Here’s How to Eat If You’re Training For a Marathon

The following post was originally featured on Carrots ‘N’ Cake and written by Tina Haupert, who is part of POPSUGAR Select Fitness.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian, about optimal nutrition for marathon training, specifically what nutrients are important to fueling one’s body before and after workouts. I also asked her about her thoughts on protein powder and the best way to figure out how many calories I should consume after a long run. Her responses were really helpful, so I thought you guys might enjoy reading them too.

Carrots ‘N’ Cake: What are the key nutrients I should be focusing on during my training?Elisa Zied: When you’re training, it’s key to focus on a variety of key nutrients. Since carbohydrate is the key fuel needed for your brain, red blood cells, and entire central nervous system as well as your muscles, it should be the main dietary focus before, during, and after workouts. About half of one’s total calorie intake should come from carbohydrate, and both casual exercisers and athletes alike should emphasize carbohydrate-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains made without added sugars or solid fats. Getting adequate protein is also essential for muscle repair and to maintain lean muscle mass. Nutrient-rich options include lean meats, fish, low-fat or nonfat milk and yogurt and legumes (also packed with carbohydrate) to promote muscle repair and maintain lean muscle mass.

In addition to macronutrients like carbohydrate and protein, vitamins and minerals are essential during training. Unfortunately, national survey data reveals that many Americans have inadequate intake of six essential vitamins and minerals; these include vitamins A, C, D, and E, and the minerals calcium and magnesium. Of course food is the best first source of nutrients. But it’s prudent for people, especially those who are active and exercise, to consider a complete multivitamin like Centrum that provides a combination of vitamins and minerals to help fill dietary gaps and ensure they meet recommended daily amounts for such nutrients.

CC: What nutrients should I be sure to include in my diet for optimal post-workout recovery?EZ: It’s important to emphasize carbohydrate to replace muscle glycogen (glucose stored in muscles) and promote rapid post-exercise recovery. Protein is also an important post-exercise nutrient to build and repair muscle tissue. To meet nutrient needs for health and to support physical activity and exercise, it’s important to include a wide variety of foods from all the healthy food groups. Athletes and others who limit or eliminate one or more food groups or follow a specific diet to lose weight may require supplements; considering a complete multivitamin like Centrum is prudent as is discussing nutrient needs with a registered dietitian nutritionist or a doctor or other health professional well-versed in nutrition and dietary supplements.

CC: What are your macronutrient recommendations for endurance training?EZ: Those who do endurance exercise (like marathon training) require more carbohydrate and protein than more casual exercisers. To meet needs for marathon training, athletes need about 6 to 10 grams per kilogram per day (2.7 to 4.5 grams per pound per day) of carbohydrate. Protein needs range from 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram per day (0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound per day).

CC: What are your thoughts on protein powder or protein shakes for recovery?EZ: While individual needs vary based on age and stage of life, gender, and activity level, most Americans get more than enough protein to meet if not exceed their dietary needs from food alone. Endurance athletes and those who strength train do need extra protein compared to non-athletes or more casual exercisers . . . It’s also important that athletes consume enough total calories to meet their energy needs and maintain body weight to support the body’s use of protein and to enhance overall exercise performance.

CC: What’s the best way to calculate how many calories I need pre- and post-workout?EZ: Calorie needs vary based on age and stage of life, body frame, gender, and activity level. My best advice is to consume enough calories to maintain body weight if you’re at a healthy body weight. It’s important to eat enough while training to maintain body weight and health and maximize training. According to the most recent joint position paper on nutrition and athletic performance, if weight loss is a goal, it should be done during the off-season or before beginning a competitive season and involve a qualified sports dietitian.

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