Your pre-run nutrition plays an important role in determining how fast and far you go. Here’s how to fill up for the big race

Good nutrition is a fundamental tool in every endurance athlete’s toolbox. Adequate food and fluid helps maintain blood glucose concentration during your run, maximises performance, and improves recovery time.

Before your run, a meal or a snack should be chosen such that it provides sufficient fluid to maintain hydration; is relatively low in fat and fiber to facilitate gastric emptying and minimise gastrointestinal distress; is moderate in protein; is composed of familiar foods, so as to be well tolerated by the runner.

But most of all, these foods should be high in carbohydrate to maximise the maintenance of blood glucose levels.


Carbohydrates are the body’s major source of fuel. Therefore carbohydrate loading, also known as carbo-loading, should start two to three days prior to the run. As the term suggest, this is merely about storing enough carbohydrates, in the form of glycogen, so as to enhance performance and delay fatigue.

One needs to taper their training, a week before the marathon in order to get the glycogen levels up to capacity. As the training tapers, you must also increase your carbohydrate intake. Your muscles will then use this extra carbohydrate to build up a glycogen store.

How to increase carbohydrate intake before a marathon

An increase of carbohydrates should be in the range of 10 gms per kilogram of your body weight. This can be achieved by increasing a serving of carbohydrate with every meal. Here’s how to get it right:

Night before the run

The foods you eat, the night before the run, will affect your performance significantly. But, don’t try to change your diet at the 11th hour. Instead, a few weeks before the run, try to incorporate the following foods into your meal:

  • Pasta in a red tomato sauce: This helps convert carbohydrates to its reserve i.e. glycogen
  • Quinoa: Much like pasta, quinoa too will provide your muscles with glycogen to keep you going longer
  • Brown rice: A slow burning complex food, brown rice, will also keep the glycogen levels in check
  • Combination foods: Try a combination of any of the above mentioned foods with a lean protein, such as eggs or a low fat cottage cheese. This will help slow down the digestion of carbohydrates and in turn will fuel your muscles
  • Healthy fats: Include a healthy fat like avocados to your meal; such fats help in the absorption of nutrients.

Tips: Make sure you eat an early dinner such that you have 7 -8 hours to digest it, before breakfast. Restrict the intake of processed foods, and high fat foods which fill you up really fast, but take way too long to digest, leading to bloating and flatulence. Similarly, protein super-foods such as beans and legumes are notorious for causing flatulence and are best avoided the night prior to a marathon.

Breakfast before the run

The ideal time for breakfast is 2-3 hours before a marathon, as it is early enough to digest, yet late enough to ensure that energy is stored.

The rule of thumb is to keep this meal light; high in carbohydrate and low in fat, protein and fibre. Some suggested foods include:

* Oatmeal with eggs: This complex carbohydrate has a slower digestion process which will help you sustain energy longer. The protein in the eggs also aids and repairs muscles

* Toast with peanut butter: Carbohydrates in toast serve as a source of energy, while the small amount of protein in peanut butter will help fuel the muscles

* Baked potato with yogurt: Complex carbohydrates in potatoes are a great source of energy for the run since they burn out slowly. Yogurt contains the amino acid, tyrosine, which is a building block of protein for the muscles, and helps to keep you from feeling hungry towards the end of your run.

For those who prefer not to eat early in the morning; try smoothies, sports drinks and juices that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes.

Minutes before the run

Stay hydrated. Drink a glass of water to start the hydration process. But be wary of drinking too much water which will only leave you feeling uncomfortable and weighed down. Yet, drink too little and you may end up dehydrated.  Remember, balance is the key.

Prachi Mandholia
Prachi Mandholia, M.S. , R.D. , is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Diabetes Educator. She is based out of Mumbai, India. She is a practicing Clinical Nutritionist and Columnist, passionate about making changes in lifestyle. She is reachable at [email protected]