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Marathon Training Diet

I am planning to run a half-marathon for the first time.
My knowledge of food/nutrition is basic--lean protein = good, heavy carb = bad, but carb good for runnning...
Can anyone provide some information on a healthy training diet?
I will be training early morning and I work for a living, so my post-training meal needs to include a pick-me up--I can't be a zombie at work for 12 weeks.
Also, what to eat before the early morning run? I've been told a banana and some peanut butter--will I be burping up peanut butter every morning as I run?
Please help--I am genuinely clueless

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  1. Some things I found online:


    A friend of mine just did her first marathon and found the carb gel packets helped tremendously.

    1. Hopefully you will get some advice on this site (do foodies, as a rule, also run??). Anyway, I would highly recommend that you spend a few bucks on a decent running book (e.g. The Complete Book of Running by James Fixx is one good example that you can get for a few bucks used on Amazon or probably other places). In addition to good advice on diet and pre/post run foods, you will get some really good advice on how to train for different distances, different training run types (V02, Lactate threshold, etc., etc.), running in different climates, equipment, how to pace yourself... I could go on forever. A decent book on running is a must-have for someone getting into running.

      By the way, the 1/2 marathon is a really great distance. It is quite challenging, but much more attainable than the full marathon (maybe later on that). The best of luck with your running program.

      16 Replies
      1. re: bnemes3343

        "do foodies, as a rule, also run??"

        some of us do, although probably not all for the same reasons :)

        bnemes is right, you'd be well served to invest in a good training book. some of the expert names to look out for:

        susan kleiner - performance nutrition
        sally fallon - performance nutrition
        joe friel - triathlon training
        chris carmichael - performance training & nutrition [he's lance armstrong's coach]
        joel galloway - marathon training
        hal higdon - marathon training

        you can also find useful information [including training schedules] at runnersworld.com and running.com

        remember that there are very few hard & fast rules when it comes to eating for endurance training/distance running. sure, you want sources of quick AND long-burning fuel, but it's also a matter of what your body can tolerate and how well you metabolize certain things.

        one cardinal rule - don't try new foods or combinations in the few days before a race. you never know how your body is going to respond!

        and no, you shouldn't be burping up PB every morning as long as you remember to stay well hydrated so that your body can digest & metabolize it.

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          this may sound bizarre, but I actually spend several hours a week running primarily so I can then replace the spent calories with good food. Hopefully there are other beneficial effects too. My favorite race of all time is the Broad Street run in Philly (10 miles P to P, flat, early May weather) because I will ALWAYS do a nice, gooey Philly Cheesesteak the day before and feel totally guilt free!!

          1. re: bnemes3343

            I couldn't agree more--I exercise for the license to eat. I just want a disciplined 12 week period where I turn up the exercise and lose some weight--I can't seem to find the motivation on my own, so hence the race. Immediately after the race I plan on heading straight to the Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic Avenue (Brooklyn) for what should be the best pulled pork sandwich of my life and of course, some beer.
            The posts below seem to confirm my thoughts that the half marathon isn't a life-altering experience considering my current exercise regimen. However, I have never ran more than 6-7 miles, so it obviously will be a big challenge--I just don't want to turn into a protein bar/gel pack guy. If you check my posts you will be certain that I sure do like food!

            1. re: abu applesauce

              "However, I have never ran more than 6-7 miles"

              in that case, please respect your body's capabilities AND limitations and follow a reasonable training plan to build your mileage SLOWLY.

              i'm a life-long athlete, and spent many successful years making a very good living as a fitness professional. so when i decided to run my first marathon and realized that i only had 8 weeks to prepare for the race i wanted to do, i figured i'd attack my training with the same gusto that i do everything else. so, despite my extensive knowledge of anatomy & physiology, and my awareness of the perils of overtraining, i convinced myself that it would be perfectly fine to accelerate my plan, and that although i'd never really run more than 6 consecutive miles i could easily build up to 26 miles in 2 months. [ok, so i have a bit of a superwoman complex. i would NEVER have allowed a client to do what i was attempting.]

              a few weeks into it i started having some discomfort in my heel, but i wrote it off as plantar fasciitis and kept pounding on it, ignoring the pain. fast forward to week #4, when i returned home from my 13-mile run barely able to take those last few steps...

              the MRI at the orthopaedist's office the next day showed a complete fracture clear across my calcaneus [heel bone]. not only did i obviously miss the race, i spent the next 6 months in a cast - 3 of them on crutches.

