• Feb 2024

10 marathon tips from a performance nutritionist

10 marathon tips from a performance nutritionist
  • Whilst running, your body burns a mixture of fats and carbohydrates with pace and fitness influencing the exact blend of fuel.
  • Since the body only stores around 90 minutes of carbohydrates to fuel hard-working muscles, to finish strong, you need to implement a fuelling plan.
  • During training, experiment with different sources of energy and lean on tools like Lingo to learn if your nutrition plan is keeping your glucose steady and adequate to fuel your performance.

Running a marathon is a feat that less than 1% of people attempt in their lifetime. Whether your goal is just to make it across the finish line or put up a new personal best, we’ve got some tips to help you.  

The average marathon runner crosses the finish line between 4:30 and 5:00 hours, but the body can only store around 90 minutes of carbohydrates to fuel hard-working muscles. Whilst running, your body burns a mixture of fats and carbohydrates with pace and fitness influencing the exact blend of fuel. And, because marathons are a longer duration, some protein will be oxidised, too.  

You can put in work during training to train your body to burn fat at higher intensities (become more fit and spare glycogen), but to finish strong, you need to implement a fuelling plan. Prepare your gut by practising this plan, including both nutrition and hydration, well ahead of time to increase the chances of a successful race.

10 tips from a performance nutritionist

  1. Don’t break the cardinal rule of sports nutrition: never try anything new on race day
    As a runner, you may also be an adventurous foodie, but race week is not a time to try all the food samples at the race expo nor new foods you encounter while exploring the city hosting the race. Likewise, race day is not the time to try out a new breakfast or anything new on-course in terms of your nutrition or hydration. Instead, stick to foods that worked well and provided steady energy and gut comfort during training. Ideally, going into the race, you should know how your body will respond to your tried-and-true pre-run meal as well as any fuel you plan to take during the race. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) like Lingo can be used in training to help you avoid dips in energy and instead add enough fuel to make high performance a reality.   

  2. Check on course nutrition 
    Water is provided at many points along the course, and most races also provide sports drinks, electrolyte beverages, and carbohydrate-rich gels. Research what products your race will provide and if you plan on utilising on-course products, make sure you try them first during your long training runs to see if they work for you. A CGM like Lingo can be used to assess how nutrition products are impacting your energy during your run and if you need to add more or less to maintain glucose (energy) levels and pace. Remember to have a backup plan if the on-course products don’t work for you or are not available (or you run past them by accident). 

  3. Practice your hydration plan
    The buildup to spring races often calls for training in cooler weather, so as race day approaches, be sure to keep an eye on the forecast. You can’t control what the weather will be, but you can be prepared to dial up or down your fluids and electrolytes. A 2018 study on London Marathon runners found a ~3% detriment to finish time for every 5 °C increase in temperature above 12 °C. (1) This means in warmer temps, you may be on course for longer.  

    Bring a bottle and plan to refill on course, the few extra seconds it will take are worth it. Drink early and often while being cautious not to overhydrate. Replace the electrolytes you are losing in sweat by relying on electrolyte powders (like Abbott’s Pedialyte Sport Powder Packs) during training and racing, simply adding to your water bottle. Set alerts on your watch or phone every 15-20 minutes to take a few sips. Drinking to thirst may work for some, and others may need to rely on programmed drinking.  

  4. Train your gut
    Muscles powering your run typically rely on glucose. Trained individuals that consume carbohydrates in their daily diet can store around 90 minutes of fuel before needing to eat or drink during a run. But you’ll want to start replacing burnt fuel well before you hit the 90-minute mark. Practice fuelling during training runs by consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour (some athletes need more and can work up to 90+ grams per hour). (2)  

    Experiment with nutrition and hydration products that you like, can tolerate, and can carry. CGM data can be useful to see how products steady or spike your glucose and if your glucose increases to a level where you are able to maintain pace and performance. Alternatively, if you’re used to fasted training or strictly follow a ketogenic diet and are more metabolically flexible, generalised carbohydrate recommendations may far surpass your needs and tolerance. When adding in fuel, you may opt for a product with slow-release carbohydrates or even sources of fat when needed. Again, CGMs can help guide you providing insights that connect energy levels and performance with glucose trends.

