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Sample Meal Plan for Marathon Training

You’re logging in some serious mileage as you train for a marathon. As the runs get longer, the need for proper fueling becomes even more important. Here’s a sample meal plan for marathon training that will give you the framework for all of your nutrition needs.

oatmeal with fruit

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Disclaimer – This post is for informational purposes only and is not for diagnosing or treatment. See your medical provider or Registered Dietitian for individual recommendations applicable to your health and health history. 

You’ve done it. You signed up for that marathon and are committed to a training plan.

But along with intense physical training and running long distances comes proper nutrition.

You need to have some sort of marathon training food plan in place as a first step to support training.

We know, through loads of research, that nutrition is one of the keys to success when training for a marathon.

We’ve talked about what to eat before a marathon, what to eat during a marathon, and of course, how to recover after a marathon.

overhead shot of runners during race

Those marathon training nutrition tips cover the days leading up to your race and shortly afterward.

But what about the months prior to your race?

You have to get in enough calories and nutrients to fuel your training and help your muscles recover. Every meal is an opportunity to replenish your body for optimal performance.

Ahead, we’ve got a sample meal plan for marathon training that will set you up with a template to plan your everyday meals.

Consider it a marathon runners diet plan example to cater to your own individual needs.

Note that it’s always best to work with a Registered Dietitian (preferably one who specializes in sports) when determining your individual nutritoin needs.

Marathon Training Nutrition

First, let’s talk about the nutrients needed when coming up with your sample meal plan for marathon training.

Overall, your nutrient needs increase as you put a greater demand on your body.

It makes sense – you’re on your feet more, training longer, so you’ll obviously need to up your calorie intake.

Homemade trail mix bars with cheerios

We don’t recommend counting calories. Instead, pay attention to your hunger cues and make the most of your meals and snacks by making them nutrient-dense.

Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are macronutrients that are needed in large amounts. These will make up the majority of your diet.

How much of each macronutrient you need is completely individualized, though. You are unique!

Everyone has different needs, depending on age, gender, activity level, and other factors.

So, while you may be searching for a marathon meal plan pdf to follow to a tee, remember that your needs may not match that sample plan.

performance plate hard training day

However, you can use performance plates as a general guideline when making your general meal plan for marathon training.

Carbohydrates

While there may be a buzz around keto and low-carb foods, marathon training is not the time for low-carb diets.

During digestion, carbohydrates break down into glucose—the primary fuel for running.

There are two types of carbohydrates: complex carbohydrates (which contain fiber and take a long time to break down) and simple carbohydrates, which break down quickly.

In and around our runs, we want to focus on simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates should be eaten throughout the day.

Glucose gets stored as glycogen (called muscle glycogen), which your body converts back to glucose when you need it.

It’s like gas for your car. You want to start a road trip on full. Eating carbohydrates tops off the tank.

plate of bagels

Endurance athletes should have 45-65% of their total calories coming from carbohydrates.

This amount increases even more when you are carb loading for your race.

This ensures you have the glycogen stores to get you through your training without hitting the wall. You don’t want all of your time and training to go to waste!

Some of the best carbs for runners include bread, pasta, cereal, oats, rice, crackers, tortillas, fruit, milk, potatoes, whole grains, etc.

If you have a sensitivity, there are gluten free carbs you can add to your diet and still meet your allotted carbohydrate recommendations for your marathon training meal plan.

Protein

Next up on the plate comes protein. There’s definitely been a push for protein consumption recently and for good reason.

Protein is an essential macronutrient that is made up of amino acids.

Those amino acids, such as creatine, are the building blocks of your cells, and it’s how your body rebuilds muscle tissue.

That means protein is responsible for building and maintaining your muscle mass.

Furthermore, lean proteins help to generate bone cells, keeps you full, plays a role in hormone regulation, and aids in immune function.

array of meats on a table

Protein for runners is a big deal. Your body constantly adapts to your training and your diet needs to support those changes.

