We asked an elite runner, a nutritionist and a coach how they fuel for 26.2.
Dathan Ritzenhein, Elite Runner
Before race day: The few days leading up to the race, I try to eat more smaller meals and snacks instead of one huge gut-busting meal.
Race morning: I usually eat white rice with a splash of milk and cinnamon sugar (my mom used to make that for me as a kid), or just a bagel if I can’t find the rice. I also have a couple cups of coffee three to four hours out.
During marathon: I drink Gatorade and water on the course and take in PowerGel mixed with water at some of the elite fluid stations.
Post-marathon: The last thing I want is carbs after the previous few days, so I usually crave a burger.
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Lauren Antonucci, Nutritionist
Before race day: In the final few days leading up to a marathon, I make sure to maintain a high carb intake. I reduce my usual portions of proteins, vegetables and salads. I salt my food liberally—especially the two days prior. The night before, I eat pasta with marinara sauce, bread and a very small salad or side of veggies—or pancakes with a side of fruit and eggs (if pasta is not an option). I generally also have a pre-bedtime snack, such as a small bowl of cereal with milk, or crackers or a granola bar.
Race morning: I love to have a bagel with almond nut butter and sliced banana, and a half-cup of coffee—but no more than that. I am already amped up on race morning. I drink plenty of water (most of a 24-ounce bottle) with breakfast and then generally top off 5 to 10 minutes pre-race with a final carb energy fuel—either an electrolyte fuel pouch like or a gel with water and a salt tab if it’s hot and humid.
During marathon: I rely heavily on sports drinks—I sweat a good amount and like to get most of my fluids, carbs and salt in one place. Gatorade is my fave and it’s on many marathon courses. I try to take in the sports drink at least 3 out of every 4 miles, then I go for an energy gel and water every 4 miles or so. I’ll add salt tabs at least twice (or more based on the day’s heat).
Post-marathon: I am sure to get in protein and carbs as soon as possible—this may be a combination of recovery drink, bar or smoothie. I eat a meal or snack—fish and some fruit and vegetables to help my body recover—two or so hours later and include plenty of fluids and salt.
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Eleanor Evans, Coach
The night before: My optimal evening-before-long-run meal is salmon, fresh green beans and brown rice. When I travel for a race, I always check out restaurants before I go and have a reservation.
Race morning: I must have coffee (at least two or three cups), and I eat a banana, a toasted waffle, such as Eggo NutriGrain, with a couple teaspoons of fruit spread or honey, or a toasted Peanut Butter Pop-Tart. I usually consume this within 30 minutes of getting up. A lot of time elapses (sometimes three to four hours) between the time you get up and when you actually start your marathon, so I bring an extra banana, Pop-Tart or waffle and my coffee in a to-go cup. Over the course of the morning, I also drink about 20 ounces of water. About 10 minutes prior to the start, I consume a packet of electrolyte fuel.
During marathon: I start with a disposable 16-ounce water bottle so I can bypass the crowds at the earlier water stops. It’s usually ditched around mile 6. I carry four Gu packets—two of those packets are the caffeinated variety. I usually have about one an hour, so I may not use the fourth packet. I start with the non-caffeinated and then alternate and always make sure to time it with a water stop. After I ditch my water bottle, I alternate between a little water or energy drink at each station.
Post-marathon: I am ravenous and could eat just about anything, but mostly I crave protein. The best and most readily available source is chocolate milk. I’ll consume the bagels and bananas that they offer at most races, but my biggest reward after a marathon is a really great steak dinner!