General Diet

Marathon Running

It is very encouraging to note that, in India, overall awareness and need of physical fitness is increasing day by day. Among all age groups, Marathon Running is one of the popular ways of achieving mental and physical fitness. Marathon Running is an endurance event, which requires significant training. Regular exercise and scientific nutrition practises are prerequisites for participation in marathon. Nutrition is foundation of Marathon Running, for both recreational runners and elite athletes.

Nutritions during training days

Balance diet provides optimal quantities of macro and micro nutrients ensuring better exercise adaptations and recovery. Balance diet is found to be more beneficial than quick fix fad diets. Balanced diet with proper hydration will delay the onset of fatigue and prevent heat related muscle injuries, specially during trial runs. Nutritional requirements are individualised, which are based inter-alia upon health or fitness goal.


Carbohydrate is preferred source of fuel for long duration and high intensity exercises. Carbohydrate is stored as muscle and liver glycogen in the body. Therefore, chronic intake of carbohydrate is necessary for the adequate muscle glycogen re-synthesis. Thus, very low carbohydrate diets prescribed for weight loss, can lead to chronic fatigue, low muscle glycogen stores, loss of muscle mass and impaired physical performance. Carbohydrate requirements vary from person to person, depending upon their energy expenditure. General recommendation is between 5-7gm/ kg body weight/ day, which can increase upto 10-12 gm/kg body weight/day (generally consumed by professional elite athletes). Daily needs of carbohydrate can be easily met, since Indian diets are carbohydrate based. Include variety of complex and simple carbohydrates rich foods in all the meals. It is advisable that simple carbohydrate rich foods should be consumed in Pre - During - Post training meals for better performance.


Complex - high in fibre

Ragi, barley, jowar, bajra, whole wheat, legumes, leafy vegetables, fruits, yam, sweet potato, radish

Simple - low in fibre

Polish rice, sago, potato, refined flour, sugars, honey, jaggery

Carbohydrate loading

Elite athletes opt for super saturation of carbohydrate into working muscles known as ‘carbohydrate loading’ to prevent ‘ hitting the wall’ and delay the onset of fatigue during the run. It is important to note that, carbohydrate loading does not increase running speed. It helps to delay the onset of fatigue. During carbohydrate loading period, 1-2 kg weight gain is expected due to extra muscle glycogen, which holds extra water. It is observed that, elite athletes resume their pre-carbohydrate loading weight after the end of marathon event.

Carbohydrate loading can be very challenging as it has different protocols to follow. Therefore, consult a qualified sports nutritionist to understand the scientific way of carbohydrate loading.


Endurance training can cause microscopic damage to exercising muscles. Therefore, adequate protein intake is necessary for the muscle building and repair. Proteins are building blocks of body and play a vital role in the muscle development and building muscle strength. In endurance training and endurance sport such as Marathon Running, protein is least preferred choice of fuel during physical activity. It may contribute upto 10% of total energy expenditure, in muscle glycogen de-pleted state at higher intensity performance. Therefore, protein centric diet may not yield optimal results in the endurance training. For muscle building and re-synthesis the protein quality and timing is more important than quantity.


Complete protein

(first class ) Egg, chicken, fish, meat, milk, curd, cheese, paneer

Incomplete protein

(second class) Cereal ,pulses, legumes, nuts, oil seeds

General recommendation for protein intake for endurance training is between 1.2 -1.7 gm/kg body weight/ day. This can be achieved easily through diet by consuming variety of protein rich foods.To meet daily protein requirements, consume protein rich foods in every meal. Protein combined with carbohydrates eaten together, post exercise, will result in the muscle rebuilding and faster recovery.


Fat is very important Macro-nutrient yet heavily criticised by weight watchers. Fat predominate fuel source in endurance training at low to moderate intensity. It contributes upto 50-70% of total energy expenditure during steady pace running at moderate intensity. Balance diet containing good quality fats will not only improve the running timing but also improve overall health. These good fats, such as omega -3 fatty acid and mono unsaturated fatty acid (mufa), provide essential fat soluble vitamins. Omega-3 fatty acid helps to keep the post exercise inflammation under control as well as improves upper respiratory tract immunity. Fats can be found in nuts, oil seeds, fish, dairy products in the invisible form and in cooking oil, ghee, butter in the visible form.


Omega 3

Marine fish, walnut, flax seeds, flax seed oil

Mono unsaturated fatty acid

Avocado, almond, peanut, pistachios, olive oil, rice bran oil, groundnut oil, canola oil

However, total fat intake (visible and invisible) should not be more than 30% of total energy intake. General recommendation for elite marathon runners is between 0.8 - 2gm/kg body weight/day to match energy expenditure.


Vitamins and minerals are metabolic catalyst, which regulates biochemical mechanisms in the body. Each micro- nutrient plays specific functional role which is crucial to maintain body’s homeostasis. Micro- nutrients participate in energy production mechanisms and thereby indirectly contributes to physical per-formance. Their deficiency results in ill health and compromised physical performance. Therefore, their role is crucial in marathon running.

Micro nutrient Role

Vitamin A

Good vision , immunity

Vitamin B

complex catalyst in energy production mechanisms

Vitamin C and vitamin E

Protecting cell membrane from oxidation

Vitamin D

Efficient calcium utilisation , muscle health, metal health


Bone health , prevents stress fractures


Haemoglobin, efficient delivery of oxygen

Zinc and selenium

Quenches free radicals , antioxidant, boost immunity

Consuming nutrient dense balance diet con-taining whole grains, legumes, variety of fruits and vegetable, lean meat and dairy products during training will ensure adequate macro and micro-nutrient intake.

It is prerequisite to understand that, any physical activity like running is a product, body is factory and food is raw material. Therefore, for good quality product good quality raw material is needed. Similarly to run in personal best time, structural nutritional plan is ‘a must’. Nutritional plan should be based on person’s current health and fitness status. It should support current exercise pattern, resulting in improved running time.

Sports Nutritionist

This fact sheet contains general information. Please consult qualified sports nutritionist for personal requirements. Not meant for being used by persons with any adverse medical condition/history. © Apurva Kumbhakoni.