Don’t let the look of the typical marathon runner fool you.
Many of them look a bit emaciated, almost as if they’ve been starving. Current world record holder Dennis Kimetto checks in at a paltry 120 pounds, and most elite marathoners aren’t much thicker than that.
But distance runners aren’t starving themselves. Quite the contrary, actually. Bodies need fuel to perform — and bodies that are attempting to run 26.2 miles need a ton of it.
Molly Marshall, a Registered Dietitian Nutrition Specialist at Columbus Regional Health, notes that it’s a matter of simple math. The more energy you’re burning, the more calories you need to put into your body.
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“As the runners are increasing their mileage,” she said, “then obviously with the increase in physical activity their calorie needs increase — especially calories from carbohydrates.”
Lots and lots and lots of carbohydrates. For someone training to run a marathon, Marshall said, approximately 60 to 70 percent of the caloric intake should be coming from carbohydrates. The remainder should be split fairly evenly between proteins and fats.
As the distances increase during the training process, the caloric needs alsowill increase. Marshall recommends that runners take in roughly 80 to 100 grams of protein per day leading into the event.
So more distance, more fuel. Simple.
Of course, the inverse is also true — less distance, less fuel. That’s something that’s important for runners to keep in mind late in the training process if they’re looking to maintain their lean, Kimetto-esque figures.
“Once you hit your mileage peak and then you have to start tapering down on your training,” Marshall explained, “then you have to start tapering your calorie intake as well, or you will gain weight.”
Planning a training diet, though, isn’t just blindly counting calories. The quality of what’s going into your body is just as important, if not more so, than the quantity.
“You want to stay away from things like sweets, soda, those kinds of things that you’re getting no nutrition from,” Marshall stated. “‘I just ran 10 miles, so now I’m going to eat a box of Twinkies.’ No, that’s probably not your best choice.”
So what are the best choices? Here’s a quick look at some foods that can help — or hinder — your training efforts:
The good: Fish, chicken, lean beef, soy, greek yogurt, whey isolateThe bad: High-fat red meat, sweetened yogurt
The ugly: Fried chicken
The good: Rice, whole-grain pasta, fresh fruits, legumesThe bad: White bread, any food adding high fructose corn syrup
The ugly: Soft drinks, candy, potato chips
The good: Fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seedsThe bad: High-fat dairy and meat products
The ugly: Just about anything from a fast-food restaurant
Hydration is a critical part of any marathon training process — but that doesn’t just mean drinking lots of water.
As the body releases sweat to cool off, it’s losing electrolytes, and those can’t be replenished by drinking water. Too much water, it turns out, can be just as dangerous as not enough water.
Sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade can help, but those aren’t a cure-all, either.
“You can over-drink water, and you can over-drink sports drinks,” said Molly Marshall, a Registered Dietitian Nutrition Specialist at Columbus Regional Health. “So you really need to alternate between the two and have them both.”
Fortunately, the water stations that are set up for the Mill Race Marathon take that into account. Some stations supply water, while others will offer sports drinks.
Maintaining a similar balance during training can help keep you going strong over the long run.