Fueling Up : Full and Half Marathon Training Nutrition (Coaches Corner)

Marathon training nutrition is just as important as your training plan; discover how to fuel up without getting fed up on this week’s Running running the miles is only half of the marathon training battle! Your first time Marathon Training is complicated enough; here are some tips for getting the most of your fueling without getting fed up about it. Join the Running Coaches Corner Link Up!

Marathon Training Nutrition + Fueling

Marathon training nutrition is just as important as your training plan; discover how to fuel up without getting fed up on this week's Running Coaches Corner! @suzlyfe http://suzlyfe.com/marathon-training-nutrition-coaches-corner-67

Running the miles is only a part of the battle, as many of us know. After all, without sufficient and proper fuel, how can we even expect to accomplish the miles! As clichΓ© as it might seem, cars really provide an excellent analogy for the human body when it comes to the general concept of fueling for marathons and other training: in essence, as I just said, you have to have fuel if you want to perform, and to take the concept further, your body/car will perform best on certain types of fuel. This is not a technical explanation of fuel, mind you, just a way to make it more accessible!

Aston Martin Vanquish Volante 2014. I would be a Bond girl for one

Aston Martin Vanquish Volante 2014. I would be a Bond girl for one

Now, to throw a monkey wrench into the situation, the human body is just a titch more complicated than a car. Bodies, unlike cars, have fuel level minimums and maximums for optimal performance, and you can’t just fuel and go. It takes a bit more planning than that! Here are some considerations, tips, and resources for you to get your body fueled up and ready to go, but most importantly, how to make marathon training and fueling work for you.

I want to be very clear that while a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Running Coach, I am not a Dietitian, certified or otherwise. This is based purely on my own experience, research, and observations. For specific nutrition advice, please ask professional!

BALANCE in Marathon Nutrition

Let me say it again (in case you didn’t hear me). BALANCE. Not only am I a big believer in balance throughout life — and by that, I don’t mean that you never go to extremes! I just mean that equilibrium is a natural goal of the body and mind — I am a huge proponent of balance in fitness, food, and marathon training. This goes to show with my balanced approach to my marathon training planning and scheduling (helping me to avoid burnout) as well as with my diet.



Fueling plans should look at the macro as well as the micros (which are sometimes macros, or macronutrients). Eating one not so great meal? Not the be-all, end-all of your training, or your race. Often, “it all comes out in the wash,” as they say! That said, not paying attention, and putting that one “red garment” in when a load of whites and putting it on hot… aka eating a super high fiber, low calorie meal before setting out on a long run. Here are the key ways in which I seek balance with regards to food during marathon training:

Balance of Macros at Every Feeding (Meal, Snack)

I have discovered that, in my case, my body likes to have a bit of everything (just like my brain, and I’m sure that it is somewhat mental): carbs, protein, fats, fiber, and sugars, at every juncture, thereby helping me to stay satisfied and maintain my energy levels. My body uses the various components to process the other optimally, thereby allowing as well for better absorption of the micronutrients.

Balance of Meals and Macros throughout the Day

Sure, we love a good chow down, and runners know how to eat. I am just as guilty as anyone else of getting a bit out of control when presented the opportunity, as I have talked about. But going crazy after a long run isn’t as helpful as you might think. We should all know that the myth of “well, I’m training for a marathon, I can eat whatever I want” is just that: a myth. But deciding that not only can you eat anything you want but that you can do it allatonce?

I will always love this picture.

I will always love this picture.

Really not helpful! You can’t and shouldn’t attempt to replace 20 miles worth of calories at once! Think about it: you body’s processing power is like a person catching balls. There are only so many balls that you can catch at one time! So, if you need to catch a lot of balls, throw them over, wait a breath, let them get put away, throw again.

Or, as I said to a trainee this weekend: Why eat 3000 calories of tacos all at once when you can have TACOS ALL DAY??

Looking for some yummy and quick recovery options? Try these:

Balance of Fun and Functional Food

Just like with your training plan, you should find incentives within what you are eating, as well as sometimes, just suck it up and eat it because you know you need to. Yes, carbs are great, (#carbloadingforlife) but you need your veggies! Don’t be a baby–put it in a protein smoothie or bake it into something delicious, like my Cornbread Zucchini Protein Muffins (Gluten Free), or my Chocolate Zucchini Oat Protein Bread (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)! But no, I’m sorry, pizza is not a Vegetable and neither are fries. And butter, while it can be lovely, should not be a food group.