As you push yourself to run further and faster, you’re making small tears in your muscles. Your body uses protein to repair those tears and rebuild the muscles to stronger levels.

Protein is found in foods like eggs, meat, chicken, fish, dairy, soy, legumes, peanut butter, quinoa, and protein powder (like whey protein).

Protein shakes are also another way to get enough protein.

While collagen is a source of protein, it does not contain all of the amino acids so it’s best to use that adjacently to other protein sources.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends 1.4-2.0 grams/kg body weight/day.

Timing-wise, you want to hold off on eating a lot of protein right before you run.

Protein takes longer for your body to digest, and a high-protein meal may upset your runner’s gut.

It’s much more important after the run to include in your recovery meal or runner recovery drinks.

Fat

Fat is often unnecessarily demonized (thanks to 90’s diet culture), but we do need it in our diets.

Fat is an excellent source of energy for your body. It contains more calories per gram than the other macronutrients (9 calories/gram vs. 4 calories/gram).

Plus, your body needs healthy fats to build the protective membranes around the cells. Additionally, fat is essential for hormone production.

clear jars with peanut butter

Extra fat is stored around your vital organs for protection and insulation.

And without fat, your body wouldn’t be able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, which all contribute to optimal health.

So….long story short: don’t skip the fat.

Sources of fat include nuts and seeds, cheese, butter, avocado, peanut and nut butters, oils (like olive oil, avocado, coconut, or canola oil), fatty fish, and full-fat milk.

Like protein, you don’t want to have a high-fat meal before you hit the road.

Fat takes a longer time to digest and can lead to stomach discomfort during a run, so shouldn’t be overconsumed on race day or before long runs.

Fluids and Electrolytes for Marathon Training

We can’t talk about marathon training without discussing hydration and fluids.

Without proper fluid balance, your running performance suffers.

You’ll want to hydrate before and after a run or training session, plus throughout the day.

Homemade watermelon lemonade drink

On average, a runner should consume 3 to 4 liters of fluid per day.

If you’re running more than two hours per day, your marathon meal plan may have you consuming more than 7 or 8 liters per day.

Obviously, you are doing some heavy sweating, even more so if you’re running in hot weather.

It’s not just water in your sweat. There is electrolyte loss, too.

Electrolytes are minerals that help you maintain your fluid balance.

Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and bicarbonates are all essential for cell function. You need to replace fluids AND electrolytes, especially if you’re a salty sweater.

You don’t always have to drink store-bought sports drinks. But bone broth and other beverages are a quick way to replenish both fluids and electrolytes.

bone broth in clear bowl

The best electrolyte drinks for runners can be whipped up with ingredients at home in no time—without artificial colors or flavors.

Furthermore, you can replace your electrolyte loss with meals and snacks on your marathon training meal plan, too!

Many foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain those essential minerals.

Nutrients for Recovery

Lastly, you can tailor your diet and meal plan for marathon training to optimize your recovery.

Things like rest days and proper sleep are essential for recovery, but diet also plays a role.

You’ll want to pay special attention to micronutrients, like iron, calcium, Vitamin D, magnesium and others, that help your body recover from rigorous training.

For instance, antioxidant-rich foods, like tart cherry juice for runners, can help your body heal.

glass of tart cherry juice in smoothie

The same goes for vitamin and mineral-rich vegetables and fruits.

The best fruits for runners are high in vitamin C, which aids in tissue repair.

Collagen can also be a nice addition to your diet to support joint health and aid in Vitamin C absorption.

The vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish reduce inflammation which can accompany the increase in workout intensity.

Don’t like fish? Chia seeds are also a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Sample Meal Plan for Marathon Training

Now comes the fun part: putting all these things together in a day of eating for a sample marathon training meal plan.

Note that this sample meal plan for a marathon runner doesn’t follow a particular diet.

For another option, check out this sample meal plan for a vegan ultrarunner.

notepad to make vegan meal plan

Nutrient Timing

Remember, the timing of your food in relation to your run matters, as well as the quantity. If you’re running more, you usually want to be eating more for optimal gains.

