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The Complete Guide to Marathon Nutrition

The Complete Guide to Marathon Nutrition

Training for a marathon transcends beyond just racking up miles—it's also about mastering the art of nutrition.

This comprehensive guide by sports nutrition expert Asker Jeukendrup will equip you with the necessary knowledge to perfect your nutrition plan for before, during, and after your marathon, ensuring you’re as prepared on the dining table as you are on the track.

The Journey Begins Weeks Before the Race

Your marathon nutrition strategy starts long before race day. Begin by testing different food options during training to discover what works best for your body. Familiarize yourself with the nutrition that will be provided at aid stations during the race, and start increasing your carbohydrate intake several days before to maximize your glycogen stores.

Crafting Your Marathon Nutrition Plan

Start shaping your nutrition strategy about 10 weeks before your marathon. Utilize your long runs to test different nutrition products and timing. If the products available on race day don’t suit you, experiment with alternatives until you find the right fit. Remember, the goal is to avoid any new experiments on race day.

Carbo-Loading and Pre-Race Meals

In the final days leading up to the race, focus on filling up your muscle glycogen stores. Opt for a significant carbohydrate increase in your diet while slightly reducing fat intake. Practice your carbo-loading strategy with a substantial lunch the day before the race followed by a lighter evening meal, especially if you're prone to gastrointestinal issues.

Breakfast Before the Marathon

The pre-marathon breakfast is crucial as it replenishes your liver glycogen depleted overnight. Choose a breakfast that includes at least 100 grams of carbohydrates, based on what has worked in your training and previous races. Timing is essential—eat 3-4 hours before the race to ensure optimal digestion and energy supply.

Hydration and Fuel During the Race

During the marathon, balance your intake of fluids and carbohydrates to avoid gastrointestinal issues or hyponatremia, a condition caused by drinking excessive amounts of water. Aim for 50-70 grams of carbohydrates per hour, adjusting the quantity based on your expected finish time and personal tolerance.

Recovery Post-Marathon

While recovery nutrition is crucial, if you don’t plan on competing soon after, it's okay to indulge a bit and celebrate your accomplishment. However, it’s beneficial to follow general recovery nutrition guidelines to help your body repair and replenish.

A Proactive Approach to Marathon Preparation

  • Weeks Before: Study the course, understand the available nutrition, and develop a personalized plan. Practice your entire nutrition strategy, including what you'll eat the night before the race.
  • Days Before: Finalize your race nutrition purchases and adjust your diet to increase carbohydrates and decrease fiber, especially if you're sensitive to gastrointestinal distress.
  • Race Day Morning: Stick to a tried and tested breakfast plan. Ensure proper hydration, checking that your urine is light in color, which indicates good hydration.

Execution on Race Day

  • Just Before the Race: Consume a gel and some water about 15 minutes before starting to top off your energy levels.
  • During the Marathon: Follow your nutrition plan, using sports drinks, gels, chews, or bars based on what you've practiced. Aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, matching your sweat rate with fluid intake.


By meticulously planning and practicing your marathon nutrition, you ensure that your hard-earned training pays off. Proper fueling will not only enhance your performance but also enrich your overall marathon experience. Ready to take your marathon prep to the next level? Browse our selection of recommended gels, bars, and hydration supplements tailored for endurance athletes like you.

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