But fun food can also be functional, just as functional food can be fun! Look at my nightly ice cream–I get in extra fats (though lower than I would with a premium ice cream, because my stomach can’t handle that), sugars (at a time when it really doesn’t affect me either way, hey the sugar crash might come in handy!), a little bit of protein (yes, it does have some), extra carbs, and calorie density to help me get sufficient calories in for the day. I pair it with nut butter (good fats), high quality cereals, like Kashi, lower sugar granola, low sugar protein bars, or whole wheat breads. 

How to Achieve the Marathon Nutrition Balance

Experimentation and Research.

Like with your training plan, document what you eat and how it makes you feel. You need to think of the fact that you also have to train your stomach for what it is about to undergo–create rituals (I used to have particular things that I eat on race day that get me ready to go physically as well as mentally). Alternatively, DON’T FREAK OUT if you can’t follow your ritual to a T. Do the best you can, and move on!

Make the right foods accessible.

Have healthy on the go snacks with you AT ALL TIMES. Don’t leave the house without them, just don’t!

Have healthy meals that you can make practically blindfolded and in no time at all (like these 30 minute power bowls).

harvest quinoa protein bowl suzlyfe

Make it FUN. Don’t like to cook, or don’t know how? Take the opportunity to teach yourself! Or don’t, and go shopping for fun alternatives!

Check out my recipe page and my food  product reviews page for more ideas and specific examples!

I hope that this helps you feel a bit less anxious about the big bad marathon fueling game! And just relax. Training lasts a long time, just like I said before, one little mistake isn’t going to sink the ship. Unless it is a cannon straight through the hull. And then you might be in trouble.

Fuel up without getting Fed Up @Suzlyfe explains achieving #marathontraining #nutrition #runchat Click To Tweet

What is your biggest hurdle in fueling?

Have you had to change your fueling in the past in a significant way?

How did it/did it not help you? Adding more healthy fats and extra calories to my diet turned my training around last year!

Join the link up and Running Coaches Corner for more great running advice and content!

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I am linking up with myself, RachelLora, and Debbie for Running Coaches CornerPattyErika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, NicoleAnnmarieMichelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday.

  1. Great advice, Suz! I think how and what we eat plays a critical role in our athletic performance – for me, a huge change came when I upped my protein. I hadn’t been eating meat for years, but al of a sudden my body started craving it like crazy. So, I went with it little by little and noticed it made a big difference in how satisfied I was throughout the day and in my workouts!
    Ruthie@She’sWickedHealthy recently posted…National Running Day! KT Tape Giveaway!My Profile

  2. I like cookies #noshame haha but really there are so many (mainly those who don’t run) who tell me I can eat whatever I want due to working out or running the half. Umm, no thanks. Funny story. I was asking my dad to get something pierced a long time ago, I think my belly button, and he compared my body to a car too! It was more in the sense of having so much done it doesn’t resemble the original and the. You miss the old. But regardless, your story reminded me of this πŸ™‚
    Heather @Fitncookies recently posted…National Running Day 6/3/15My Profile

    • I hate when people just assume “we can eat everything”. THAT ISN”T HOW IT WORKS

  3. I think eating enough during marathon training can be tough because you often have to eat more at times you’re not even hungry yet and it’s easy to skimp and then gorge later on. Keeping up with fueling I think is the most important thing for feeling well and also recovering. And sleep, but that’s another story πŸ™‚
    Michele recently posted…WIAW – Long Run DayMy Profile

    • Exactly. It is hard to know when to make yourself uncomfortable, either to eat more or to eat less.
      And who needs sleep πŸ˜‰

  4. Ahh fueling. I’ll tell you when I increase my mileage I tend to go overboard on the food – especially carbs and sweets! I def get into the mindset that hey, I’m running 13 miles I can eat anything I want! It’s hard to discern between hunger and cravings sometimes. When I back off the mileage my hunger naturally decreases and I put more focus on fresh veggies/fruit. I dk why this happens but I need to get a handle on it before my next training cycle!
    Jill recently posted…Baltimore Vegan Drinks at Jukai JuiceMy Profile

    • I think that your body is literally cleansing itself! ALso, your body is craving quick energy–which it associates with the “fun” things. I think we all go through that!

  5. Learning the appropriate times to eat before and after a particularly difficult workout helped my training immensely. One of the biggest problems I had to overcome was not being hungry after a run. My body is so picky when it comes to post run fuel that I had to almost force myself to eat sometimes. It became very clear that if I refueled within 60-90 minutes post workout, I was more likely satisfied than if I waited longer. Anything past 90 minutes and I felt insatiable for the rest of the day. Many helpful tips : ) Happy Wednesday!!
    Jamie recently posted…National Running Day & WIAWMy Profile

    • Seriously, why are eating and running, two of the most natural things possible, so hard?

