix
  • dried fruit
  • apple or banana with peanut butter
  • hard boiled eggs
  • RX Bars
  • spoonfuls of nut butters (usually with dark chocolate!)
  • homemade muffins (I keep a bag in the freezer) – I like this recipe and this recipe
  • homemade energy balls – tthis recipe is my all-time favorite, followed closely by this s’more coffee one!
  • toast

You can get more of my snack recipes here!

A note about the last two items: energy balls and toast. I eat probably 2-4 energy balls a day, often two pre-run, one in the afternoon and one before bed (if I’m not having toast!).

And at least two of my snacks involve toast. Toast is my favorite food and it’s a great way to get in some carbs without leaving me feeling overly full. Typically, one of my afternoon snacks is buttered toast with a handful of trail mix and my evening snack is toast with peanut butter. (I like Ezekiel sprouted english muffins or Silver Hills sprouted bread. Or homemade wheat bread if I have that around!)

I can eat toast 20 minutes before a run but anything heavier than that, I need about 30 minutes for food to digest!

Gaining weight during marathon training

It’s not uncommon for runners to gain weight while training for a marathon. Sometimes it’s because they overestimate how many calories they burned and underestimate how much they are eating. The “I earned this!” mindset can also lead to not so great choices. Yes, eat dessert and enjoy your favorite foods. But training for a marathon isn’t a free pass to eat anything you want all time.

Conversely, many marathon runners don’t eat enough during training — I’ve run into this issue myself. That will make your runs miserable, prevent you from recovering well, and also may lead to metabolic issues that could impact your weight. And for females, underfueling can lead to the female athlete triad which has many more serious implications than a number on the scale.

I’m not a registered dietician so if you think you’re dealing with a calorie imbalance, work with a registered dietitian to identify and address the issue.

Dealing with food sensitivities 

One of the biggest things to figure out in marathon training is what foods work for you and what doesn’t. In the last few weeks leading up to race day, your marathon training diet and nutrition plan should be pretty honed in!

During high periods of stress — physical and/or emotional — my sensitivity to certain foods gets worse and I have more severe GI issues. When that happens, I have to be very intentional with eating food that isn’t overly processed and sometimes eliminating some gluten-rich foods and dairy. Sometimes even gluten-free but processed foods will upset my stomach, will you’ll see noted below. (I’ve blogged about fueling for a marathon on a gluten-free diet here.)

For any training run where I have gut issues, I note in my Strava training log what happened and what I’d eaten 1-2 days before that I thought may be triggers. (It can take a couple days for food to work through your system and rear it’s angry head. Other times, it’s an immediate gut upset.) Taking food notes along with the training notes helped me pinpoint that dairy was a major trigger, as well as anything too processed with gluten. I do MUCH better with sprouted bread products than I do white flours or anything super processed.

Okay, onto specifics! Here are two sample days. Remember that the exact portions that you eat will be dependent on your mileage, intensity gender and body size! Don’t follow exactly what I eat since we probably don’t train at the same intensity, run the same distances everyday or weigh the same! (Note that this isn’t reflective of what I’m currently eating since I’m not running high mileage and I’m pregnant! This is a sample food log from last year’s training. So don’t fret about that sushi. 😉 )

What I ate on a 4 mile run day

  • pre-run snack: banana + spoonful of almond butter + energy ball + water + black coffee. I eat this at least 30 minutes before I run so that I have a little time to digest.
  • post workout breakfast: water bottle with nuun while driving home from run + coffee with 2 scoops vital proteins collagen  + 2 eggs + avocado + tomatoes + two slices of new-to-me brand of gluten-free bread (it was delicious but really upset my stomach 🙁 )
  • AM snack: plain forager dairy-free yogurt + chia seeds + sliced almonds + blueberries
  • lunch: salad with arugula, sweet potato, chicken breast, walnuts, apple and dried cherries + homemade tahini dressing + toast with Earth Balance + kombucha
  • afternoon snack: apple with peanut butter + a few pieces dark chocolate
  • dinner: halibut + fried plantains over a bed of greens
  • post dinner: handful of trail mix + dried apricots

