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How to Make A Marathon Nutrition Plan

Use this marathon nutrition plan as a guide for your marathon training meal plan and race needs, and adapt as needed!

We’re like T-MINUS one week out from the Free Press marathon. I’m in excitement mode now though.

I was actually looking back at my prior marathons (Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon and Ogden Marathon) posts to try to renew some of the feelings and excitement I experienced. 

I wrote this letter to myself about my first marathon the night before that race, which is amping me up, too. If you need more proof that running teaches you alot

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All in all, I’m grateful to be here. Whether that race goes as planned or not, I’m proud of myself for sticking with this marathon training cycle in conditions that were not always ideal. 

I talk about fueling strategies and marathon diet plan in my Facebook group but figured it was worth a blog post because I know people can feel overwhelmed with what to eat before running or what to eat the night before a race.

Hopefully, this will help give you some ideas and help you form a long distance runners diet plan.

holding dried fruit on a trail

What To Eat The Night Before A Marathon

When thinking about your marathon nutrition plan, the night before is key.

When deciding what to eat the night before a marathon, remember, it shouldn’t be any deviation from your normal. If you have a pre long run meal, or pre-race meal that works well for you, stick with it and don’t think too much about it.

Personally, I stick to lower fiber choices. I usually have pizza or a chicken dish with sweet potatoes or rice and a cooked veggie. I’m planning on having something similar in Detroit, depending on which restaurant I eat at.

Even if it’s not super carb-heavy or it’s high in fiber, if it usually works for you, don’t change it up. Your normal diet should be including high carb lunches for running anyway.

Similar to fueling throughout the race, don’t try anything new the night before. 

Sweet potato turkey burgers on white plate, a perfect pre run meal

If I’m home the night before a race, I’ll make my sweet potato turkey burgers with a bun because they combine protein and complex carbohydrates, and I’ll get extra carbs for carb loading with the bun. 

This post talks more about carb loading for running.

The Best Marathon Foods

Here are some of my favorite carb-rich foods that can fuel your overall marathon eating plan.

  • Sweet potatoes – By far, my favorite marathon food because of their carbohydrate and antioxidant content. They are great at reducing inflammation, enhancing immunity, and giving you short and long lasting fuel.

They can help with carb loading, carb replenishment, and even can be a source of fuel during the race.

  • Bananas – Bananas are so portable and easy to carry with you to the starting line if you need a quick 15-30 grams of carbs before the race.
  • Oatmeal – You an easily get 30-60 grams of carbohydrates from a bowl of oats, which is great to load up with before a run.

I’ll plan on having a banana with oatmeal in my race day breakfast (more on my marathon nutrition plan the morning of below). 

What Should I Eat Before A Race?

What to eat the morning of a marathon will depend on what you’ve been doing in your training. Typically, it will be mostly carbohydrate based. 

A few hours before the race, I suggest having a few servings of carbohydrates with a little bit of protein or fat. 

I get so many questions about what to eat before a race so I’ll give you some examples.

My race day breakfast typically looks like a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, banana and a little bit of low fat yogurt about 2-3 hours before.

I say low fat yogurt here because too much fat content can be irritating for some people before running as it will stay around in your stomach longer. This could lead to runner’s stomach issues.

I will also have water with a NUUN tablet. 

Some other race day breakfast ideas:

  • toast with peanut butter, honey and banana
  • bowl of cereal or granola
  • a slice of peach baked oatmeal with nut butter or yogurt
  • cherry oatmeal muffins with a hard boiled egg
  • a smoothie (more focused on carbs than protein)
  • half of a bagel with cream cheese

If you’re someone who really doesn’t do well with a larger meal, do make sure to eat something, even if it’s smaller.

A few trail mix energy bites, sweet potato energy bites or even a banana with an electrolyte drink (or homemade electrolyte drink) is better than nothing. 

Sweet potato energy bites in a white bowl

Believe me, some carbohydrates will make ALL the difference in your marathon nutrition plan. 

As it gets closer to race time, I’ll have half of a banana, an energy bite, or some dried cereal before the race starts. I don’t like to start long races with an empty tank so I have my larger breakfast earlier on and then some small snacks right before.

Nutrition During the Marathon

I think I’ve nailed this down after my last few long runs of practicing.

I’m going to be using the Skratch Chews and GU chews.

