By Christina | September 21, 2009
When people think of what marathon runners eat, they automatically think about carbs. Lots of them. The fact is that carbo-loading is not what elite runners do, and either should you. What you eat is only part of the equation when it comes to properly fueling your body for marathon training. It is important to pay attention to when you eat in relation to when you run, as well.
For example, most runners are consistent with the times of day they are likely to run. Your eating schedule and menu should correlate directly to the kind of runner you are: morning, afternoon, or evening runner. One of the mistakes many runners make when it comes to nourishing their bodies is to only consider the meal right before or after they run.
In order to be able for your body to run well, you have to look at eating as a daily activity. As a general rule, there are two kinds of foods that runners need to include in their daily food intake, proteins and carbs. When to eat the proteins and the carbs varies depending on when you are running and how far you are planning to run. Proteins are necessary to allow for muscle recovery and carbohydrates are necessary to provide your body energy throughout the duration of your run.
No one should run on a completely empty stomach. Your body will wilt like a flower if it doesn’t have the energy it needs to make it through your run. On the other hand, if you eat too much or too close to the time that you run, your stomach will hurt and you will feel sick. The best solution is to eat lightly, around 200 calories an hour or two before you run.
The best foods to eat depend on when you run. If you are a morning runner, you should eat something just to have in your stomach before you run, like a banana or yogurt or some egg whites. It is most important for morning runners to focus on what they eat the night before they run rather than the early morning before they run. Dinner should have a mixture of a lean protein and a complex carbohydrate. The carbohydrates the night before will provide your body with the energy it needs without weighing you down by eating them in the morning before your run. This does not mean you should eat excess carbs. A half-cup to a cup of brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or a sweet potato make for good carb choices. Quinoa is a great grain that not only has carbs, but protein in it as well. It cooks and tastes like rice.
For morning runners, the time of day that is optimum for eating protein is your midday meal. You already consumed carbs before you ran in the morning to give your body energy for your run. After you have finished your run, by focusing on eating proteins, you are giving your muscles the ability to recover. Night runners should eat a light dinner of a protein/carb combo because they are going to need the extra energy that the carbs provide.
The best way to think about when to incorporate carbs into your diet, if you are training for a marathon, is to be sure to include them in the last meal before you plan on running. That is enough carbs for your daily diet. Runners often gain weight during their marathon training and are confused as to why. The answer is simple. They use running as a justification for eating carbs at every meal. That is not necessary. Proteins and vegetables should comprise the majority of your meals, unless it is the meal preceding your run.
Properly fueling your body is as important to your training as your running. If your tank is on empty, you will not be able to run fast or run far.