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Top 10 Nutrition Tips to Help Marathon Runners Cross the Finish Line

Loyola dietitian provides guidelines for a proper marathon diet

MAYWOOD, Ill. - With marathon trainees about to take to the streets of Chicago, Loyola University Health System registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD) Brooke Schantz offers the top 10 nutrition tips runners can follow to help them cross the finish line come race day.

  • Get fueled. Long-distance runners are at risk of having low bone density, stress fractures and irregular periods. It is important that they provide their body with enough energy to perform at its best and prevent unwanted injuries. Runners can simply calculate their caloric needs by following this guideline (they also should consult a registered dietitian for a tailored nutrition plan):

               *30-60 minutes of activity a day requires 16-18 calories per pound
               *1-1.5 hours of activity a day requires 19-21 calories per pound
               *1.5-2 hours of activity a day requires 22-24 calories per pound
               *2-3 hours of activity a day requires 25-30 or more calories per pound

  • Plan fiber intake wisely. Fiber is a wonderful thing but choosing foods lower in fiber the night before and the morning of the race is a smart idea. Foods like high-fiber cereals, grains, granola bars, fruits and vegetables could lead to uncomfortable intestinal distress and cramping come race day.
  • Monitor sweat loss. Runners should weigh themselves before and after long runs. For every pound they lose during the run, they will need to replace it with 16 ounces of water. For example, if they know they always lose 3 pounds (48 ounces) over the course of four hours, they will need to drink 6 ounces of water every 30 minutes during the race.
  • Prepare for various weather conditions. Heat will increase sweat rate and lead to a higher loss of salt. Sweat is the body’s way of eliminating generated heat. In colder temperatures, runners will require more calories to help maintain their core body temperature. Hydration needs also may increase in cold weather if inappropriate clothing is worn.
  • Get carbs on the run. When exercising for longer than one hour, 30-60 g of carbohydrates should be consumed every hour. Carbohydrates can be consumed during a marathon in many different forms, including gels, jelly beans, sports drinks, sports bars or a combination of these.
  • Monitor urine output. One great indicator for assessing hydration status is the color of urine. The clearer the color, the more hydrated a runner is.
  • Get adequate protein. Protein consumption is important for increasing lean muscle mass and aiding in muscle repair. Endurance athletes require between 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg/day. A maximum of no more than 1 g of protein per pound should be consumed in a day.
  • Don’t forget to carbo load. Athletic performance can be improved if a runner maximizes muscle glycogen stores prior to a marathon. Some carbohydrate-loading plans start six days before a race. However, it will help maintain a high-intensity run for a longer period of time even if a runner begins a high-carbohydrate diet the day before the race.
  • Drink fluids. Water is the most important nutrient. Losing as little as 2 percent of body weight leads to impaired athletic performance. Runners can follow these fluid-replacement guidelines to stay hydrated:

               *Before exercise:  Two hours prior to exercise consume 16-20 oz. of water and 10-20 minutes before exercise consume 7-10 oz. of water.

               *During exercise:  Every 15-20 minutes consume 6-8 ounces of water. If you are exercising for longer than one hour, consuming a sports drink with 4-8 percent of carbohydrates will provide energy to working muscles.

               *After exercise:  For every pound lost during exercise, 24 ounces of fluid should be consumed to aid in hydration maintenance.

  • Practice, practice, practice. It is important to practice a nutrition and hydration schedule ahead of the marathon. Race day is not the time to try out new foods and beverages. If runners don’t practice a food and hydration pattern before race day, they won’t know how their body will react and their performance may suffer.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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