  6. Great advice Susie! I think people either forget, or don’t know, that many fruits and vegetables are high carb, they don’t need to eat bread and rice to get them. Apples, pears, bananas, and grapes all have approximately 20 grams of carbs per serving, plus vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. Carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn are fantastic veggies for a carb fix. So, you can eat well and get your carbs and fiber, which is so important to keep things moving in your body. My favorite post run drink is a smoothie with a banana, pineapple, flax seed, a tablespoon of peanut butter (or almond butter if you have a lot of inflammation, because peanuts are inflammatory), and almond milk. It gives you back the potassium lost during the run, protein, carbs, fiber, and vitamins. Nothing processed and everything good. Plus it tastes amazing.

    • So true, Linda, great point! I think that is why I don’t need more flour carbs, and am able to still stick to whole grains rather than refined flours for energy. Plus the veggies are better for your GI and energy levels. Great thoughts!

  7. When people start a running program whether it’s a first time runner or a first time marathoner they always come to me and ask me why they’re gaining weight! I do know that some of it is inflammation, more of it is the development of muscle but most of it is because people just don’t realize how much they’re consuming in relation to how much they’re burning. It’s all about listening to our bodies and being mature about it. If I’m injured and not running or if I’m training for an ultra, I will listen to my body and give it what it needs. Never to the point of being too full, and never too long feeling like I’m off-my-face starving. I really do need to eat more veggies though, either way.
    Suzy recently posted…Woozy Wednesday: Pre-Race HydrationMy Profile

    • Another thing too is that carbs can encourage water retention–some of that falls off, but yes, the majority of people freak out!
      But my problem is that if it is in front of my, I will eat it, regardless.

    • That’s true–that’s a pretty major change for you! Let me know how I can help!

  8. Great post! When I give talks to local running and tri groups about this, the thing that surprises them the most is that you don’t need to eat a big bowl of pasta the night before a race (unless they’ve tried it and it works for them), and they don’t get to eat everything in sight the rest of the week. It’s all about managing those marathon training hangeries and fueling your body smartly!
    Bri recently posted…#WorkoutWednesday: A sample Boston Qualifier marathon training plan in honour of National Running Day!My Profile

    • OMG I would die if I ate a bowl of pasta the night before. I would be a giant rock of pasta if I did that!

    • And that is the right way to do it. There is no reason not to give yourself a treat–hell, you deserve it regardless!–but be sensible about it, and don’t go BANANGAS

    • Seriously. I don’t think people realize that enough! Look what happened when I just had 4 bags of chips in front of me!

    • I know what you mean. That + the fact that my body doesn’t do well on added fats, plus I don’t like the texture, makes it much more difficult for me. Luckily, adding in nut butters and avocado throughout the day has helped.

    • I mean, you can’t force something to work a certain way. Especially with the body–it just won’t!

  9. These are true both in running and in life really πŸ™‚ Find the foods that work for your body and you won’t walk around in a fog at 3pm or eating all the food in the house at 11pm (like I mentioned in my binge eating post). I have really found that balancing out my macros and eating real food has helped me gain muscle in the gym, run faster sprints and be an overall much nicer human (not as hangry all the time). Love your tips here! Pinning!
    Sam @ PancakeWarriors recently posted…Mocha Quinoa Energy BitesMy Profile

    • Thanks girl! I totally agree with you that our performance is intrinsically linked to our fueling. When we figure out what is best for us, we see it in the results! But I am also with you in the binging–totally something that I have done because I didn’t eat properly.

  10. Yep yep yep. For me, I need a LOT of carbs but I’m also figuring out what works for me as I go along. It’s all about trial and error, and each person’s balance looks different!
    Sarah @pickyrunner recently posted…#BeMore_BmoreMy Profile

    • For certain! I also have to have a pretty decent amount of carbs, but I HAVE to back that up with the other macros, otherwise it makes me even more hungry!

  11. I’m loving these marathon training posts! Running-related nutrition is one of my passions and I love your approach to it. It definitely is about balance, and even the less “healthy” foods such as ice cream still have their place in our diets. My nightly craft beer helps my bones (which take a beating from the medicine I take for PCOS/endo), gives me extra carbs, and offers some antioxidants. I’ve found that lots of healthy fats (avocado, chia seeds, nut butters) help my sports nutrition and that more carby-er vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squashes keep me feeling energized.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…For the Love of Running (National Running Day 2015)My Profile

    • I like it–you have beer, I have my ice cream! I used to tell people that, actually: that my nightly ice cream was my nightly glass of wine!