              1. re: abu applesauce

                Off the food topic but if you train hard for 12 weeks and go back to eating and living your current lifestyle, any weight you take off will just come back on. If you're currently running 6-7 miles at a time, training for a half marathon in the spring won't be a big deal. You'll have time to slowly increase your miles.

                1. re: chowser

                  I am not taking training lightly. I am following what I've read online--most of the websites seem to share a similar 12 week table, with a one long run and one rest day a week and moderate running the other days. And of course, a gradual increase in mileage over the course of the 12 weeks. As for long term weight loss, this is a short term "shot in the arm" deal, which just so happens to correspond with an upcoming law school reunion...

                  1. re: abu applesauce

                    Ahh, gotcha.;-) Good luck with it! Plus, you'll be able to say, when asked what you've been up to, "Well, I just ran a half marathon..."

          2. re: bnemes3343

            I will probably pick up a book as a guide.
            I'm thinking with the half marathon I don't need to change my diet that dramatically. I typically run 3-5 miles, 3-5 days a week, and besides for fruit and veggies, I don't consume that many carbs. However, I do pig out on weekends.
            That's really why I'm doing this--I want the discipline to exercise 5 days a week and not pig out on weekends--at least for 12 weeks!

            1. re: abu applesauce

              I agree--I don't think you'd need to change your diet significantly for a half marathon. In addition to the books above, I'd highly recommend Nancy Clarks book on Sports Nutrition. You can get it at Overstock. She also has one on marathon nutrition but I think the Sports Nutrition is pretty comprehensive and you don't need the details of marathon running/training diets. For runs over an hour, try to eat as soon as you can,a ratio of 4:1 carbs to protein. There is some dispute on whether protein is necessary but definitely carbs--try to make them complex, eg whole grains, fruit, veggies. Fuel your body before your run but know what your body can handle. I can eat and run right away but it makes some people sick. Start w/ carbs and protein, eg pb on ww bread. Ideally, for longer runs, you'd eat a larger meal 2+ hours before and then a light snack about an hour before, but I can never get up that much earlier. Good luck with it!

              1. re: chowser

                crap, i can't believe i forgot to list nancy clark. one of her books is sitting right here in front of me on the shelf!

                1. re: chowser

                  As soon as you can before or after the run?

                  1. re: abu applesauce

                    after, for refueling. you need the carbs to replenish your glycogen stores as quickly as possible, and the protein will help with tissue repair.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Can you kindly provide some examples of food that meets that ratio that would be appropriate at 8am after 7 mile run?

                      1. re: abu applesauce

                        Chocolate milk supposedly has the ideal ratio after an hour workout. I've never used it, though. If you want something really healthy try pb or turkey on whole wheat bread; flaxseed pancakes and egg/egg whites; veggies/ww pita bread and hummus; steel cut oatmeal w/ blueberries and almonds; whole fruit smoothies w/ yogurt. I wouldn't stress about hitting that ratio--just make sure the majority of it is complex carbs and some protein.

                        1. re: abu applesauce

                          i am a heavy duty runner, simply because i love it (40-50 miles/week)... getting glycogen stores replaced and protein in immediately really aids my recovery. sometimes it's an isopure drink and a piece of fruit; if i'm in a pinch, i will allow myself a protein bar w/ a higher sugar content (the treat of a promax cookies 'n' cream); other ideas: a little cottage cheese in a scooped bagel w/ some low fat cheese; bran muffin w/ a higher protein content; egg whites in a wrap; rye crackers w/ salmon lox; total yogurt w/ fruit and/or preserves and/or honey or maple syrup; banana w/ yogurt; bagel scooped and toasted w/ low fat cheese and salsa... experiment for yoruself, and see what goes down well for you... your body will tell you what you're craving if you listen... sometimes i have a yen for something unexpected... last long run, i was having a mad craving for eggplant (go figure, right?).

                  2. re: abu applesauce

                    You're correct that you won't need to alter your diet that much to run a half. If you already eat in a reasonably healthy fashion then you'll most likely just need to eat more of what you're already eating. I've run several fulls and halves and the carb gel packets are great but I found that I only really needed them if I was running over 13 miles. What I have noticed is that when I'm doing cardio for that length of time many days a week I crave more protein (for me it was bacon); I think your body will tell you what you need. and before your morning runs i would suggest a carb/protein combo. Peanut butter with graham crackers always worked well for me. or half of a protein bar. I tried bananas and you're right... i did burp them throughout my workout. Good luck!

