Endurance Nutrition – Marathon Prep

Published: 17 Sep 2015

Endurance Nutrition – Marathon Prep

I’ll admit I’m not a runner. I can run, and have, and, just for a minute, I thought I’d become one of those people who needed to run. It turns out I hadn’t. My longest distance has been 15km, and my first fun run (13km) I got runners gut – badly. I’ll leave you to google ‘runners gut’ if you aren’t already familiar with this term.

I have some excellent general advice for marathon nutrition, as we look for to the Western Sydney Marathon in just over a couple of weeks. Like all things in nutrition there will be some things that suit you and some that don’t.

I thought you might like to hear from some genuine runners about their tried and true strategies. I asked them to share their personal fuelling practice, and recovery tips and for giggles any horror stories from when they’ve got it wrong. Introducing the runners……

(MARATHON) Tim Crowe

Associate Professor of Nutrition and Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, writer on the popular nutrition website Thinking Nutrition.

So many stories!

My general advice is that there are no ‘rules’ – go with what works for you around broad guidelines of carbohydrates are your friend. Training pre and during race nutrition is something just as important as your running training for a marathon – you don’t want to be trying new foods on the day of the race.

Dietician in Jordan Springs

Lollies or Breakfast? You chose.

I’ve been distance running for many years so don’t need to do any ‘carb loading’ for long runs or a race – I just eat normally most of the time. When I did do carb loading, it would results in over 2kg of weight gain and I felt like a plump grape ready to pop and quite sluggish.

Early morning pre run I normally have coffee or sweet tea and a handful of lollies as easy to digest carbohydrate and find that it sits well in my stomach for long runs – sports nutrition is very much about doing what works for you in terms of food – I know some runners that can eat a bowl of oats pre run, which makes my stomach cramp just thinking about it!

During the race, I just use good old snakes as a source of carbohydrate, which I have tucked in a pouch (IGA Black and Gold brand are the best – I’ve tried them all – as they are very soft and easy to chew). Gels are okay too, but need to find a flavour you like. I don’t do sports drinks that much as find them too sticky and messy as you spill more on you than you drink while running so just take water when I can but don’t go crazy on hydration during a race – I’m okay being a kilo or two lighter at the end actually feel better for it.

For recovery, eat, eat and eat what you can stomach, but you may find that it takes some hours before you can stomach real food. One year, I threw up a few hours after the finish – coloured sports drinks makes for an interesting display on the way back up!

(IRONMAN) Bob Brace

Bob is a crazy iron maner! So his marathon comes after an approximately 4km swim and 180km bike ride, as you do!

I take an energy gel (about 100 calories – 26g of carbs 20mg salt 10mg caffeine) about every 4 kms or 20 mins. Have electrolyte drink and saltstick capsule (which is electrolyte and caffeine mix) washed down with bit of water every 2 km or 10 mins. About last 10-15 kms swap the electrolyte drink for flat coke. Stupid amount of caffeine. I don’t sleep for 2-3 days after a full ironman race. It’s a terrible hangover.

I’ve never hit the wall. I seem to have an iron gut and it will take all the Gatorade and gels and coke I throw down. I don’t need to eat solid food like some people. It’s just fueling for racing. I don’t think of it as food. I reckon some people are a bit too fussy or emotional about what they feel they need to eat. I’ve found I just need energy and electrolytes.

I find it hard to eat much after an ironman race. I feel a bit sick and normally have a sore throat/airway. But I always try to get some pancakes with bacon and eggs the day after and eat what I can of that. Other than that my wife Kristen makes the best protein smoothies with fruit and nuts heaps of yummy stuff (she’s a mad healthy foody nerd thermomix queen) and they go down easy.

** I’ve never run a fresh marathon and I don’t think straight out runners fuel as much as we do in a race. We hit the marathon about 5-6 hrs into the event, which would make a big difference.


Personal Trainer and owner of MAD PT in Cranebrook 

I have done a few half marathons before but never a marathon. Nutrition during that race would only consist of gels and I would have one every 5km I would only drink water instead of any endura or sport drinks as I have gone wrong before and had too much sugar and felt sick during a race.

I find the gels plus water is a good balance. Pre race I would have an early dinner which would usually be some meat and lots of veggies rather than the typical big bowl of carb loading pasta. I want to be able to go to the toilet in the morning and not during a race. Breakfast would be a coffee with lots of cream and a banana. I will increase my usual magnesium and have a salt capsule to help with avoiding cramps.

I’m no expert but this seems to work for me.

(IRONMAN) Paul Wills

From my experience in endurance events I have worked on the 1g of carbs per hour per kg of body weight during races. During a race I have a gel every 30min and drink a bottle of sports drink per hour. I use GU gels and Torq drink. Torq is big in mountain biking circles; it has a high level of salt so I have not needed salt tablets while using it.

I don’t have a standard recovery drink, have tried Hammer nutrition and an amino acid type drink but nothing makes you feel better than a drink of coke.

The best advice I can give is to PRACTICE YOUR RACE NUTRITION DURING TRAINING, make sure your gut can handle what you’re going to do during the race.

Also its great practice to find out what you’re going to be given (brands) during a race at aid stations and purchase the same products and train with them. This would be the most common stuff up I hear of during endurance events.

I think carb loading is a must for events over 2 hours.


Ok so for me I have really only done my endurance events as walks not runs (that will hopefully change next May), however its a similar principal, I eat every hour and for events like Oxfam (100km) I did a year ago I tended to eat “energy food” in between checkpoints and a small serve of real food at the checkpoints! As this wasn’t a RACE as such time wasn’t a huge issue but digestion is.

I had gels (personally I like the Winners brand from Woolies) as well as small pieces of the energy bars also from Woolies called Growling dog. I cut them into 6 so its a bite size piece and never eat anything on an uphill (so I can breathe heavier) as well as primarily drinking a drink called Torq, which I sip on about every 15-20 mins, it has carbs in it too so acts as a bit of an energy supplement.

At the checkpoints we chose chicken and cheese bread rolls, homemade chicken soup, chocolate brownie, water and soft drinks.

I do confess to craving just a cup of tea at the almost 7am checkpoint and left there with a packet of salt and vinegar chips for “breakfast” but only drank water after that until we finished at 12/12.30 ish and didn’t really eat too much at all, after 24hours of eating and drinking when the whole body aches, food and drink are overrated (you can’t do that in a running type endurance event).

And the best thing was the Sauvignon Blanc on the finish line and I was even allowed to drink it out of the bottle!

So there you go, different people, different events and different approaches and all successful in their own right.