What Should You Eat During Your First Marathon

Are you ready to take on the challenge of your first marathon? As you lace up your running shoes and embark on this incredible journey, it’s important to understand that running a marathon goes beyond sheer physical endurance.

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in determining your performance, stamina, and overall experience on race day.

Fueling your body with the right nutrients can be the key to unlocking your full potential as a marathon runner. That’s why we’re here to guide you through the crucial aspects of what to eat before, during, and after the race.

With a blend of practical advice, expert knowledge, and real-life experiences, we’re determined to provide you with the tools and insights you need to make informed choices and optimize your marathon journey.

Pre-Marathon Nutrition

Pre-Marathon Nutrition

Proper nutrition before a marathon is crucial for optimal performance and energy levels. Prioritize hydration, implement effective carbohydrate loading strategies, and consume a balanced pre-race meal to fuel your body for success.


Staying adequately hydrated before the race is essential to ensure optimal performance. Hydration aids in maintaining body temperature, transporting nutrients, and lubricating joints.

Aim to consume about 8-10 cups (64-80 ounces) of fluids per day leading up to the marathon. While water is crucial, electrolyte-rich beverages such as sports drinks can replenish essential minerals lost through sweating.

Carbohydrate Loading

Understanding the concept of glycogen depletion is vital for marathon runners. Glycogen is the primary energy source during prolonged exercise, and depletion can lead to fatigue and a decline in performance.

Implementing effective carbohydrate loading strategies a few days before the marathon can significantly enhance glycogen stores. Gradually increase your carbohydrate intake to approximately 7-10 grams per kilogram of body weight, focusing on complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Pre-Race Meal

Timing and composition of your pre-race meal can greatly impact your energy levels and digestive comfort. Consume your meal approximately 2-3 hours before the start of the race to allow for digestion.

Opt for a balanced meal consisting of easily digestible carbohydrates, moderate protein, and low fat. Examples include: 

  • Oatmeal with berries
  • A banana
  • A small serving of yogurt or toast with peanut butter 
  • Sliced fruits.

During Marathon Nutrition

During Marathon Nutrition

Let’s explore some effective strategies for planning your nutrition during a marathon to optimize your performance and sustain your energy levels throughout the race


Maintaining proper hydration during the race is vital for performance and preventing dehydration. Develop a hydration plan by consuming fluids at regular intervals, aiming for approximately 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes. Carry a handheld water bottle or utilize aid stations strategically placed along the course.

Energy Gels and Sports Drinks

Energy gels and sports drinks provide quick energy and replenish electrolytes during the marathon. They are convenient and easily digestible options for on-the-go fueling. Consume gels and sports drinks based on the recommended guidelines, usually every 45 minutes to 1 hour. Experiment with different flavors and brands during training to determine what works best for your body.

Whole Foods

While energy gels and sports drinks are popular choices, incorporating whole foods during the marathon can provide additional sustenance.

Portable, easily digestible options include bananas, oranges, energy bars, or small sandwiches. Whole foods offer a variety of nutrients and can provide a psychological boost to some runners.

Post-Marathon Nutrition

Post-Marathon Nutrition

Here are some essential post-marathon nutrition tips to help you recover and replenish your body:


After completing the marathon, focus on replenishing fluid and electrolyte losses. Gradually rehydrate by consuming fluids containing sodium and potassium, such as sports drinks or coconut water. Aim to drink approximately 16-24 ounces of fluids for every pound lost during the race.

Recovery Meal

The post-marathon recovery meal plays a crucial role in replenishing glycogen stores, repairing muscles, and promoting overall recovery. Consume a meal rich in carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats within 1-2 hours after the race.

Examples of nutritious post-marathon meals include :

  • Turkey or veggie wrap with whole grain bread.
  • Quinoa salad with grilled chicken or tofu.
  • Salmon fillet with sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Table: summarizing the key aspects of nutrition during a marathon

AspectPre-Marathon (3-4 Days Prior)Morning of the RaceDuring the MarathonPost-Marathon
Carbohydrates– Load up on carbs (60-70% of total caloric intake) to maximize glycogen stores. Examples: pasta, rice, whole grains, fruits.– Light and easily digestible carbs. Avoid fatty and fibrous foods.– Energy gels, chews or bars every 45 minutes to an hour. – Sports drinks can also provide carbs.– Replenish glycogen stores with high-carb foods.
Proteins– Maintain regular protein intake to support muscle repair and growth.– Small amount of protein with breakfast to support satiety.– Not a primary focus. However, some energy bars/gels contain small amounts.– Protein-rich foods to support muscle repair: chicken, tofu, beans, eggs.
Fats– Maintain regular fat intake. Prioritize unsaturated fats.– Minimal. Fat takes longer to digest.– Not a primary focus during the race.– Healthy fats to support recovery: avocado, nuts, olive oil.
Hydration– Stay well-hydrated. Increase fluid intake.– Drink 500-600ml of water 2-3 hours before. Sip slowly leading up to the start.– Drink to thirst. Use sports drinks to replace electrolytes.– Rehydrate with water and electrolyte-rich drinks.
Electrolytes– Ensure balanced intake of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.– Light electrolyte drink can be beneficial if one sweats a lot.– Electrolyte tabs or sports drinks, especially on hot days.– Continue replacing lost electrolytes.
Vitamins & Minerals– Maintain a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains.– Regular multivitamin if taken.– Not a primary focus during the race.– Balanced meal to restore any depleted vitamins and minerals.
Caffeine (if used)– Taper if regularly consumed to reset sensitivity.– Some runners consume caffeine for a performance boost. (3-6mg/kg body weight recommended)– Energy gels with caffeine can be consumed for a mid-race boost.– Personal preference. Some might want to avoid if sensitive to post-race jitters or sleep disturbances.
General Tips– Avoid unfamiliar foods. Stick to what you know.– Eat breakfast 3-4 hours before race start.– Practice nutrition strategies during training runs.– Eat a balanced meal 1-2 hours post-race to support recovery.

Special Considerations

Special Considerations

1. Individual Preferences and Tolerances:

Tailoring your nutrition choices to your personal preferences and dietary restrictions is key. Experiment with different foods during training to determine what works best for your body. Listen to your body’s cues and adjust your nutrition plan accordingly.

2. Avoiding Gastrointestinal Issues:

Digestive problems can significantly impact your marathon experience. To minimize gastrointestinal discomfort, avoid high-fiber foods, spicy or greasy meals, and large portions before and during the race. Opt for easily digestible, familiar foods that have worked well for you during training.

Winding Up

Fueling your first marathon with the right nutrition can make a world of difference in your performance and overall enjoyment of the race. By staying hydrated, implementing effective carbohydrate loading, choosing suitable pre-race meals, and strategically fueling during the marathon, you can optimize your energy levels and endurance.

After the race, focus on rehydration and consuming a recovery meal to aid in the recovery process. Remember, individual preferences and tolerances vary, so find a nutrition plan that works best for you.

Seek professional guidance if needed and keep pushing forward on your marathon journey. Remember, it’s not just about finishing; it’s about fueling yourself to thrive. Good luck and enjoy the incredible journey that awaits you on race day!

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