What to Eat the Week Before A Marathon or Half Marathon

A lot of people make the same mistake in how they eat before a marathon — they wait until the night before the race to eat their big meal.  If you’re only going to eat one big meal before the race, make it lunch instead.  This gives your body more time to process the nutrients, lowers the chance of stomach troubles, and might help you sleep more soundly.

Better still, don’t wait until the day before the race to fuel up.  Start topping off your body’s energy stores by eating a few extra calories in the days leading up to your marathon or half.

What You Should Eat the Week Before A Marathon or Half

So what should you be eating to maximize the energy you’ll have available on the big day?  According to Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s coach, carbohydrates are most important, followed by protein, followed by fat, which is of little use before a race.

Carbohydrates – There’s some truth to the “pasta party” idea, just not the night before the big day.  Starting a race with full stores of carbs has been shown to improve performance and endurance.  So fill up on those grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits the week before the race.

Protein –  Since you’ll be eating more food during this time, your protein levels should increase naturally as you increase portion sizes.

Fat - The nutrient you need least in the week prior to the race is fat.  It just doesn’t do much to help you on race day, so it’s not worth filling up on fat calories.  True, your goal in training is to get your body to burn fat stores before it has to burn carbohydrates, but you have plenty of fat for this in your body, regardless of how skinny you are.  I sincerely hope you’re not still stuck in the low-fat diet craze, but this is one time when slightly reducing intake of even healthy fats is beneficial.

What you eat the day of the race is equally important as what you’re eating the week before.  See my post about race day eating for more.

For more posts (and recipes) on natural sports nutrition, check out the Running Fuel page.

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Comments

  1. Laura M...ski says:

    mmmmm Nature’s Pride. that’s some GOOD bread.

  2. That roasted tomato pasta looks amazing! I could eat that all day.
    .-= Whitney @ Lettuce Love´s last blog ..Another Quick Guac for a Hungry Kid =-.

  3. Your menu for the week is making me hungry!
    .-= meatlessmama´s last blog ..Winter Squash Varieties and a Butternut Soup Recipe =-.

  4. I totally agree with in regards to what you eat the week before, days before, and day of race are all equally important. Thanks for the Carmichael tip.
    .-= Lori – pure2raw´s last blog ..Kitchen tool – vegetable peelers =-.

  5. ohhhh did you like the Sunshine Burgers?

    great recap – i am focusing on a lot of these same principles. however, i think eating four vegan pumpkin molasses cookies (although filled with carbs) probably isn’t the best on the monday before a big race :)

    love that retro box!

  6. Yay, such good advice. I think too many people think that they need to stuff themselves with pasta the night before the race, but that can lead to some unpleasant GI issues the next day…

    My favorite thing to eat the week before a marathon is oatmeal with chopped apples, cinnamon, and peanut butter!
    .-= Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)´s last blog ..Another one bites the dust =-.

  7. Thanks for the menu. I have been struggling this week with what to eat. I know what I am supposed to eat, but have been in a funk. I am starving though this week, good thing I guess.
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..My Mile 22 Bags Marathon Giveaway! =-.

  8. This is excellent advice and so appreciated! I love and value all your running advice posts so much (same with ms Megan @ Runner’s Kitchen) – it is so comforting and interesting to get advice from experienced and sensible runners!
    I had such an amazing long run last weekend that I think I’ll eat pretty much the exact same thing on Saturday for my Sunday 10 miler! I’m too superstitious not to!! But this week I’ll be roasting vegetables, eating lots of fruit and breakfasting on oatmeal, fortified cereals and pancakes!
    Wishing you so much luck in your BQ goal!
    .-= Angharad (Eating for England)´s last blog ..Warm Our House =-.

  9. Thanks for letting us know this. I always heard about carbo loading the night before, which I never thought would be healthy as digestion takes so much energy. The menu looks fantastic.
    .-= Hethir´s last blog ..Perseverance, Fertility Recipe and Maca! =-.

  10. If you like savory breakfastes, I must suggest oatmeal + crumbled up veggie burger/sausage + steak sauce + copious amounts of salt

  11. I don’t usually buy bread, but the Natures Pride is really good stuff. My roommates both buy it and I occasionally steal some from them :) I use it when I’m out of Ezekiel Bread.
    .-= Caleb´s last blog ..Smoothie Tuesday – How to make a delicious green smoothie =-.