If you need more ideas for fueling during a race, you can see more of my favorite endurance nutrition products here. 

Skratch energy chews and GU Energy gel

This general plan worked well for my 20 mile run so I’m sticking with it.

Lastly, I’m bringing some Sour Raisins because I really love them and they’re small enough to not choke on and store in my belt pockets.

variety of endurance running nutrition products laid out on outside deck

The Detroit Marathon will have Clif Shot Gels, but I don’t plan on taking those unless absolutely necessary since I didn’t train with them. 

Make sure you know what is available on the course, and if it won’t work for you, have other options available.

Carbohydrate Needs

Generally speaking, you want 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of endurance activity. Typically, that looks like 2-3 gels or chews every 60 minutes. 

In terms of running hydration, I’m going to drink 4ish oz every 20-30 minutes.

I think I’m going to carry this pack to hold my gels and nutrition and it also has a nifty bladder for water. I will mix some Skratch hydration in there as well. 

Girl smiling on a trail wearing a running vest

What To Eat After a Marathon

Now, we have to think about REFUELING! Eating after a long run or race is perhaps the most important part of recovery.

What is the best food to eat after a long run?

Ideally, a mixture of carbs and protein, but truthfully, it’s anything that you can stomach. Eating something is often better than nothing. Aim for a blend of carbohydrates and protein. 

This is where a good protein powder for runners can come in handy. Although if you’re at a race and don’t have access to that, anything can work.

A sandwich, a latte with fruit, fruit and peanut butter or yogurt. Even a small snack to hold you over until a bigger meal is ideal.

Immediately after exercise, our muscles are primed to assimilate and build protein from amino acids from the blood. After exercise, our muscles are also most efficient at absorbing carbohydrates.

Both are important – The amino acids replenish and build protein stores, while the carbohydrates refill our glycogen stores.

glass of chocolate milk

Some ideas for you of what to eat after a marathon

After the Detroit Marathon, I’ll head to the finish area and hang out and snack for a bit. I’ll probably stop somewhere and grab a sandwich before heading back to my hotel.

My flight home leaves at 5:30 pm, so I’m hoping I’ll have some down time to shower and relax in the room after the race before heading to the airport. 

Other Things to Focus On For Marathon Day

Nutrition plays a key role but not the whole entire role. Other things matter, too!

Stack of cherry chocolate oatmeal cups | Bucket List Tummy

Final Thoughts

I am so excited for race day but really need to focus on the basics.

I think the hardest part for me is going to be not having a support team or any family at the finish. Ed is not able to attend, it’s just me.

I think it would have been so cool to see Camryn at the finish line and/or throughout the race, but I’ll have to save that hug for the next day. 

I am excited to get back to a longer race. I haven’t run a marathon in 2.5 years, and my last longer distance race was my half marathon postpartum.

girl crossing finish line at Ogden Marathon in Utah

Do you nail down your marathon nutrition plan before the race?

Do you always stick to the same pre race meal?

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  1. Looking good! I do toast before short races, and oatmeal with some banana if 10 plus miles. I usually have a Picky bar right after racing (even if a short race), but did a MacroBar after the marathon for some extra calories. And then grabbed a turkey burger with sweet potato fries and a beer after showering. Marathon perfection!

  2. It’s crazy some people can eat so much before a long run or race. My stomach can’t handle it but it’s amazing how different people respond to different meals the morning of. The post race refueling in the best part. Can’t wait to cheer you on from Philly!

  3. Sounds like you have a good plan for the marathon! That’s too bad that your family can’t be there. I haven’t run a marathon in 5 years and I am itching to get back to a longer race like that! Good luck! I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  4. I usually have oatmeal most mornings for breakfast, so I make sure to bring that along for all of my longer races. I have been pretty diligent about fueling on my long runs this cycle…the Honey Stinger chews work best for me (my tummy no longer likes gels, except for SiS). I don’t carry my water during a race, but I have been on most of my long runs so I can have a drink every mile or so (as I would on the actual race course, at the water stands). Good luck in Detroit!! It’s exciting to almost be at the start line!

  5. Oh my gosh, so exciting, GOOD LUCK on your race!!!

    I don’t have a go to pre race meal, and I’m trying to lock that down. But after any race, chocolate milk is a must IMO. A lot of the races that I run hand out Clif gels, which are fine but I like gu just a bit better, so I always stick with gu and bring the Clif gels home.