Q&A: How to Plan Your Pre- and Post-Marathon Meal

What foods or food groups should I focus on for my pre-marathon meal and my post-race meal?

For your pre-race meal:
This meal should be made up of carbohydrates, moderate protein, and lower fat and fiber. It should be easy to digest and never anything that feels heavy in your stomach.

High-quality carbohydrates are easy to digest and should be your main source of fuel. Moderate protein helps you feel satisfied, but it won’t weigh you down. Low intake of fat and fiber is encouraged, as both take much longer to digest, and could potentially cause you to feel sluggish or, worse, cause some serious GI distress.

Remember that the purpose of a pre-race meal is to replenish glycogen stores. Make sure you eat at least something so you have enough energy to support your run. Even a little dry cereal a half-hour before you start can help top off glycogen stores. Most importantly, find what works best for you and do that!

Here are some examples of good pre-race fuel:

  • Cereal with milk, or oatmeal made with milk or water

  • A slice of toast with up to 1 tbsp of peanut butter

  • A banana and some low-fat milk

  • 1/4-cup of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit

  • A half or whole sandwich (something simple, like peanut butter and jelly)

  • A smoothie with a protein source like yogurt, milk, or peanut butter

Here are some additional things to remember:

  • You shouldn’t be filling a completely empty tank, just topping it off

  • Planning a meal three to four hours before the race versus a snack one hour before will change the quantity of food consumed

  • Be sure to hydrate, too, with 8 to 20 ounces of water, depending on how long it is until your run.

For your post-race meal:
Here, your goal is to refuel and rehydrate. Eat within 30 minutes of your finish, focusing mainly on carbohydrates and some lean protein. The added protein helps increase your muscles’ ability to replace energy stores. This window is critical because it helps prevent injury and it prepares you for your next run.

Here are some examples of good post-race fuel:

  • Chocolate milk

  • Greek yogurt with fruit

  • A half or whole sandwich

  • A banana with some almonds

You should have a bigger meal within two hours of completing a run, and, similar to the pre-run meal, it should be made up of high-quality carbohydrates, lean protein, and lower amounts of fiber and fat.

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR

Dana Pitman

Dana Pitman is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist at Hospital for Special Surgery. She provides individual nutrition counseling and health coaching and develops social media content for the official hospital channels. No stranger to an active lifestyle, Dana is an avid runner and keeps a steady rotation of classes including spin, HIIT, boxing and Pilates.

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