  12. The Guinness is all part of the carb-loading, right? ;)

    Your meals look so tasty. Great info! I’ve never really understood what grape nuts are, though.
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Day 29 of the Vegan Challenge =-.

  13. yum yum yum. it’s definitely about the pre-nutrition and not just the dinner-before! i bq’d eating a wrap for dinner (had pasta for lunch) last november. (can’t remember what i ate all week long though).
    .-= lindsay´s last blog ..show me your he♥rt =-.

  14. I always think back to my volleyball days and how we always ate a carb heavy dinner the night before a tournement! All those years we were doing it wrong! haha That portabello rollitini looks awesome!
    .-= Paige (Running Around Normal)´s last blog ..Headphones and Races – the Great Debate! =-.

  15. absolutely perfect tips for any athlete! Carbohydrates really should be the main focus because that is what our body prefers to burn as fuel. I am a big fan of pasta! Your eats look wonderful. My fiancee is racing in a century in 2 weeks and nutrition strategy in training and during the 118 mi ride will be crucial. Thanks!!
    .-= EatingRD´s last blog ..granola bars & a happy anniversary =-.

  16. Great post! Helps me plan better for next week.
    .-= Angie´s last blog ..Help Needed =-.

  17. That mushroom rotini looks delicious!! I love Sunshine burgers, didn’t know they made breakfast patties.
    .-= Jamie Walker´s last blog ..A Family Affair =-.

  18. Another excellent, interesting post.

    My thought is that generally too much is made of what we eat in the days before a marathon. Like you, I don’t change my heating habits much; if I’m eating generally healthy foods, why shift? Sure, I move a bit more in the carb direction, and consume a little less “bad” fat, but that’s about it. However: In something of a departure from the No Meat strategy, I don’t eat more. Since I’m doing far less, eating my usual stupendous quantities or even a little less is plenty to keep me fueled.

    From what I’ve learned, if I eat pretty normally and top the tank with some good, non-fiber-laden carbs and a little bit of protein three or four hours before the race, I’ve got enough to take me solid through around 22 miles. The real challenge, I think, is those last few miles when the carb stores are depleted and I’m going too fast to rely on burning fat. This is usually when my race falls apart. Hoping to avoid that at Berlin, I ate a gel between 5K and 8K and another between 15K and 18K. I also had periodic bites of the bananas provided—maybe totaling 2/3 of a banana—and a couple of bites of the apple provided. It was sunny and around 60F at the start of the race and probably 75F by the end, so I drank more than usual, perhaps a total of 24 oz of water and 16 oz of the German sports drink Basica that was provided. All told, I figure I ingested about 400-500 calories during the race, more than I ever had in a marathon. I also finished stronger than I ever had, running the final 2.2K at a 6:50/mile pace. I can’t be sure, but I believe there was a connection between my in-race fueling and my performance.

    One last thing: Dude, good luck! You’ve done the training. You will rock it.
    .-= Pete´s last blog ..Berlin Is Done =-.

    • Pete, I can’t thank you enough for this advice. Obviously I knew that eating during the race is important, but I’ve been wondering a lot recently about how to time it. I’ve also gotten the feeling recently during my long runs that when I slow down at the end, it’s not because I’m tired; it’s because I’m out of fuel. It just comes on so suddenly. I would kill to still have a 6:50 pace in me for the final mile or two.

      It’s really great to know what worked for you because our paces are similar and we’ve done nearly identical training. I’m going to use what you did as my guideline and eat something at roughly those same spots in the race, BEFORE I even sense that I’m running low. I realize what works for one person might not work for another, but I really have nothing else to go on besides very general calorie guidelines. If need be, I’ll make adjustments during the race.

      Congrats again on your awesome Berlin time! And thanks for giving me the certainty that I can do this. I’ll owe you an even bigger thanks if I actually do it.

  19. Thank you for the information on eating carbs the week before and also eating a big carb meal for lunch the day before. My husband and I are doing a half marathon on Mon. in Woodinville, WA. We thought we needed to load up on carbs the night before, now we know. Thanks!

  20. Im runing the 2012 runliverpool half marathon on the 18th of march what do i eat to get myself readdy for it

  21. Hello Everyone, I wanted to get your thoughts on if it really does matter what you eat in the 48 hours leading up to a race (thursday and friday for a Saturday race). I’m asking because generally I eat really strict on Tuesday and Thursday (yes it’s strange I know:) but I don’t want to hinder my performance in the full mararthon this coming Saturday by eating light on Thursday. Look forward to your thoughts!

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