Marathon Runners {Photo: dmytrok)

The Human Body is one of the greatest machines in the world. It can be put through rigorous workouts and still perform at premium levels.

Marathon runners put their body through numerous strains and pains to achieve maximum performance. A key way for marathon runners to avoid fatigue and injury is to properly train the body in hydration and nutrition. By eating proper food’s and drinking the right amount of water before, during and after a race can make all the difference in the world for a runner stopping short of the finish line with an injury or crossing it with a record best.

Our country is presently experiencing one of the hottest summers on record.  Hydration and nutrition for a runner is a very important factor for a runner to avoid injuries.

These key training tips can keep a runner performing at a premium level and to stay healthy.


Increasing your mileage to train for a marathon puts your body through numerous stresses and strains. In preparing for the 26.2 mile run, your body will undergo a series of important changes to adapt to the increased mileage. The human body is remarkable in what it can adapt to, but if you want to help yourself to the finish line without suffering illness or injury, you need to support your body through your diet and hydration. Small changes to what and when you eat and drink can make all the difference to running well and achieving your goals.

Preparation and Training

Carbo-loading: When training for a marathon, it is important to eat a lot of complex carbohydrates from foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. The energy you get from these foods is slow release energy and will keep you strong for long periods after you consume them.

While running, your body will burn off the fat reserves it has first before making you crave carbohydrates. The longer you run, the more carbohydrates your body will need. This means it’s important to steadily increase your carb intake with the intensity of your training as the weeks and months pass – too much of an early increase can often lead to weight gain.

It’s also very important to not become too obsessed with your carb intake at the expense of the other food groups; a good marathon runner will need healthy portions of proteins and unsaturated fats as well to keep muscles in optimum condition. Remember that your total fat intake should be no more than 35% of your total energy consumption.

Hydration: During your everyday life you should be consuming a minimum of 1.5 litres of water a day, however as you increase your training, this should rise to between 2 and 2.5 litres a day. The fluid should be taken on steadily rather than being gulped vigorously at random intervals.

When taking fluids with you on a run, it’s best to include sports drinks.  The sodium, calories and electrolytes included with sports drinks such as Gatorade are vital to maintaining a high level of intensity in any environmental condition.

Timing: One of the big mistakes people make during their training is when to position their main meals around their runs, especially the longer runs which are vital to preparing for a marathon. Often people like to do their long run early in the morning so they skip breakfast. This will make your physical conditioning very difficult and hamper your ability to train well; you must never attempt long runs on an empty stomach.

Similarly, don’t do your long run when you get home from work if you haven’t had lunch. However, it is also foolish to attempt a long run on a full stomach as that can make you feel ill and lead to vomiting. The ideal situation is to have a good meal two hours before a long run.

On the run: As you run further and further during your training, you will need to start to refuelling while on the move. This is usually necessary for any run that lasts longer than an hour. It’s important to get into the habit of doing this early, as it will help you train better and get you used to refuelling on race day.

Energy drinks, gels or bars replenish your energy levels as these products are full of glucose and complex carbs. Practice consuming different products to see which ones you like the most. Some gels require you to drink water at the same time as you eat them, while others are more water based so can be taken on their own. Test both to see which works best for you.

By taking gels and bars on your long runs, it’s helpful to practice opening them and consuming them while on the move.  It’s not as easy as it looks.  Finding the best way for your to carrying them, either in pockets in your shorts or in a running belt, is also another thing to know before race day.

Before the Race

After the months of training and preparation the last thing you want to do is to ruin things by not preparing properly on race day. Marathons usually start early to mid-morning which means you will need to get up get up extra early to give you time to eat and digest breakfast before the start. Once awake you MUST eat breakfast, failure to do so will make the 26.2 mile run a nightmare.

A perfect breakfast will consist of things such as non-citrus fruit, porridge, muesli, toast, and water.  Try and stay clear of the full English option! However what’s more important is stick to what you’re used to, this is not the time to drastically change anything so if you’ve been regularly eating a certain type of cereal and drinking a certain type of fruit juice – then make sure you have the same.

Try and drink around a litre of water before the race so that you’re well hydrated, anymore and you could encounter problems early on. Try and take some food with you to the start line such as a banana. This will give you a last boost before the start.

During the Race

During the race, always start to drink before you feel thirsty. If you leave it too late, you will be too dehydrated which is difficult to recover from whilst still running. It will then encourage you to take on too much fluid at the next available opportunity and cause you even more problems.

The best thing to do is to take on a small amount of fluid at each available drinks station. At most marathons, they have regular water check points so even if you don’t feel as if you need it, just take on a couple of sips and then discard the cup. Many marathons also have drinks stations for certain energy drink brands. If you take on these, make sure it is a product you have practised drinking in training, otherwise, it could give you an upset stomach.

Crowds watching the runners will often offer drinks and food. While their intentions maybe good, it is advisable not accept these offerings and stick to the official check points.

After the Race

Well done! You’ve made it over the finish line in one piece and completed one of the most difficult physical challenges anyone can take part in. Naturally at this point you’ll be extremely exhausted and your emotions will be running high.  It’s important to prevent injury and illness by refuelling and letting yourself recover fully over the next 24 hours.

In the first hour after finishing the race, you will need to rehydrate so start taking on fluids straight away. As always, don’t gulp down large amounts but conservatively sip some water so you take in about half a litre over the hour. While doing this, you will also need an energy drink to get your glucose levels up, this will also help you to control food cravings. During this hour its best stick to eating small snacks and then have a good meal later on in the evening.

It may be tempting to consume alcohol and junk foods that taste great but don’t have much nutritional value, try and resist this temptation by having a healthy meal with plenty of complex carbs and protein. But a small glass of celebratory wine or a beer an hour or so after is well deserved!

Running a marathon is never easy and no matter what preparations you make, it’s going to be a real test of your physical ability and mental resolve. Take the time and effort to get your nutritional routines in order early and you’ll reap the rewards on race day.

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