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How to Fuel for a Marathon

Nov 28, 2013 | Nutrition, Running | 4 comments

When I ran my first marathon in 2012 I had no idea about race day nutrition. If anything, I thought I was one of the lucky ones that could just eat a few haribos en route and feel absolutely fine. Turns out that’s not really a thing- all our bodies need fuel to run 26.2 miles. Weird. I knocked 45 minutes off my marathon time between my first and second marathons, and although I know a lot of that has to do with speedwork, weights, my coach, I know that a portion of that a speed increase has to do with fueling correctly for the race. I also highly recommend having a look at Gia’s post on fuelling which I used to come up with my plan.
Now, I am not a trained sport’s coach, (although I am pretending to be one for Leah) and my advice is based on my experiences only, but here’s what works for me.  
This is actually one of the few things I got right when I started running, although mostly because I just copied Emily from Daily Garnish’s pre run breakfast (she was the first running blog I ever read). PB on toast or a bagel with a banana has been my go-to breakfast ever since. If eaten enough in advance I don’t feel heavy or full, and also, crucially don’t taste it all the way round the course. I also drink a cup of tea or coffee, partly because I can’t start my day without one, partly to help move things along a little before I head out there, if you know what I mean. Additionally I try to drink a pint of water/Nuun before I go.
I have a fairly sensitive stomach, and spending 6 months in South America and South East Asia a few years ago did nothing to help matters. After picking up a waterborne disease, my digestive system has never quite been the same. To combat this, I take Imodium before long runs/races. It’s controversial as there have been a lot of people saying that it’s not good for you, however it works for me. I also carry Imodium instants with me for races, just as back up. I’ve actually never used them, but psychosomatically, I think it helps and is one less thing to worry about.
I know you’ve probably heard lots of bloggers banging on about Nuun, well that’s because they are amazing. I’ve actually swapped out my Ribena/squash in the evenings at home with Nuun as it’s so much better for you-only 2 calories and it keeps you properly hydrated rather than just sugar filled.
My favourite flavours are Lemon Tea (bought in USA, love love love it), mixed berry and lemon and lime. I discovered Nuun from another Emily’s blog, but this time an ultra running badass of the sweaty variety. I tracked them down to Evans Cycles, and have been stocking up ever since. I am now actually a Nuun Ambassador, and if you tell them I sent you then you’ll get 25% off your purchases, just type in ‘therunnerbeans’ at the checkout!
I don’t run with Nuun unless it’s a very hot day, and prefer to drink plain water to wash down the sweet gu gels. I would consider taking on extra salt though if I was running somewhere very warm, or completing a marathon during the summer.
Eating whilst you Run
Everyone is different when it comes to eating while running. Some like to eat small amounts regularly, some like real food, some can squeeze a tube of gel into their face every 45-50minutes or so and call it good. I’m one of those people.
There is a huge array of fuel you can choose from; sportsbeans, apple puree (like baby food, apparently works well but is quite large to carry) energy bars, gels or good old sweets. It comes down to what you prefer, your taste preference, availability and what works for you.  
I know a lot of people love shotbloks, and I agree they taste great, especially the strawberry ones, however I find it quite difficult to choose these and breathe whilst running. I ended up cutting them in half for some shorter runs, and think they’re good for a little bit of fuel, but ended up having to eat them every mile or so, which just doesn’t work for me. I would love to try the Margarita flavour that includes added salt to take alongside my current fuel but sadly they that particular flavour is ridiculously expensive in the UK.   
When it comes to gels, you can buy the ones that you don’t need water to take called isotonic, or ones that you do. They vary in size, and the isotonic gels tend to be quite large. I would recommend though, if you don’t want to carry water while you run, that you opt for these ones. If you are carrying water, then I highly recommend Gu gels, they come in a huge variety of flavours (chocolate and tri-berry are my faves, but I’m looking forward to trying Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter!) they’re not huge, and it very clearly tells you which of them contain caffeine. If you’ve got a delicate stomach, avoid the caffeine ones! I took a Gu gel every 4-5 miles during the NYCM, it helped break up the race into manageable chunks, and ensured that I never ran out of energy. You could also take half a gel every 2-3 miles if a whole one seems like too much.
The main thing about race day nutrition is to practise it. Your stomach will need to build up to taking a huge shot of sugar all at once, and you don’t want to break the number one race day rule; don’t poop your pants. Use a long training run, ideally your 20 miler, to get your fuelling right and don’t leave it to chance.
Once again, I am by no means an expert in this, but I’ve heard from numerous sources that eating within 30mins of exercise is ideal. A mix of protein and carbs is preferable; protein for muscle growth and repair and carbs to refuel the body. For more info you should read this- Refuel to BoostRecovery.
After the NYCM I didn’t feel like eating a thing, but I knew I’d feel better if I got something down me. I opted for a banana and a latte (I was freezing after walking for 45mins to meet up with my parents in just my skirt, tank and foil!). The milk provided brilliant protein without making me feel sick, surprisingly.
I keep cliff bars tucked into my gym bag for a post-workout snack, they’re a great protein rich, filling bar that comes in delicious flavours such as chocolate chip and peanut butter.
Recovery fuel, and general day-to-day nutrition is something I’m going to look at more closely when I start training for my next marathon which I signed up for yesterday. I’ve not made a big secret, in fact it’s in my twitter bio, but I’m pushing for a sub 4hr at Berlin in September 2014.

I paid for all of my own race day fuel, bananas and copious jars of peanut butter. As a Nuun Ambassador I get discounted Nuun, but it is not an affiliate link. 


  1. Lauren (@poweredbypb)

    Great post, I think nutrition is a huge factor particularly with half/marathon training. I like Vega energy gels on long runs, dates/apricots I carry around with me too. I did not get on with shot blocks at all, they really upset my stomach. I like porridge, coconut oil, chia seeds and banana before a long run or race- my tried and tested! Have to stick with what works!

    • Charlie

      I agree, I love apricots but never tried them before a run!!

    • Charlie

      thanks Mark, will have a look at that!



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