coffee cup

Whether you’re training for your first marathon or are a seasoned runner, putting the right food in your body in the ramp-up to the big event is just as important as lacing up your sneakers. One of the most common questions marathon runners have is about how to fuel their bodies during training season. Marathon nutrition is one of the most important aspects of training and can help make or break how your body feels during the run.

Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at UPMC Sports Medicine, reviews common nutrition suggestions for runners.


Bananas are one of the most common post-race foods for runners. They’re high in the potassium, carbohydrates, and the fructose you need to restore the carbohydrates burned by your liver during the run. Leslie suggests pairing a banana with a bagel to help recover faster. If you don’t like bananas or are looking for some variety, you can always alternate/try dried fruit, raisins, or craisins.

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Tart Cherry Juice

It might be hard to believe that a juice could actually provide benefits to your body, but it’s true! Tart cherry juice is high in potassium and good carbohydrates while not being overly sweet. As a liquid, juice is preferable to people who don’t want to eat right after a workout. Tart cherry juices also have anti-inflammatory properties that lower inflammation markers and make subsequent activity easier.

Pickle Juice

Exercise-associated muscle cramps are fairly common in athletes of all levels and can pop up at inconvenient times. There is a popular notion, especially among football players, that drinking pickle juice can alleviate your cramps. The salty juice is high in electrolytes and can replenish those that your body used during exercise. “Pickle juice isn’t magical” Leslie says, “Anything salty will probably help. If you don’t want to drink pickle juice you can eat a pickle or using something like chicken broth should have the same effect.”


As if we needed one more reason to drink coffee – caffeine is shown to help prevent the body from depleting stored glycogen for energy during your workout. Instead, the body uses fat to help fuel the rest of your workout. Leslie agrees, “Caffeine has a number of positive of effects on the body during your longer runs, including slowing feelings of exhaustion allowing for longer workouts. But use moderation! There is no reason to have more than two cups.”

In-Race Fuel

Gels, bars, GUs, and sports drinks, oh my! At any local sports or running store, you will find a range of gels, bars, GUs, and sports drinks designed to help fuel your body during long races. The first thing Leslie wants runners to know is that if your workout is under an hour, water is all you will need. if your workout lasts over an hour, you should consider other options.

“Find out what works for you by testing out a few different products in different forms. The important thing is to fuel your body with the carbohydrates and sodium it’s depleting during a workout. One of these options is enough.”

About Sports Medicine

Sports bring with them a potential for injury. And if you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. We serve athletes from a wide variety of sports across every demographic: young or old, male or female, pro or amateur. We partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and over 60 high school, college, and regional teams and events. We’re working to build better athletes. We use cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques to help you recover and provide education on how to prevent injuries.