                2. I have been running 5 miles 3 times a week for about 8-10 years. Decided to run a 1/2 marathon about 5 years ago. I didn't really change my diet. However, during my training I inched my mileage up until I got to where I could run 10 miles fairly easily. What happened to me was that once I got up past 8 miles in my training, my appetite(post run) went WAY down. I ran at night before my evening meal. I could eat only about 1/2 my normal meal.
                  BTW, I should have trained at a higher mileage than 10. I hit the wall at 11 in the actual run- calves tightened up, brain stopped working well. At a fruit cup right after race- brain cleared right up but calves stayed stiff for a day or so.
                  I always eat a light granola bar before any race.
                  Another piece of good advise- by good shoes often(every 6-8 weeks).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Spencer

                    RE: your question about what to eat for training -- my experience with training and running long distance (21 k, 30 k, 42.2 k) - stuck to a lot of veggies and fruits, lean meats, whole grains - my typical diet to start off with. For me, I was (and continue to be) a big "run for the reward" person, so after I did my long runs on Sundays, I'd have a big stack of pancakes. Everything in moderation, but at the same time, give into your cravings every once in a while.

                    Oh, and btw, make sure you're drinking enough water!
                    Good luck with the training!

                  2. I did this last year, very similar situation--ran a decent amount, but never more than 6 or 7 miles, then trained up to a half. I found the two things that surprised me most was that I absolutely had to eat before I ran anything longer than about 4 miles--even though I didn't before I started training when I ran. It just built up that I needed that energy. I usually went with a small bowl of oatmeal. The other thing was starting to use the gels once my runs got past about 8 miles. I just needed them to keep going, even though I felt it was wasted calories, I needed the energy. In terms of post run eating, I found this was actually the time that I most needed the carbs, I started eating rice for breakfast, usually with a bit of leftover stir-fry, for some added energy. I also noticed that I would have little appetite in the evening, so even though I was eating essentially two breakfasts, by nighttime, I would barely get through a small protein (like a chicken breast of fish filet)

                    1 Reply
                    1. I used to run until I blew out my Achilles tendons, and switched to rowing early in the morning.
                      What works for me early morning is a yogurt smoothie before the 5:30 a.m. workout, and then peanut butter on whole wheat afterwards, at my desk at work. And lots of water, of course.

                      1. Here's what I ate while training for Boston last year:

                        pre-long (8+ miles) runs: almond butter & jam on multigrain toast
                        during long runs: kashi go lean crunch bars or the nectar bars; don't forget to hydrate!
                        post-long runs: bagel & cream cheese; banana & peanut butter; another nut butter sandwich; pancakes & bacon; fruit & eggs - basically some sort of protein & carb combination.

                        pre-short runs (less than 8 miles): sometimes nothing, if I was up at 5am, but other times a piece of toast & nut butter if I could stomach it.
                        during short runs: usually nothing, but don't forget to hydrate!
                        post-short runs: I was always at work, so either yogurt & fruit or oatmeal.

                        I echo the comments to make sure what you eat the night before race day and on race day be foods that you know your body will love. Test this during one of your long runs.

                        I think you'll be able to go from 7 miles to 13 quite easily - it's not too bad a jump. Since it's a shorter (13 mile) run, try running that milage or just below it 2 weeks before you race before you start tapering.

                        In general, your body will be using more carbs and more protein than normal, but you can still eat in a healthful way: multigrain/whole grain carbs, lots of vegetables (carbs & fiber), lean proteins (though I prefer whole eggs to egg whites), fruits.

                        Don't be surprised if you're not ravenous post-race. You may only eat half your order, but the next day, watch out!

                        Best of luck!!

                        1. abu,

                          I don't think you need anything "special" as far as your diet goes when training for the 1/2.

                          The most important thing is to eat a well balanced diet, lots of lean proteins, fruits and veggies, complex carbs, etc. You know, stuff you've heard over and over before.

                          A couple of things to keep in mind:

                          1. Make sure to consume enough calories.
                          2. Don't carbo load (I think that whole theory is bunk)
                          3. Go light on pre-run fuels. Half of an energy bar, half of a banana, cup of OJ, etc. You don't need a large amount of calories for most training runs, esp. if you are training for a 1/2 because most of your runs, even the long ones, will be in the range of 7-10 miles. You could do those on an empty stomach.

                          Enjoy the training and good luck to you on race day.

