The key to eating right when marathon training?
It’s simple, according to Lizzie Kasparek, a dietitian with Sanford Health: Listen to your body.
Beyond that? Think about your mileage, your goals and the time of day you run. Then build your food and hydration plan around that. We asked a few questions about what that looks like in the course of a day. Here’s what Kasparek had to say.
What should my day of food look like when training for a half-marathon?
It depends on how many miles you run, when you run them and what your goals are.
If you’re a morning runner and you do three to six miles before breakfast, I recommend a small carbohydrate-rich snack before key workouts, which might help you push yourself a little harder. For shorter or easier runs, you might not need that. But a good example would be a small granola bar, a date stuffed with peanut butter, some fruit or a handful of dry cereal.
When you’re done running, you’ll need a recovery meal that includes a good source of protein, such as eggs, Greek yogurt, protein powder or cottage cheese and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain toast, oatmeal, sweet potatoes or fruit.
“Don’t skimp on meals around your run,” Kasparek says, and then always make sure to try for more whole foods and fewer sports foods, bars and drinks.
So shouldn’t you do that all the time?
Sure, says Kasparek, but training requires a bit more focus: Think about what you’re going to eat, when you’re going to eat it, and how you’re going to stay hydrated.
It’s all about having enough energy for your workout and then enough fuel for your recovery.
“During training, you probably need more calories from carbohydrates and whole grains and other starchy foods to fuel your muscles,” Kasparek says.
Do nutrition needs change as your training ramps up?
The short answer is yes.
Running burns about 100 calories per mile, so if you go from about 10 miles a week — or 1,000 extra calories — to 30 miles a week, your overall energy needs will increase, too.
But it isn’t just a few extra snacks — you have to hydrate, even in the winter.
“Dehydration can cause performance deficits, and we may not be able to put 100 percent into those runs,” Kasparek says. “Drink enough water, and even an electrolyte beverage for more intense or prolonged workouts.”
Compare a normal day to a training day.
On an off day, you might have half vegetables and fruit, a quarter whole grains and starches and a quarter protein. But when you’re training, maybe increase the whole grains and other starchy foods, which fuel our muscles when we’re working out. And depending on your workout, maybe add a snack or two.
Over the next few weeks, Kasparek will share her tips and tricks for healthier eating while training and her own experiences with racing and running. You can follow her at on Twitter @lizkasparekRD.