Nutrition Dos and Don’ts for Marathon Runners

By: Madison Brunner

As race day approaches, marathon runners are beginning to think about meal plans, snacks and beverages. Food is an important source of energy for participants and should be a positive experience, rather than a stressful topic.

To give athletes an idea of the best nutrients, we asked sports medicine dietitian Jeff Lucchino for some tips on performance nutrition and to address some common misconceptions associated with race day.

Carbohydrate Loading

Unless you’ve worked with a professional to carefully map out a carb-loading schedule, don’t try it. Carb-loading the day before the race can be detrimental to a runner’s performance.


Eating a balanced breakfast is the most important part of race day nutrition. During a regular training schedule leading up to the marathon, that typically means a lot of fruits and vegetables with adequate protein and carbohydrates. Throughout training, the body’s reliance on carbs increases as intensity and volume increases. As race day approaches, runners should consume one-third to half of carbs per meal. Recommended carbs for breakfast include cereal, oatmeal and whole grain bread. Lean proteins like eggs, yogurt and milk are ideal. On the morning of the marathon, be sure to maintain balance and eat foods that you consumed during training – don’t drastically change your breakfast that morning.


Hydration in the form of water or a sports drink is recommended. Water is the best form of hydration, but the electrolytes in sports drinks are extremely beneficial. During the morning of the race, stay away from carbonated beverages, large amounts of caffeine and energy drinks. The recommended water intake per day is 3 liters for women and 4 liters for men.


When thinking about snacks, a great concept for runners to remember is “protein produce”, also known as “protein carbohydrate”. In this combination snack, the protein aspect is for recovery, and carbohydrates are for quick energy and fiber. Some examples of combination snacks include dry fruit and beef jerky, or an apple and a protein bar. Trail mix is another great option because it has everything you need including protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats and vitamins. Carbohydrates are essential for energy prior to athletic performance, and protein is essential for recovery post-training.