What to Eat Before a Marathon or Half Marathon

This blog is about food. 

This blog is about running. 

So what’s more appropriate than what to eat before, during, and after a race?

This information applies mostly to half marathons or marathons; for shorter races the hydration and nutrition needs aren’t as great.

What To Eat Before and After a Race

I’ve generally taken guidance from two books regarding race nutrition, Core Performance Endurance and The Paleo Diet for Athletes, both of which go into far more detail than I do here. I don’t follow The Paleo Diet for Athletes anymore since it espouses so much meat-eating and I’ve gotten so much better results since going vegetarian, but I still like the section on race-day nutrition.

Note: What you eat the week before the race is just as important as what you eat the day of.  For more, see my post about what to eat the week before a marathon or half.

  • In the days leading up to the race, you’ll be tapering your training, but keep eating the same amount of carbohydrates or slightly more, so that your body will store them.  Don’t wait until the night before to carbo-load!
  • You’re better off eating lots of carbs at lunch the day before a race than at dinner. I sleep better if I don’t overeat at night anyway, and falling asleep before a big race is always tough.
  • In the two to four hours before your race, fill up on protein and simple carbohydrates and drink lots of water or sports drink.  The more time until the race, the larger your meal should be.  Avoid fiber and fats, since they can cause digestion issues. Don’t try anything new on race day!
  • Some good pre-race foods: bread, bagel, cereal, fruit, smoothie, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, peanut or almond butter (not too much though).  The more liquid and easier-to-digest these foods are, the better.
  • In the hour before the race, don’t eat very much. Some water, sports drink, or energy gels are good now.  I don’t even drink much water at this stage, to avoid having to use the bathroom during the race.
  • During a race, you need 30-60 grams of carbs per hour and about a cup of water every fifteen minutes. Avoid dangerous overhydration (hyponatremia) by drinking sports drinks with sodium and/or additional sodium supplementation.  One sign of overhydration is bloating, noticable as swelling around rings, watches, socks, etc.
  • After a race, get protein and carbs into your body as quickly as possible.  Some think a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein is best (chocolate milk has close to this ratio).
  • Throughout the day, continue to get high-carb, moderate protein nutrition, drinking lots of water or sports drink to replenish fluids.

For more, read the Five Keys to the Pre-Workout Meal Everyone Should Know.  For more general things you can do to make your race a success, check out my 21 tips for race day.

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

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Comments

  1. Thank you for all this information! It’s so helpful :D

  2. I must look up the recipe for those lentil burgers! They look fabulous!

    Hanlie’s last blog post..A Triumphant HYC Check In

  3. I’ve made lots of veggie burgers with beans, never with lentils though! What a great idea.

    Alison’s last blog post..Lentil Chili

  4. great info! your lentil burgers look awesome!

  5. Such a fabulous post – I’ve learned through the past couple races you definitely need to be careful. Last race, I was stuck NEEDING to go to the bathroom as the race started.

    We all know that’s no good, haha!

    I need to make those lentil burgers too – yummmm!

    Holly’s last blog post..Holly Investigates…

  6. Great post! I like that you showed alternatives to pre-race pasta. Pasta is fine, but too many people think it is a MUST the night before a race. I’m still really struggling with knee/IT band pain, but I hope to get back on the roads soon. Congrats on your 1/2 marathon! I like the celebratory beer :-)

    Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)’s last blog post..Oikos: Stonyfield Farm Greek Yogurt

  7. Wow! Thanks for all the info, this will come in handy as I train for my half.

    HelpMeghanRun.com

    Help Meghan Run’s last blog post..Hunger is the Best Sauce

  8. Ha! I also celebrated with Sam Adams following my Half (Cherry Wheat!) I rarely drink beer but after the race, it hit the spot!

    VeggieRunnr’s last blog post..My Plan

  9. I love your blog! Great info and great recipes. This will be my third marathon, but first as a vegetarian, so your blog will be very helpful!

    Happy Herbivore’s last blog post..Who’s Hogging Our Antibiotics?

    • Thank you! My marathon this fall will by my first as a vegetarian too! I’ve recently run a half and a 5k, about 3 months after becoming vegetarian, and I was shocked at how well I did. I really think the diet is to thank, so I can’t wait to see how I do in the marathon. Boston here I come!

