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What Diet is Good For a Marathon?
Nutrition is an often overlooked element of marathon training. The right nutrition plan will make those long training runs look so much easier!
Food is your source of energy. All food is made up of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibers. Carbohydrates are related to energy production, complete proteins are related to tissue repair and building, fat provides fuel for the body, and fiber is roughage.
Most foods will have trace amounts of all of these macronutrients, but each is typically high in one. ALL are needed in your diet.
Your body burns carbohydrates more efficiently than fat or protein. Consider increasing your carbohydrate intake to 60-70% of your daily food intake.
Runners benefit most from the amount of carbohydrates stored in the body. Carbohydrates produce more energy per unit of oxygen consumed than fats. This means that you get more energy for running when your body burns carbohydrates than when your body burns fat or protein. Because oxygen is often the limiting factor in long-duration events, your body will find it easier to use the energy source that requires the least amount of oxygen per kilocalorie of energy produced. (energy is measured in kilocalories)
Your body produces energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose. When you exercise at a moderate pace, carbohydrates provide 40 to 50 percent of your energy needs. As you start running harder, carbohydrates provide a greater percentage of your energy needs. It’s hard for your body to break down proteins and fats into glucose to provide energy. Therefore your body burns carbohydrates first. The harder you work, the harder it becomes for your body to devote energy to breaking down proteins and fats. That energy could be used to propel you forward in the race.
The best sources of carbohydrates for your marathon training
Carbohydrate requirements are commonly based on the runner’s body size and activity level. Runners engaged in moderate-duration, low-intensity exercise require 5-7 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. Conversely, those who engage in long-lasting, high-intensity exercise require 7-12 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal.
The best sources of carbohydrates in your diet
- brown rice,
- enriched wholemeal bread,
- Whole grains,
- legumes, e
- sweet potatoes
(Note: Cheetos, cookies, and tortilla chips are not listed.)
The next macronutrient used by the body during exercise is fat.
Fat is not the enemy. The fat created by too much cheetos is. (Remember that excess of any macronutrient — carbohydrates, protein, fat — is turned into fat.) For moderate exercise, about half of total energy expenditure comes from free fatty acid metabolism. If the event lasts more than an hour, the body can mainly use fat for energy. The use of fat as fuel depends on the duration of the event and the conditions of the rider. Trained athletes use fat for energy more quickly than untrained athletes. (This is one of the long-term adaptation mechanisms in marathon training.)
The best sources of fat in your diet
- Nut butter
- Fatty fish
- Fish oil supplements
- Linseed oil
- Safflower oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Corn oil
- Egg yolks
After carbohydrates and fats, proteins provide the body with energy. You also need protein to repair muscle tissue damaged during exercise. While exercise can increase an athlete’s protein needs, most Americans tend to eat more than the recommended amount of protein.
A protein intake of 10 to 12 percent of total calories is sufficient. Most authorities recommend that endurance athletes eat between 1.2 and 1.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. Remember, extra protein is stored as fat.
It’s doubtful you’ll need extra protein, what’s likely is that you need to be more careful about where you get your protein from.
Women trying to lose weight by cutting calories often forgo healthy protein sources for bagels. Don’t get me started on my “bagels are empty calories” rant; for now, all I will say is that protein-rich foods include lean pork and beef, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, and low-fat dairy products. Include lean sources of protein in your marathon training diet.
The best sources of protein in your diet
- Lean pork and beef
- Low-fat dairy products
Fiber helps the body stay healthy and can prevent heart disease. Getting enough might be easier than you think.
Soluble fiber, found in oats, barley, beans, apples, oranges and other fruits and vegetables, can help prevent heart disease by lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Set a goal of eating 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. The best way to do this is to consume a wide variety of whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Fiber also keeps your bowels regular. This is key to avoiding discomfort during long training sessions.
The best sources of fiber in your diet
Include more fiber in your meal plan by adding greens to stews and casseroles. Add oats to meatloaf, bread, and cookies. Fruit in cereals, as a snack, and in salads are other options.
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