  5. Strength train to get fast and avoid injury
    Running a marathon means training will consist of mostly, well, running. But no training plan is complete without strength training, which can help make you a faster runner and reduce risk of injuries. (3) Additionally, strength training promotes metabolic adaptations in skeletal muscle, (4) helping to improve how efficiently your body uses glucose and fats for fuel. Not only is this advantageous to your running performance, but healthy skeletal muscle is also at the foundation of optimising metabolic health. (5) 

  6. Rest and recovery 
    Arguably the most difficult part of a training plan is allowing your body to rest so that it can become stronger. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and runners may need more. (6) Sleep ensures physical restoration and also supports optimal metabolic function during the day. (7) 

  7. Recovery nutrition timing 
    In addition to sleep, nutrient timing plays a critical role in recovery. Within an hour (preferably sooner) of finishing a workout or race, be sure to prioritise refuelling and rehydration. Replace fluid losses by drinking water and electrolytes (mixed into water or from salty foods and potassium from fruits and vegetables) and replenish energy stores with a snack or small meal that includes high-quality carbohydrates (berries and low-sugar granola to accompany Greek yoghurt, or whole grain pancakes to accompany eggs). 

    Last but not least, be sure to prioritise protein. This hard-working nutrient helps keep glucose steady as you recover and is critical for stopping muscle breakdown and jumpstarting muscle repair and growth. Be sure to add in at least 30 grams of protein soon after your sweat session is complete.

  8. Dress rehearsal 
    At least one long run during your training should be a full dress rehearsal, beginning the evening before the long run with a dinner that mimics what you’ll be eating before the race. Practice this tried-and-true dinner, allowing plenty of time (2-3 hours) to digest before falling asleep. Eating increases glucose, metabolic rate, heart rate, and body temp, but the opposite scenario needs to be happening to slide into quality sleep.  

    The morning of the long run, wake up and eat the same foods, quantities, and timing that you plan to implement on race day. Because your glucose will rise and then fall following your meal, avoid consuming foods in the 30-90 minutes before setting out. You can either back up the clock and fuel early before the race or fuel as you run, utilising sports drinks, gels, and whatever fuel source you prefer. After fuelling, begin your run at race start time and test planned nutrition and hydration.  

  9. Skip the night-before pasta dinner – unless it’s just to socialise
    You’ll need to top off your dinner place with carbohydrates to complement your pre-race carb load, but it’s best to stick to familiar foods at this important meal. Restaurant food portions can be much larger than you’re used to, sending your glucose spiking and disrupting an important night of sleep.  

    Pre-race “carb loading” has merit, and you can simplify this process by continuing to eat your typical balanced meals the week (days) leading up to your race, making sure there’s high-quality carbs at every meal and snack. While your training tapers, these nutrients that would have been used to fuel your runs will be stored instead.

  10. Recovery nutrition at the finish line 
    You’ve strategically fuelled across training and throughout the entire race, but just as you cross the finish line, you’ve got one more stop before the celebration begins. Take a moment for nutritional recovery. Your body is primed to utilise nutrients during the post-race window so take advantage of increased blood flow to muscles. Pack a protein shake in your drop bag at the finish line or ask your supportive fan crew to bring one along. Replenish, recover, and rehydrate with protein and fluids at the finish, then make your way to enjoy a celebratory meal. 

Bonus tip: Trust your training and HAVE FUN!

A final note from Lingo

The right nutrition is arguably one of the most important tools in your marathon training kit. And with Lingo, you can peek behind the curtain and know if the fuel you’re using is the right choice for you and your performance goals.  

Experiment with different sources of energy and lean on Lingo to learn if your nutrition plan is keeping your glucose steady and adequate to fuel your performance. Map out what works; the types, amounts, and timing of nutrients and fluids taken during your run and in the recovery hours. Soon, you’ll have mapped out a failsafe plan for race day.   

February 5, 2024


  1. Vernon T, Ruddock A, Gregory M. Performance and Thermal Perceptions of Runners Competing in the London Marathon: Impact of Environmental Conditions. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Aug 10;18(16):8424. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34444173/

  2. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Mar;48(3):543-68. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26891166/

  3. Desai P, Jungmalm J, Börjesson M, Karlsson J, Grau S. Effectiveness of an 18-week general strength and foam-rolling intervention on running-related injuries in recreational runners. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2023 May;33(5):766-775. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36630577/

  4. Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22777332/

  5. Kim G, Kim JH. Impact of Skeletal Muscle Mass on Metabolic Health. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2020 Mar;35(1):1-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7090295/

  6. Halson SL. Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Med. 2014 May;44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S13-23. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24791913/

  7. Tsereteli N, Vallat R, Fernandez-Tajes J, Delahanty LM, Ordovas JM, Drew DA, Valdes AM, Segata N, Chan AT, Wolf J, Berry SE, Walker MP, Spector TD, Franks PW. Impact of insufficient sleep on dysregulated blood glucose control under standardised meal conditions. Diabetologia. 2022 Feb;65(2):356-365. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34845532/

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