    • Sure thing! I know what you mean–you open the door, and all hell breaks loose, it seems!

  12. hahaha i have a similar pic of me holding (“balancing”) two wine glasses in Vegas 5 years ago that my brother posted somewhere at some point, except i’m balancing a white vs. a red. never know what you might want. πŸ™‚ i definitely don’t let myself eat more when i’m training — yikes — i know my body and i’m not built like a skinny minnie free-for-all-eater, so i’m careful, no matter what my activity level. although if i gave up wine, i’d prob lose 10 lbs stat. πŸ™‚
    Shawna recently posted…Weekly Workouts & NRD!My Profile

    • My problem is that once I start, I don’t stop, which leads to really overdoing it and feeling lethargic. But I think that as long as people are replacing the calories that they need to replace, they are in a good spot.

  13. I agree with you about the balance. I actually just watched a webinar for work about protein intake and muscle mass, and they really stressed spreading your protein equally out throughout the day. We typically eat a little bit of protein at breakfast, some at lunch and a lot at dinner. Definitely something I need to work on.
    Sam @ Grapefruit & Granola recently posted…Catching UpMy Profile

    • Seriously, you can’t take all your protein at once. Alex had a seminar on the same topic recently as well (at the hospital).

    • Thank you! I agree, you need to be careful and replace your cals in a responsible way. So many people are so concerned with losing weight that they don’t give their body enough food and thus throw their body into starvation mode.

    • I definitely did during my first marathon, and I only eat white bread the days leading up to it!

  14. Susie, this is an amazing post! Even though it’s geared towards marathon training, a lot of the advice in here pertains to straight up healthy eating – especially making sure healthy snacks are easily accessible. When I was on vacation, I purposefully did not stress about picking up fruit or nuts to eat when I was out and about, but it definitely resulted in me eating things that I never would at home. It makes you realize how much the effort is worth it!
    Jill @ Champagne for Everyday recently posted…Our Italian Vacation + Why Young Professionals Deserve A BreakMy Profile

    • Thank you, Jill! I agree–and I think that training for the marathons has improved my eating more than any other activity or pursuit. I can now listen to how my body operates, but I also treat it in a very balance manner, and without “fear” of it–I have fun and eat well!

  15. Eating enough of the right types of foods is so important! I usually have no appetite for a while after a hard workout, so taking in small amounts is really important for my recovery.

  16. The advice of making it fun and functional is such good advice; and I also love that you reminded us that we don’t have to refuel right now. We can slowly refuel the tank after a long run like a marathon. I’m still learning so much about nutrition that I didn’t really know for the first 6 or 7 years of running.

  17. Yes, the nutrition piece can be so confusing when it really doesn’t need to be- eat as much real food as you can, with a good mix of carbs, protein and fat, and enjoy a treat now and then. If we can get in touch with our hunger/fullness cues, we’re all set! But most of us have learned how to ignore those and have to figure out how to listen to our bodies.

  18. I pinned this to remember for later! I’ve recently started (loosely) tracking macros again and I always feel so much better during my runs/workouts when I do. I totally believe in veggies too, so I always try to get my micros in with my meals as well. πŸ™‚

  19. A few years ago, I saw a documentary on the food served in public schools and when I heard that they classified fries and pizza as vegetables, I was astounded. Those are two of my favorite things to eat but I don’t think they’re equivalent to eating broccoli.
    I like to eat a little bit of everything at my meals too. I think good nutrition is really about balance and not depriving your body of anything it needs.

    • I couldn’t agree more! The state of food and nutrition education in America terrifies me. I am already scared for my non-existent children.

  20. Great post. I struggle during races because I get so caught up in the adrenaline rush, that I don’t slow down to fuel early enough and ALWAYS crash around mile 7-8 of a half marathon. Well, not always, but my last few at least, LOL.

  21. I’ve not really changed the way I eat during marathon training — with the exception of reducing fiber and increasing carbs the days before long runs and race day. My tummy doesn’t do well with a lot of fiber before long runs.

  22. Why eat 3000 calories of tacos all at once when you can have TACOS ALL DAY?? = best. rationale. ever. I think “treat” food is generally more enjoyable when you spread it out in smaller bits anyway.

  23. I definitely agree that you need balance. During this training cycle I’m trying to be more mindful of what I eat so that I can make sure I’m fueling my body properly.

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