  • Right before a run, you want quickly-digestible carbohydrates and limited fat and protein.
  • During your runs, you want to take in simple carbs, like running energy gels and chews, as well as electrolytes. Check out more for fueling for a marathon.
  • After your run, you want to replenish your glycogen stores with carbs, and this is where you can add in the fat and protein.

Basing your eating off of this timing is important because it’s when are muscles are receptive to properly using the fuel.

Now with that knowledge, let’s show you some examples of what to eat in your marathon training diet plan.

Breakfasts for Marathon Training

Choosing a solid breakfast for runners is critical.

Starting the day with the right foods will certainly improve your running stamina and help you feel better and stronger throughout your run and the day.

When you’re eating breakfast before a run in the morning, you’ll be emphasizing carbs for ready-to-use fuel.

ideas for breakfast for marathon runners

We have several posts about what to eat before a race or run (some shorter and some longer) that may be helpful:

If you’re eating after your run or workout, you can follow the performance plate exemplified above, with a balanced diet and plate of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Make ahead breakfasts may work well as options to grab quickly and fuel up on-the-go, especially if you like prepping in advance.

Here are some breakfasts to include in your marathon meal plan:

Lunches for Marathon Training

Lunch for me is all about convenience. I do not want to spend an hour prepping lunch.

It’s also an opportunity to get a balance of nutrients in your marathon training food plan.

If you’re running in the late afternoon, you’ll want to stick with mostly carbs.

turkey sandwich on white bread

Eating lunch after a run, you can get in more fat and protein.

A classic PB&J is a nice go-to, but there are plenty of lunch ideas that aren’t sandwiches.

For those with higher carb needs, here are some of our favorite lunches for runners.

quinoa and sweetpotato salad with fruit

Dinners for Marathon Training

Usually, by dinner time, you’ve done your run and it’s time to relax and enjoy your meal.

While you can have a balanced meal, you’ll still want to eat mostly carbs.

Remember, you’re replenishing your glycogen stores for your next run.

plate of spaghetti with sauce and cheese

The struggle typically occurs when you are trying to figure out what to eat. You’ve been working or busy with other tasks all day.

Thinking of a meal to make can be tricky. Here are some dinner ideas to get you out of a rut:

Snacks for Marathon Training

Snacks are an important component of any marathon training meal plan!

As a runner, you are likely snacking frequently, and that’s okay! It’s a perfect way to get in those extra nutrients you need.

snacks in bowls, like popcorn, pretzels and chips

Homemade running snacks are nice to have on hand for between meals.

But there are several really great store-bought options for convenience-sake as well.

Here are some snack ideas:

Key Takeaways

  • Training for a marathon places extra demand on your body. You need to eat a balance of nutrients for optimal performance and recovery.
  • As you increase your mileage, you have higher needs for calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Everyone’s caloric needs are different and you should pay attention to your hunger and prioritize carbohydrates.
  • Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are macronutrients needed in large amounts to give your body energy to perform. A healthy diet for marathon training refers to a balance of them all, with the largest part of the diet coming from carbohydrates.
  • Micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, aid in recovery and reduce inflammation.
  • Besides food, a runner must make sure they are well hydrated by replacing fluid and electrolyte losses.
  • If you’re eating before a run, you’ll want to limit fat and protein to prevent stomach discomfort.
  • A meal plan for marathon training can be tailored to your specific needs and preferences.

References:

  • Miguéns-Gómez A, Casanova-Martí À, Blay MT, et al. Glucagon-like peptide-1 regulation by food proteins and protein hydrolysates. Nutr Res Rev. 2021;34(2):259-275. doi:10.1017/S0954422421000019
  • Caballero-García A, Córdova-Martínez A. Muscle Recovery and Nutrition. Nutrients. 2022;14(12):2416. Published 2022 Jun 10. doi:10.3390/nu14122416
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