                          Get lots of swag!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            If I'm going to do a long run (anything over 10 miles) I eat a half of a whole wheat bagel while driving to the starting point (I'm small, 110 lbs). Then during the run I will try to time it to get back to the car every 40 minutes
                            where I stop very briefly to take a GU and as much liquid as I think I need.

                          2. BTW, what's your age and prior race experience? How many shorter distance races have you run in? What's your average time for a 5K race. Are hills going to be a factor in the half-M?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ThaiNut

                              I'm 30. I've never raced at any distance. Don't know about the hills, but I guess I should find out...

                            2. I used to be an athlete and one thing that we always avoided were carbonated beverages. I'm not sure of the exact biochemistry behind it, but they cause your body to build up lactic acid more quickly.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: rweater

                                I believe that's more myth than fact.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Ouch! I hardly know where to begin. I cannot think of too many things that are so totally inadvisable as biting off a Half-M without proper training, which mostly means EXPERIENCE. Nutrition is the least of your problems. Probably the most important thing to successfully doing a first Half-M is proper pacing, and you will learn proper pacing only by learning pacing at shorter race distances. You really should start with a minimum of 3-4 5K's and then do some 10Ks. That's how you learn pacing. Training runs will not do it, you need competitive runs. And if your training for the Half-M doesn't include several runs of 10 miles than you have a real risk of injury. You also need a proper mental outlook and, here again, you're going to get that only with race experience. Some people estimate that running a full marathon is 70% mental and 30% physical. 'nuff said - this is off the base for ChowHound. Please go talk to an experienced middle-distance runner.

                                  1. re: ThaiNut

                                    thank you for chiming in - i'm afraid my warning may have fallen on deaf ears.

                              2. http://www.amazon.com/Marathon-Chef-F...

                                Michel Roux actually wrote a book for marathoners. No clue as to the nutritional value, but kind of interesting.

                                1. what race are you running?

                                  just a couple of things, I think the pre run food is very subjective, I don't eat before running, maybe a bannana before my long runs, but I do fuel and hydrate very well the day before. On my longer runs I have a fuel belt for a 1/2 water 1/2 gatorade mixture but that is a very subjective thing as well, and esp changes for me depending on he season i'm running in. I also would play around with gels, I found they were really helpfull energy boosters for me during a run- probably because I didn't pre-eat a lot.

                                  I am usually not hungry after running and not good about the postfuel so can't give you much advice there...the one thing that I think really helps after a long run is an ice bath - sounds and kind of is horrible, but really good for protecting against stiffness and injuries. Just get in with a hat, a cup of something hot to drink and a snack!

                                  Here is a good running forum and the people there are usually pretty friendly. I also like the Nancy Clark books. Good luck!


                                  1. In the past several months, I've run three half marathons and I'm running my fourth this Saturday. I've run two full marathons in the past couple of years and I've run about a dozen halfs total and numerous 5Ks and 10ks.

                                    Don't alter your eating plan at all if you already eat healthy.

                                    My first marathon I gained 20 pounds from training because I was so hungry all the time. I finally learned to eat the right things and dropped the weight.

                                    Lean protein, fruit and veggies, good carbs, and good fats.

                                    It is really easy to gain weight because a lot of runners get into the "I can eat whatever I want" mentality.

                                    Most casual runners aren't really skinny. It is the professionals who run 10+ miles per day who are skinny and they are the ones who can eat whatever they want.

                                    I also agree that carb loading the night before is bunk. It only makes me bloated.

                                    The one thing I can tell you that is for every hour you run, eat a gel.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: BlueHerons

                                      I appreciate all the advice, but sadly, I'm not running the half in May. It's too cold outside and training on a treadmill sucks.
                                      I will try when it gets warmer here in NY and all this information will be useful.
                                      Thanks again.

                                      1. re: BlueHerons

                                        I DO believe in carb loading, but I think you start 2-3 days before the race. I agree that it is important not to stuff yourself the night before - with anything - or you'll feel heavy in the morning.

                                        For me, a Powerbar the only thing I can eat before a run without risking stomach distress. And it's 10g protein to 42g carb, a nice ratio, i think.

                                        The last 2 years I have ramped up from my usual 3 miles 1 day per week (I'm a cyclist, running is my crosstraining) to 1/2 marathon ready in about 2 months. I don't change my diet at all. This year I ate a PowerGel w/ caffeine at mile 7 and got in the Atlantic (December) up to my glutes post-race. My recovery was much better than the prior year. (1:45)