Marathon nutrition tips: how to properly fuel your training

Via Peters

o you’ve got the marathon place. You’ve been to get gait analysis and found the perfect running shoes. Perhaps you’ve even started your marathon training plan nice and early. But now, how to sustain yourself with the right fuel?

To help you on your way, NHS dietitian, twelve-time marathoner and author of Cook, Eat, Run Charlie Watson (aka @therunnerbeans) has shared her expert nutrition tips and homemade recipes.

Charlie’s Cook, Eat, Run porridge recipe

“When upping your marathon training, it’s important to ensure you’re increasing your intake to adequately fuel and recover from the added intensity and stress on the body,” Watson says. “You might need to increase both overall calories to power your training as well as carbohydrate intake, as carbs are the predominant (and preferred) fuel source used by our body during endurance events to power our muscles. This will also help your body to recover after hard or long sessions.

Eat the rainbow. “Personally I don’t think about nutrition per day, but as a whole week, ideally ensuring you get 30 different types of fibre each week to boost gut health, (wholegrain, fruits, vegetables, nuts), lean protein sources, healthy fats and sufficient hydration,” she adds.

How should you fuel yourself before a run?

“It’s worth looking at the timing of your meals and snacks, ensuring that you’re having something within a few hours before a run and eating ideally within a 30 minute window post-run/training.

“For most meals you want to look for a combination of carbs, fat and protein. But before a long run or race day, it’s worth reducing the proportion of fat, protein and fibre as this can slow down digestion.

“Pre-run, you ideally need 1-4g of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight. For example, a 60Kg runner would need around 60-240g carbs in a pre-run meal — that looks like a couple of weetabix with a banana, some raisins and milk.”

On the run, depending on how long it is, you want to start fueling around 30-40 minutes into your run.

Here’s a general rule of thumb:

Under 1 hour: no fuel needed; water if it’s hot

1 hour— 3 hours: 30–60g carbs per hour

3 hours+: 30–90g (1–3oz) carbs per hour (depending on what works for your body)

Should you take supplements for your marathon training?

“Personally, I believe that if you eat a balanced, varied diet, you shouldn’t need to supplement. With that said, NHS guidelines are for everyone to supplement with vitamin D from October to May — even for us runners who are out there for hours at a time (because let’s face it, most of the UK winter we’re pretty covered up).

“If you feel like you’re struggling to get enough protein in your diet, or have a hard time eating after a run, then a protein shake could be a good addition for you — just avoid anything with added sugar or a long list of additives.

“There are a range of supplements that you *could* try for that extra per cent performance gains, but in my opinion, you can benefit far more from extra sleep, adequate hydration and fueling, and consistent training.”

Should you train fasted?

“Training fasted adds stress to the body because you’re asking it to perform without fuel,” Watson says. “It can not only impact performance but also, for those more susceptible to colds or have weaker immune systems, or those who are a lower weight, fasted training can be very detrimental. Ideally if you are training fasted it would be no more than twice per week for easy runs of less than 60 minutes.”

What are the best pre and post run snacks?


“I do most of my running first thing in the morning, and so I need something quick, easy and most importantly, palatable at 5am. I opt for quick release carbs like a banana, crumpet with honey, Rice Krispie square, or even 2 digestive biscuits with a coffee and glass of water. If I’m doing a long run or running later in the day, I’ll opt for a bowl of porridge with fruit and nut butter, or toast or a bagel with nut butter and a banana.”


“After a run or workout you want to consume a mixture of protein and carbs to help replenish glycogen stores (ideally in a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio). This can either be a snack, drink (smoothie or recovery drink) or a meal depending on the time of your run. I love having a quick smoothie post-run while I shower, combining frozen berries, half a banana, milk and some spinach (and occasionally a scoop of protein powder if I know I won’t be eating for a while), then having a full meal like the Burger Bowl in my book Cook Eat Run.”

Sweet (filling) treats

“I have a sweet tooth and so often enjoy a cup of tea and a cookie while sitting in an Epsom salt bath post-run — try my Monster Workout Cookies (below), which are packed with oats, nuts and dried fruit for a delicious carb and protein hit.”

Rehydrate with electrolytes

“Rehydration is also key. Depending on how long you’ve run, the weather conditions and how sweaty you are, an hypotonic electrolyte drink might be a good idea. This could be an effervescent tablet like Nuun, or a homemade version (try mixing 150ml of coconut water with juice of half an orange, half a teaspoon of maple syrup, generous pinch of salt and 75ml of water for a delicious, thirst quenching drink post run). These are designed to be more diluted than your body fluids, meaning they are absorbed more quickly than water.”

Cook, Eat, Run

What kind of gels and energy drinks are best for long runs?


