marathon nutrition

We received some great questions during our UPMC Marathon Nutrition Google Hangout. Below are the answers to all of the questions. Thank you to everyone who listened in.

1.   When running the half, how often should you hydrate? and if using a GU or something similar when should you use it? What kind do you recommend? – Emily M.

How often you should hydrate depends upon your sweat rate. Weigh yourself before and after a long run. Convert that difference to ounces ( 16 ounces = 1 pound) and add to that the number of ounces of fluid you drink during your run, then divide by the number of hours you ran. The number you get is the number of ounces you should drink per hour on a training run or during the half.


130 lbs (pre run weight) – 128 lbs (post run weight) = 32 ounces +20 ounces of fluid consumed over a 2 hour run = 52 divided by 2 (2 hour run) = 26 ounces per hour

Water alone is sufficient for the first hour. After that you can look to add about 30 grams worth of carbohydrates – a GU, chews, chomps, bloks ( look at the package portion size) – in addition to water. Or you can substitute 16 ounces of sports drink.

Whatever you do, use what sits best in your stomach, in addition to what tastes best for you. If you are a salty sweater, you may be better off with Gatorade chews or a sports drink.

2.    How soon before the race is carb loading advised? During my long runs, I get hamstring / quad cramps around mile 20-23. Besides training harder, is there any nutritional tip? (GU / hydrate around mile 18?) Thanks  – Jignesh U.

Start adding in more carbohydrates 3 days before the race, but only a little more at each meal such as ½ cup cereal, rice or pasta, a slice of bread, a serving of crackers, or a piece of fruit.

To help with the cramps, you need to determine if you are a salty sweater – sweat burns your eyes, tastes salty in your mouth and leaves a gritty residue on skin or clothes. Having more salt, such as adding salt to meals the day before and morning of the race, as well as adding salt to a sports drink can help. You need to try this out during training runs to see how it feels. The GU provides the carbohydrate for energy but won’t help with the muscle cramps. Make sure you are well hydrated.

3.    I have heard about carb depletion before carb loading in preparation for long races, what is the idea behind this and how do I carry it out? – Hannah P.

Carb depletion is the old way of carb loading. One would limit carbohydrate containing foods, and do exhaustive exercise to deplete muscle and liver glycogen stores, and then load up with carbs — the theory being that one could supersaturate the depleted stores and have more energy available for endurance exercise. The problem is that this method also causes the cells to hold a lot of water and runner would complain of feeling stiff the first few miles, so instead, try to increase your carbs as part of each meal/snack in the three days leading up to the race. This will accomplish the same goal but much more comfortably!

4.   What is the ideal food to eat for dinner the night before the race and for breakfast the morning of the race? – Sean T.

Nothing too high in fiber, protein or fat. Make sure it is easy to digest.

Favorite meals from our Hangout panelists include pasta with sauce or butter and cheese, or a sandwich with some soup. For breakfast they mentioned coffee, half a bagel or a piece of bread with some peanut butter. Key is to stick to what you know works and will give you sufficient energy. Be careful to not overdo it or else you risk having an upset stomach during your run.

5.   So much focus is on nutrition prior and during the race (as it should be!), but what about after the race? What should I eat to help me recover? – Julia K.

So how do you discover your recover? What should post race eating look like? Sooner than later is better. Ideally eat something within 15 minutes of finishing if you can! Go for the carb-protein combo such as a cold bottle of low-fat chocolate milk, or a Greek yogurt with granola, if you are not too tired to chew! A fruit smoothie with added protein isolate also works. If you want savory, you could do cheese on a Bagel thin, or beef jerky and crackers if you have enough energy to eat them!

6.   What kind of breakfast do you recommend before running the half? Is a peanut butter sandwich too much protein before a half? – Maura S.

For the breakfast before your half marathon- first rule- eat what you have trained with. NO NEW FOODS on race day! If a peanut butter sandwich felt good in training, it will work! In general, breakfast should be 2-3 hours before the race- so a peanut butter/honey sandwich, or yogurt with granola, or oatmeal with nuts, dried fruit, or even a scrambled egg wrap would work if you have trained with these foods

7.   Seeking advice on what to eat and when to prevent post-run digestive issues. Sorry 🙁 – Christine H.

To prevent gut issues be sure to stick to what you know works. Race day is not the time to experiment.
No high fiber foods before long runs – such as bran, beans, cabbage family foods. Be careful with how much fruit you eat since it can go through you more quickly. Caffeine can also have a laxative effect. And remember these three little words: “Less is More” during the race. After the first hour, aim for 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour so either a GU, gel, chomps, chew or bloks with water or sports drinks, but not both.

8.   Is carb overloading still practiced or recommended? – Liz A.

Carbohydrates are the best fuel source for running. It is recommended that you start carbo-loading three days ahead of time by adding a tennis ball-sized amount more to each meal.

9.   What if you do not like pasta? What else can you eat for carbohydrates? – Melissa R.

Rice, risotto, quinoa, potatoes (baked not fried) or just bread are all good alternatives.

10.   In your opinion, is an energy gel helpful for running a half marathon, or not really necessary? – Clare C.

Unless you are running a blistering pace, you may want to do a gel in the second hour (if you think you need it), but be sure to have it with water.

11.   I typically take in 20 grams of protein during a long run in the form of a Clif builder bar spaced out along the route. Additionally, 1 gel per 45 min- 1 hour, and few chews. What is your view on protein intake during a run? – Tony D.

Protein is important to build muscle and repair post run, but not during. Protein during a run actually delays the carbs in your gut from leaving your stomach and getting to your muscles, so wait until you are done and have some protein along with your carbs.