Marathon Meal Plan & Carb Loading

Posted on 09-Jan-2017 by Kripa Jalan

You’ve spent months training for the upcoming marathon(s). Early mornings, long distances, sore calves. You’ve done the training bit. So you definitely want to get the most out of race day. Whether you’re a novice or a pro-marathoner, you want to show up at the starting line fully prepared.

Hitting The Wall

For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to run with the example of a car. Think of your body as an automobile. Glycogen (stored in muscles and the liver) is to the body what fuel is to your vehicle. The faster you drive, the faster you utilize the fuel. Similarly, energy stored as glycogen is used up just that much faster with the increasing intensity of a run. And what happens when your car runs out of fuel? It doesn’t move. That translates to a runner hitting an imaginary wall for a runner. In addition to experiencing hallucinations, dizziness and weakness he/she may just not be able to move.

Now you’re thinking, “ What about fat reserves.”

Truth be told, at the intensity of a marathon-level race, the conversion of fat to ATP (energy) is extremely slow. It’s why you begin a race at a decent pace, maintain it for a short while and then begin to slow down. Initially, the stored glycogen is readily available for energy. Once the reserves are depleted, your body turns to fat for fuel. Since the conversion rate is so slow, one can’t perform exactly as well as when they started.

Experienced runners, on the other hand, have grown accustomed to running on fat and preserving muscle glycogen. They’ve built up their ability to access body fat reserves for energy during the race, without completely depleting glycogen reserves.

Long story short, training will help you improve your running economy and capacity, pacing will help you optimize fuel uptake. But we aren’t satisfied with mediocre. We want more than optimal. We want maximal performance. That’s what nutrition will give you.

So how do you fuel a marathon optimally?/ " What do I eat before a race?"

Contrary to popular belief, stocking up on pounds of pasta, sweet potato and rice immediately before won’t really help you maximize your capacity, if you're new to it. You might still face some problems, like having trouble finishing the race or hitting the wall. You’ve got to focus on what you consume a few days prior to the race, in addition to D-day itself.

Prior to the race: Carb Load:

Carbo-Loading is a method of packing a greater amount than normal of glycogen (40-60% more than usual) into athlete’s muscles.

Your options:

A) 6 days:

-Depletion Phase: In the first 3 days, keep training intensity high, cut down carb consumption.

-Load Phase: In the final 3 days, lower training volume and stock up on carbs.

B) 3 days: Simply up your carbohydrate intake for 3 days before the race.

** Do not do this more than 2-3 times a year. You also don't need to load for shorter races!

What Carbs Should you eat?

  • Focus on consuming low Glycemic Index carbs like grains, pasta, and bread, which will maintain stable blood glucose levels rather than simple sugars, which cause drastic fluctuations in the same.
  • 7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.
  • Don’t consume anything out of the ordinary. The last thing you want is digestive problems, during a race.

Race Day

A) Two to three hours before: Eat a mixed meal, comprising some carbs, fat, and protein. Cereal with milk, fruit, and yogurt, or a sandwich with jam and nut butter

B) 30 minutes before: A low GI fruit.

During the Race:

  • Here your main focus is staying hydrated with WATER. You’re losing a lot of water and dehydration has been proven to hinder performance.
  • Opt for a sports drink. The drink should be a combination of fructose and sucrose.
  • Don’t meagerly rely on sports drinks. Excessive electrolytes would only increase their concentration in the body, worsening the state of dehydration.

Post Race:

You’re done. Stop and pat yourself on the back. You’ve conquered a challenge. Buy now you need to recover. Your body has been subjected to sufficient stress and recovery needs to begin as soon as possible. Muscles are most sensitive to reconstructing glycogen within 30 minutes post workout. The best way to restock on glycogen fast, is to consume some protein coupled with carbohydrates. Eg.protein shake + banana!


Don't try anything new close to the race. The last thing you need is a deep-rooted feeling of uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, during the race. If you're used to training on a fasted state and have found that to work for you - great. Stick to what you know.

Sample Marathon Meal Plan: (Pre Race Day)


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