“This is trial and error and it is crucial that you test your long run fuel in training. Gels generally fall into two consistencies, thicker and thinner, but both are designed to be taken with water (not a carbohydrate drink) to dilute the gels and aid carbohydrate digestion. There are also gummies, chews, bars, and more natural options such as chia gels or maple syrup. I use a combination of High Five Aqua gels (these are quite liquid and can be taken without water), Clifbar shotbloks (chewy squares) and Huma chia gels.”

Homemade option

Try stuffing dates with some nut butter and a pinch of sea salt, or taking leftover salted roast or boiled potatoes for easily digestible, cheap running sustenance.

Energy drinks

Energy drinks are another popular option. These are isotonic and are typically the same concentration as bodily fluids, so are absorbed at the same rate as water. Make sure to check the carbohydrate content when making your fueling strategy to ensure you’re drinking the right volume to meet your energy needs. Some people also find it helpful to dilute their gels in water although this can be cumbersome to carry on the run.

Quick tip

If you’re struggling at the end of a long run or race, it’s worth taking an energy drink and swilling it around in your mouth before spitting it out — studies have shown that you can still benefit from a carbohydrate boost by tricking the brain and central nervous system even if you don’t ingest the drink.

Should you cut out alcohol entirely in your training?

“You don’t have to but we do know that alcohol hinders recovery, affects sleep quality and can adversely impact your body’s temperature regulating and its ability to store glycogen, which can negatively impact performance. Not to mention, a hangover isn’t exactly conducive to a solid long run. This is a very personal decision, especially as alcohol effects people in different ways.”

How should fuel yourself in the lead up to race day?

“The idea of carb loading has been around for a while now, it can be very beneficial in the lead up to race day. This, on top of tapering (reducing your miles and effort in the one to two weeks leading up to race day), which will ensure your muscle glycogen (energy stores) are topped up and ready to race.

“Most runners opt for pizza or pasta before a long run or race. Personally I prefer pasta, and opt for a light sauce, either tomato or my own recipe for Avocado Carbonara (below).  If I’m having it the night before a race I’d use white pasta, however if I’m just enjoying it as a midweek meal, I’ll use wholegrain pasta with higher fibre and protein content.

The bottom line is, practice is key. “Whatever you plan to do on race day, from your meal the night before, pre-run breakfast and on-the-run fueling, practice it on your long runs. That way there shouldn’t be any nasty (bathroom) surprises on race day! Also, think about your hydration all week rather than just before a run, there’s no point chugging a pint of water just before heading out. Ideally you want your body to be well hydrated in the days leading up to your long run/race.”

Try some of Charlie Watson’s recipes below. Cook Eat Run is available from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and directly from

Avocado Carbonara Recipe

Serves 4

Avocado Carbonara

/ Cook, Eat, Run

  • 400g (14oz) spaghetti
  • 50g (2oz) pancetta, roughly chopped
  • 1 very ripe avocado juice of 1 lemon handful fresh basil
  • 250ml (81⁄2fl oz/generous
  • 1 cup) almond milk 150g (51⁄2oz) cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped 30g (1oz/scant 1⁄2 cup)
  • Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated, plus extra to serve

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large dry frying pan (skillet) over a high heat and fry the pancetta for 4–5 minutes until brown and crispy. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. In a food processor or high-powered blender, combine the avocado, lemon juice, basil and almond milk and blitz until smooth.

4. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and return it to the pan. Stir through the avocado sauce, some of the reserved pasta water (if needed)and the chopped tomatoes, crisp pancetta and grated cheese. Serve immediately, garnished with extra cheese.

Monster Workout Cookies

Makes 18

Monster Workout Cookies

/ Cook, Eat, Run

  • 125g (41⁄2oz/generous 1⁄2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g (51⁄2oz/3⁄4 cup) light brown soft sugar
  • 50g (2oz/1⁄4 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 100g (31⁄2oz/1⁄2 cup) unsweetened, chunky peanut butter
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten 1 tsp vanilla extract 150g (51⁄2oz/1 cup plus 2 Tbsp) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 125g (41⁄2oz/11⁄4 cups) quick-cook porridge oats
  • 1⁄2 tsp baking powder pinch salt 80g (3oz/1⁄3 cup) M&M’s or Smarties
  • 50g (2oz/1⁄3 cup) chocolate chips
  • 50g (2oz/generous 1⁄3 cup) sultanas (golden raisins)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and line 2 baking sheets with baking paper.

2. In a large bowl, use an electric handmixer to beat together the butter and sugars for 5 minutes until light and creamy, then beat in the peanut butter, egg and vanilla extract until well combined.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder and salt. Carefully stir the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined, trying not to overmix. Finally, stir in the sweets (candies), chocolate chips and sultanas (golden raisins).

4. Dollop 9 spoonfuls of batter onto each prepared baking sheet (about 1 tablespoon per cookie), pressing down to spread the mixture slightly and leaving a gap between each cookie. Bake for 12–15 minutes until golden.

5. Leave to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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