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Nutrition Guide for Marathon Training

Megan Ostler, Michelle Alley

READ TIME:6 min.

Setting a goal for a marathon, whether it’s to finish within a specific time or just to finish, is a challenge and can be a very rewarding accomplishment. Even if you aren’t trying to set a personal record, nutrition is still a key factor for any type of training and it’s often overlooked. The food you eat will impact your training, performance, and recovery. It’s vital that you pay attention to the food that you eat, but also the times you eat throughout the day will also impact your performance level and your body’s recovery capability after you exercise. 

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Hydrate

You should be well hydrated before, during, and after every workout as you train for your marathon. Keep in mind that thirst is a poor indicator of being hydrated. If you feel thirsty, this means that you are most likely already dehydrated. Dehydration of even 1–2% of your body weight will already affect your body’s physiological function negatively and hurt your performance. If you’re unsure of how much water you require after a workout, weigh yourself before and after working out. Drink 20–24 ounces for every pound you lost. If you are planning to run for an hour or more, try a sports beverage to rehydrate and replace some of the electrolytes you lose through sweat. The best way to check your hydration throughout the day is to check your urine color. It should be a pale yellow (like lemonade). If your urine is dark (like iced tea) or odorous, this is a sign of dehydration. 

Calories needed

Activity can increase your calorie needs a lot. In many cases, you can simply eat when you’re hungry, but if you’re having a difficult time managing your energy or if you’re female and you start having irregular or absent periods as your mileage increases, it could be a sign that your caloric intake is too low. You can try adding in an extra snack or two, or for those who love numbers and tracking, figure out your estimated calories with the equation below. Keep in mind that this is an estimate, so monitor your energy and body to see if you need more or less. 

For men:

Calorie needs = (66.5 + (13.75 x kg) + (5.003 x cm) – (6.775 x age)) x activity factor

For women:

Calorie needs = (655.1 + (9.563 x kg) + (1.850 x cm) – (4.676 x age)) x activity factor

Activity factors

Carbs equal fuel

Your carbohydrate needs can vary dramatically, depending on your training. The following guide can be a useful way to know how many carbs you should be eating on a given day.


When to eat carbs

There used to be what we called the “magic window” after a workout, when we thought adequate carbs should be consumed within two hours of exercise. Research has proven that there is no magic window, as long as you are meeting adequate carbohydrates throughout the day. Before a run, the general rule of thumb is to eat about two hours beforehand. The meal should be high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and low-to-moderate in protein. The main source of energy that powers you through a workout is carbohydrates. Protein is needed to aid muscle repair and growth. Fat provides a slow, digested energy source to sustain and satiate you throughout the day.

If you don’t like tracking, just be sure that you are getting carbs in your meals and include a pre-workout snack, post workout snack, and, for long runs, have some carbs during your workout. 



Protein needs

When it comes to running, carbohydrates are considered “king,” and for good reason. However, if you aren’t focusing on anything except carbohydrates, you are missing out on another essential running nutrient: protein. If you are training for any type of physical activity, you are an athlete and require more protein. Endurance athletes require 1.2–1.6 grams of protein per kilogram. Protein is needed to help rebuild and repair muscle that is broken down during exercise. Protein also optimizes carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen. Consume protein with all your meals, and aim to have a post-workout snack with protein and carbs. See examples below. 

This guide will give you an idea of what a training meal plan might look like, and provide you with some ideas for pre- and post-workout fueling. This guide is built for performance and to give you the nutrition you need to feel energized while training. If you have other goals, such as weight loss or body composition, your needs may vary. 

Sample Person: Female, 150 pounds, 5’6”, 40 years old, training for a marathon.


Week 1

DAY 1 – Rest day
DAY 2 – 1–2 hours training
DAY 3 – <1 hour training
DAY 4 – 1–2 hours training
DAY 5 – 1–2 hours training
DAY 6 – <1 hour training
DAY 7 – Long run

*Dinners are designed for a family of four. For recipes over four servings, leftovers were used for the next day’s lunch. 

✝During the run, snacks are designed for long run days. It is recommended to consume 30–60 grams of simple carbs for runs that last over an hour. The sports drink is an example of a way to get simple carbs during your run, but are not your only option.‡If you do choose to get your carbs during your run via liquids, be sure your total liquid intake doesn’t exceed 1 liter per hour.



Week 2

DAY 1 – Rest day
DAY 2 – 1–2 hours training
DAY 3 – <1 hour training
DAY 4 – 1–2 hours training
DAY 5 – 1–2 hours training
DAY 6 – <1 hour training
DAY 7 – Long run

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