What I ate on a 11-mile run day

  • pre-run snack: 2 pieces Trader Joe’s gluten-free toast with honey, peanut butter and sliced banana, water with nuun and black coffee.
  • Mid-run: vanilla GU + nuun
  • post run breakfast: water bottle with nuun while driving home from run + coffee with 2 scoops vital proteins collagen  + 2 eggs scrambled with bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, leftover sweet potato + homemade fig bar
  • Lunch: 2 rolls of sushi + 2 avocado lettuce rolls + kombucha
  • afternoon snacks: dark chocolate dipped in almond butter x 3 (ha! I always go back for more!) with decaf coffee + Superhero muffin + toast with peanut butter + an orange (these were spread out, not eaten all at once!)
  • dinner: beef burger with hummus + simple arugula & tomato salad + roasted sweet potato
  • 9pm snack: 1 energy ball + chamomile tea

 

Bottom Line

You can’t ignore your diet if you want to see improvements in your running, especially when running a marathon. Educate yourself on the basics of sports nutrition (I have a lesson in my running course dedicated to fueling!) and then start to pay attention to what you eat. And remember, figuring out what foods work well for you may take some trial and error. So practice is as part of your training and not in the final days before your big race!

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Katherine
    at

    This is so helpful! I am curious about alcohol … is that something you cut out completely while training?

  • Reply
    Mina
    at

    Curious about how long after a long run you eat (10 miles +)? I’m never hungry right away and usually end up just grazing all.day.long. I’m thinking of trying more of a snack and then waiting an hour os so after before really eating.

  • Reply
    Hillary | Nutrition Nut on the Run
    at

    Even though I’m not training for a marathon, or any race for that matter, I really enjoyed reading about what you eat in a day. Would love to see more posts like these – great ideas! I don’t often see you talk about your eats/nutrition on a daily basis (since you do 362 other important things!), so I was curious how you fuel your busy life. xx Hill

  • Reply
    Linda
    at

    Your link to Oatmeal Apple breakfast bake actually goes to the tahini energy balls. Can you fix it – I really like baked oatmeal and might be able to get my teenage boys to eat something like this! Thank you.

  • Reply
    Lindsay
    at

    I appreciate you sharing your daily eats while training. It would be awesome to continue to see these recaps in the future. Do you think that you have added other non-gluten foods into your diet in order to compensate for the gluten filled foods you don’t eat? I honestly don’t think I could survive without bread … but that’s just me! 🙂

    • Reply
      Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      Gosh, I’ve been eating gluten-free for so long that I don’t feel like I’ve really increased other foods to compensate. But, I do eat potatoes at nearly every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day (not joking) – I LOVE THEM. I also use gluten-free toast to fuel for my long runs. Sometimes I eat rice & oats but I just prefer potatoes! I also eat plantains a few days a week (another favorite!). I also get carbs from fruit and dried fruit!

  • Reply
    Rachel
    at

    This is super helpful! I struggle with tummy troubles a lot too and need alllll the suggestions I can find. Please post more recaps 🙂 especially rest days and long run days! Thanks for the inspiration! Hope you have a wonderful week of training!

  • Reply
    Mary
    at

    On the day you had the post run nuun and breakfast, do you think it could have been the nuun that contributed to the upset stomach? I love nuun but I discovered it really made my stomach wonky so I had to stop using it…food for thought that maybe a homemade sports drink with salt and citrus might help if that’s the case!

    • Reply
      Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      hmmm I don’t think so since I have nuun almost every day but I’m going to start paying attention to it more!!! Never even crossed my mind it could be that. THANK YOU!!!

  • Reply
    Paige
    at

    I’m curious to know what the difference is between energy balls and protein bars/balls? I’ve struggled with my sleep for years (just finished reading your blog post about how your sleeping is,etc…) unfortunately, I only get 1.5-2 hours of sleep a night, and workout 6; sometimes 7 days a week. I feel like I’m always exhausted, starving, but also just feeling blah… I always seem to hit an afternoon slump and crave a protein bar and tea. I’ve been looking for low calorie high protein bars but not many are available with clean ingredients. I love the recipes you’ve linked… I will give them a try! 🙂

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