What Should I Eat Before a Marathon?

The Best Pre-Marathon Foods and Food-Timing Tips

Bowl of corn flakes with slices of banana on newspaper
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Are you preparing to run your first marathon? Or have you run the race in the past with lackluster results? Pre-race hydration and fueling can determine how you feel on the big day. So many new and veteran racers ask: "I'm running a marathon soon. What should I be eating in the days before?"

What you eat in the days before your marathon can make or break your event. Smart runners choose the best pre-marathon foods and schedule meals so that they reach the starting line with muscles that are ready to race. Eating too much, too little, or the wrong foods could leave you feeling tired during the marathon or force you to stop in the portable toilet numerous times.
So what's the most important rule for pre-marathon nutrition? Nothing new for race day. That means that you don't eat anything that your stomach (and the rest of your body) hasn't already gotten used to. Don't try new gel packs, new foods, new beverages, or new supplements. Instead plan ahead and test foods out during marathon prep.

During your long training runs, practice carbo-loading and experimenting with different foods. In the days leading up to your long runs, experiment with meal timing and other food factors. So, when it comes to your pre-marathon meals, you know exactly what to eat to feel your best. Stick with the best pre-long run foods on marathon day so you know exactly what to expect.

With smart planning, you can avoid stomach issues and feel energized during your race.

Smart Pre-Marathon Foods

What types of foods are best before a marathon? Pasta is a traditional favorite among marathon runners, but other carbohydrate-rich options include bread, cereal, bagels, potatoes, oatmeal, quinoa, rice, pizza (go easy on the cheese) and sweet potatoes.

It's also important to consume some protein the day before your marathon. So include a 3-4 ounce serving of fish, meat or tofu in your pre-marathon dinner.

And what are the worst pre-marathon foods? Avoid high-fiber or gas-forming foods like beans and any type of food that may upset your stomach or can interfere with sleep.

If you're traveling to a new location for your marathon, make sure you plan your meals in advance and be sure your favorite foods are available in the race city. Some runners prefer not to take any chances and pack their favorite foods to bring with them. You can also do a Google search for grocery stores in your race location.

Your Pre-Marathon Food Schedule

Of course, the food you eat before you race is important. You need proper fuel to go the distance. But food timing matters, too. Your pre-marathon food schedule can make a huge difference in your comfort level throughout the miles.

A smart food schedule involves some planning.

The day before your marathon, spread your calories out throughout the day so that you're eating something every two to three hours. Eat three normal-sized meals and two to four snacks.

About 65-70 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates. So try to add an extra serving of carbs to your meals and make sure your snacks are mostly carbs. Stick to healthy options and try to avoid very sugary junk foods.

Try to eat your pre-marathon dinner somewhere early—between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. This way you'll have plenty of time to digest before you go to bed. If you eat on the early side, you can also have a small snack a couple of hours later.
One race day, be sure to finish your breakfast at least 90 minutes before the marathon start time. Don't have a huge breakfast and stick with mostly carbs and some protein.

Some examples of good pre-marathon foods include a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and an energy bar, or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. But remember, don't experiment with new foods or food combinations on race day.

Experiment With Pre-Marathon Foods

If you're reading this article in the months before your marathon, that means you've got plenty of time to experiment with the best pre-marathon foods for your body. Try any of these tips sheets to get ideas. Consider different food options before long runs to find the food schedule and food combinations that work best for you.

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Article Sources
  •  Source: Muth, Natalie, M.D. Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals, 2015