Marathon Week: What to Eat?

Food pyramidWhether training for a marathon, a triathlon, a 5K, or nothing at all it’s always worthwhile to set healthy eating goals. I would like to tackle the much larger topic of healthy eating over a series of posts and here will be focusing on what the best practices are with regard to meals for the final week before a marathon.

For the past nine weeks I have been averaging somewhere between 30 and 35 miles of running each week and the calories burned during those sessions adds up. On my longest runs, my Polar watch said I burned about 1800 calories so I can fully expect that running a full 26.2 miles will burn at least 2000 calories. I thought a good starting point for this post would be to learn how many calories I should be consuming. According to a basic Caloric Needs Calculator, I need around 1900 calories a day.

Doing a little math (not at all my strong suit), knowing I will burn 2000 calories on Sunday, if I want to maintain my current weight that means this week I should try to consume an extra 285 calories per day bringing my daily intake to 2185. Had I started thinking about my training diet when I started training, I probably would have followed the rule of thumb to add about 100 calories for every mile to my daily diet. Unfortunately, you can’t just randomly add calories; it’s important to know what layers of the food pyramid those calories should be coming from. If I had my way they’d all come from the tip top fats, sweets, and dairy categories.

MarathonRookie.com suggests that 65% of calories should come from good, complex carbohydrates, 10% from low fat and lean proteins, 20-25% from unsaturated fats and all balanced with plenty of vitamins, calcium, and iron. Carbohydrates provide the glycogen necessary to fuel the body through a long run so it seems that if I build up the glycogen stored in my body the week before I will have sufficient fuel to burn on race day.

Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately) I am not a calorie counter. I simply eat until I’m full and often until I’m just about stuffed. I like food, what can I say? I also know from experience and from research that it’s not smart to vary the diet too much before race day. The body gets used to processing certain foods and I have no intention of messing with that system before my first marathon. I would, however, like to identify the best balanced diet with the foods I normally eat and with the food already in my kitchen though there are plenty of good marathon recipes out there. Any special recipes or best foods you want to share?

I believe in writing this that I have figured out that my own personal marathon week diet needs to be the right percentages of the food pyramid with types of food my body is already used to. I will err on the side of adding more carbs and do my best to make sure they are complex carbs like cereal, oatmeal, wheat bread, pasta, carrots, and apples. I will also use the day before the run to “carb load” and I admit I’m looking forward to it!

And for future training, I’ll start my diet off at the beginning.

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