  10. My pre-race (or pre-long run) breakfast is oatmeal (made with quick-cooking oats) with a spoonful of jam and a small scoop of protein powder mixed in. It hasn’t done me wrong yet!

  11. YUM!!!!

  12. Thanks for this post! I’m running my first 15K tomorrow (the longest race I’ve done previously is a 5K, so this is really different than any other races I’ve done!), so I’ll be using these tips ;)

  13. Celebratory Sam Adams… good choice!

  14. VeganRunner says:

    What would you do if your race started at 8:00 AM (and warm-up started at 7:00)? How would you eat? I’m racing next Sunday but I usually race in the evening so I can eat several hours before. I kind of have a gentle stomach. The race is only a 5K, but I want to be SURE not to get side stitches, since I have gotten them in my last two 3200 meter races. Any advice?

    • VeganRunner,

      For a 5K race, I’d just drink fluids in the hour or so before the race. Maybe some fruit if you have more than an hour or so beforehand. Sugar is probably the most important thing for that distance, not much need to worry about protein or fat.

      • Vegan Runner says:

        It worked! Thanks for the advice. I had considered eating some sort of grains, but you made me realize that starches still need to be digested. I ate a pear and a banana at 5:40 and raced at 8:00. No side stitches–and I set a new PR: 19:54. Thanks!

  15. I just wanted to THANK YOU so much for this site. I am a vegan runner who has completed 3 half marathons and a few 10K & 5Ks and am now training to run the NYC marathon 9 weeks from now. I am scared to death & it’s hard for me to get advice on nutrition because I am vegan. this site has been indispensable to me! thanks again!

  16. hi all i am running a half manathon on sunday what should i eat night befor this run,

  17. Hi, firstly this is a great site – alot of good resources here I look forward to delving deeper! I was just wanting to ask about your posts relating to what you should eat before a run. Here you say that some good foods are bagel, bread … but in your post – Five Keys to the Pre-Workout Meal Everyone Should Know – you mention that its good to get some high glycemic carbs for energy now and some non starchy carbs for energy later and that converting starch to energy which requires our bodies to work to make the conversion. I am wondering if you think bread and bagels are ok for eating before marathons but not for training? for me porridge, banana, raising and honey is great as part of a pre race breakfast. happy running!

    • Hi Stephen, thanks for stopping by! The main reason for the differences in the recommendations is that I’ve learned more about what gluten does to our bodies (and noticed the difference in my own when I limit it). So no, it has nothing do with the difference between training and racing. Just that my recommendations evolve as I learn. Your pre-race breakfast sounds good to me. I probably wouldn’t do the porridge, but I know that a lot of people do like the starchy stuff.

      Hope that helps!

  18. Phillipa says:

    I am running a 56km Ultra in 10 days. Its always tricky to know what to eat in the week preceding the race, any suggestions? Great site, am looking forward to exploring it more!

    Cheers

  19. Thanks for the great tips. Will use them this weekend!

  20. Hi everyone and Matt, I’ve run several 1/2 marathons and a 3/4 marathon 2 yrs ago and 1 this sunday with my 1st ever vegan only marathon attempt in 19 days time- excited actually. With the pre fuelling i found a huge lunch and medium late dinner and fasted for 9-10hrs with 2 coffees (100 cals) worked well for faster 10km early morning runs. For the 21kms- i used to have a large grazing day the day before and then 2 choc fruit and nut bars and a strong coffee. This halfa im going to try a large grazing day the day before to feel full and refreshed with a simple low fibre dinner+ 7 hrs sleep. Then in the morn- just 1 coffee at 4.30am with 1 raw sugar and 1 at 6am (1 sugar and 3 dates also)- 30mins before the start and take 3 dates to consume from 10km, 14km, 18km, 20km :) ZAC

    • sorry make that 10km, 14km, 18km so no need for the 20km date lol.
      The marathon in 19days I will make sure Im fully carb loaded and then prob a small breakfast and dates in coconut and nuts (take 6 of em) along the way starting at 14km each 6km and some amount of fat and protein is with these also (these raw dates rolled in coconut + crushed nuts = winner there!) Cheers,
      ZAC

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  1. […] No Meat Athlete ::: What to Eat Before a Half Marathon or Marathon […]

  2. […] Lastly here is the vegetarian link for what to eat before the marathon! http://www.nomeatathlete.com/what-to-eat-before-marathon/ […]

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