7 Marathon training diet tips from a top sports dietitian

At Longevity.Technology, we recently had the opportunity to chat with Dan Murphy, a renowned sports dietitian from Apex Nutrition, known for his expertise in marathon nutrition. 

Dan shared invaluable tips for runners preparing for their next marathon in our conversation.

His approach, grounded in years of experience and success stories, emphasizes the crucial role of personalized nutrition and strategic exercise. 

From mastering hydration to the science of carb-loading, Dan’s insights are not just theoretical but tested in real-world scenarios. 

This blog presents these expert tips, offering runners a guide to optimizing their performance for the marathon ahead.

The Apex Approach

Championed by Dan at Apex Nutrition, the Apex approach stands at the forefront of transformative nutrition and exercise for marathon runners. Central to this approach is the belief that personalized nutrition plans are key to unlocking an athlete’s full potential.

With over a decade of experience, Dan has honed a methodology that tailors dietary strategies to each runner’s individual needs and goals. 

This bespoke regimen addresses typical concerns like weight loss and energy levels and intricately aligns with the demanding requirements of marathon training.

Dan’s philosophy extends beyond mere calorie counting. It involves a comprehensive understanding of how nutrients interact with the body’s endurance mechanisms. 

By integrating targeted exercise routines, the Apex Approach ensures that athletes don’t just fuel their bodies appropriately, but also strengthen and condition themselves optimally for the rigors of marathon running. 

This holistic strategy has proven effective repeatedly, as evidenced by numerous success stories from runners who’ve achieved their personal bests under Dan’s guidance.

Anthony’s story: Overcoming marathon challenges

Initially struggling with energy dips and cravings, Anthony faced significant hurdles in his marathon performance. His prior attempts at marathons resulted in finishing times well over his target. 

However, under Dan’s expertise, a personalized nutrition plan was developed. This plan focused on structuring meals and strategically increasing calorie and carbohydrate intake. 

The result was remarkable; not only did Anthony shave off crucial minutes, achieving a sub-3-hour marathon, but he also did so with energy to spare. His success story highlights the profound impact of diet on athletic endurance and achievement.

ways to optimize your marathon training diet

7 Ways to optimize your marathon training diet

1. Keep hydrated

Hydration is a fundamental lesson emphasized by Dan. He stresses that staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining energy levels and avoiding fatigue, especially in marathon running. 

Dan advises runners to be particularly mindful of hydration in warmer weather, as even a 2% dehydration level can drastically affect performance. 

He suggests a baseline hydration strategy of 35ml per kg of body weight, which can range between 35-55ml, tailored to the athlete’s specific needs. Utilizing sweat testing can be an effective method for determining these individual requirements. 

For intense training days, Dan recommends cooling down with ice slushies, offering both hydration and temperature regulation [1].

2. Load up on carbs

Carb-loading, a crucial strategy for marathon preparation, involves more than just eating pasta the night before the race. It’s an art that balances the timing and quantity of carbohydrate intake to maximize energy stores. 

Dan’s recommended approach is to increase carb intake to 8-12g per kg of body weight 24-36 hours before the race. This method ensures that glycogen stores are optimally filled. 

He advises that runners focus on easily digestible carbs and limit high-fiber foods to prevent gastrointestinal distress. 

Tailoring carb-loading to individual digestive systems and training schedules is key to ensuring runners have the fuel they need for endurance without discomfort.

3. Strategize carb intake

Strategic carb intake during a marathon is essential for maintaining steady energy levels. It’s not just about loading up on carbs before the race; it’s also about managing the pace and timing of carb consumption during the event. 

Dan advises runners to target 60-70g of carbs per hour, using easily digestible forms like gels or chews. This steady intake helps in maintaining glucose levels, crucial for prolonged energy [2]. 

Planning carb consumption in sync with the race’s aid stations is also vital. By calculating their needs and the course layout, runners can ensure they have the necessary fuel at critical points, supporting optimal performance throughout the marathon.

4. Recover with protein

Protein plays a pivotal role in the recovery phase of marathon training, essential for muscle repair and rebuilding

While the focus often leans heavily towards carbohydrates, balancing protein intake is equally important. 

Dan recommends an optimal intake of 1.7g per kg of body weight, focusing on high-quality sources. This protein level supports the body’s repair processes post-exercise, aiding in the quick recovery of muscles

It’s crucial, however, to maintain this balance without overshadowing the need for carbohydrates as emphasized by Dan to ensure the body has enough energy for immediate performance and post-race recovery, optimizing overall training effectiveness.

5. Fine-tune with supplements

Fine-tuning marathon nutrition often involves the strategic use of supplements to gain that extra edge. Supplements are particularly useful for filling nutritional gaps that can’t always be met through diet alone. 

Dan’s specific supplement recommendations include energy gels, beetroot juice, and beta-alanine. Energy gels are for mid-race fueling, which provides a quick and efficient energy source [3].

Beetroot juice is another popular choice, known for boosting oxygen delivery to muscles and enhancing endurance [4]. Beta-alanine also plays a crucial role, helping reduce muscle fatigue during prolonged exercise [5]. 

While these supplements are valuable, they should complement, not replace, a well-rounded diet, and their usage should be tailored to individual runner’s needs and responses.

6. Personalize pre-race meal planning

Pre-race meal planning is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it requires personalization to suit each runner’s unique nutritional needs and preferences. 

The dinner before the race should focus on a well-balanced meal, rich in carbohydrates and lean proteins to ensure sufficient energy reserves. 

On race day, breakfast is crucial. It should combine fast-acting and slow-releasing carbohydrates with a moderate protein source to provide sustained energy without causing digestive discomfort. 

Options like oatmeal with bananas and Greek yogurt are ideal according to Dan. Tailoring these meals to individual digestive systems and energy requirements can significantly impact performance, setting runners up for success on race day.

7. Tailor in-race nutrition

In-race nutrition is critical for marathon success and must be tailored to each runner’s individual needs, Dan says. A key component is maintaining hydration, with regular sips of water or sports drinks to prevent dehydration. 

The strategy varies based on personal sweat rates and race conditions. Equally important is the timely intake of carbohydrates to sustain energy levels. 

Runners should plan their carb consumption according to their pacing and the duration of the race [6], often using portable options like gels or chews. 

Understanding and responding to the body’s signals during the race is vital, ensuring that nutritional intake supports optimal performance without causing discomfort.

Your pathway to marathon success

Achieving success in a marathon is deeply intertwined with a strategic and personalized nutrition plan. 

Each element, from hydration to supplement fine-tuning, plays an integral role in maximizing performance and endurance. 

It’s important to recognize that the most effective strategies in carb-loading, protein balancing, and in-race nutrition can vary significantly among athletes. 

Adopting a tailored approach, as exemplified by nutrition experts like Dan from Apex Nutrition, can profoundly enhance your marathon training. 

We encourage runners to apply these expert tips in their routines and seek professional advice to forge their own path to marathon triumph.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6392407/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17465604/
[3] https://www.runnersneed.com/expert-advice/nutrition-and-hydration/energy-gels.html
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295087/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27377257/
[6] https://extension.usu.edu/nutrition/research/prioritizing-carbohydrates-a-guide-for-endurance-runners

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.