Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Marathon Diet



Training for a marathon and successfully completing the run needs more than physical endurance and fitness. To maintain peak performance and good health the right diet is a vital part of your preparation.

Wozza has always been a bit of an eccentric, but I'm certain that he has now slipped over the edge of eccentricity into the abyss of lunacy. He's going to run The London Marathon. As an osteopath, I watch in horror every year at the sight of those massed lemmings hurling themselves over the cliff to potential disaster.

Twenty-six miles and 385 yards pounding the concrete pavements with your feet hitting the ground 1,000 times a mile . . . just imagine what that impact does to the joints of their ankles, knees, hips and spines. There's just so much cartilage protecting each joint of the body and no matter how good the reasons for subjecting yourself to this self-inflicted, tortuous damage, I think anyone who runs a marathon needs their bumps feeling.

That said, however, tens of thousands of people will continue to do it, so the least I can do is offer some guidance to my wacky friend that will hopefully help his training, improve his performance and, with luck, offer a modicum of protection to his poor old bones.

In principle, the ideal diet for a marathon runner differs little from all the advice on healthy eating that's given to the general public. Anyone training for a marathon will need more calories than the inactive, sedentary person who takes no exercise. But the first golden rule is not to become an obsessive foodie or calorie counter.

The second rule is that there is no such thing as an herbal or vitamin pill, sports supplement, drink or special athletes' food that will turn couch potatoes into marathon runners. Save your money and spend it on the best quality food you can find. For most runners, the ideal eating plan will provide 60 per cent of calories from carbohydrates, 25 per cent from fat and 15 per cent from protein. Unless you're diabetic, in which case you need specialist advice, try to aim for this mix of foods.

Carbohydrates are the key energy source for marathon runners and the diet should be made up of generous amounts of bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, oats, other wholegrain cereals and lots of beans. The calories from these are stored in your muscle tissue as glycogen, which is easily converted into energy and provides the nutritional petrol which keeps the body's engine going.

These healthy food sources are known as complex carbohydrates, providing slow-release energy, but you can, of course, get an instant energy boost from the simple carbohydrates - sugars. Natural sugars like those in fruit juices or fresh fruit are a useful and healthy addition to your training diet, but the refined sugars in sweets, biscuits and sticky buns provide nothing but empty calories, often the worst types of fat and little nutritional benefit. The refined sugars produce a sudden rise in blood sugar levels, followed quickly by a rapid drop. This leaves you feeling low, lacking in energy and desperate for another quick fix. Before you know it, you're hooked into the sugar trap.

Constant peaks and troughs and a craving for sweet things is often a sign that you aren't getting enough calories to cope with the increased physical demands of your training schedule. You should be eating more of the complex starches at mealtimes. So how many calories do you need?

The average man requires around 2,500 calories a day, women just on 2,000. How many extra calories you need in training depends on how far and how fast you're running and how much you weigh. Our Antony, weighing in at around 14 stone, will burn 800 calories an hour at 10 minutes a mile, increasing to 1,200 calories an hour at a speed of 7 minutes a mile. A 10 stone runner uses 600 and 850 calories respectively - and the figures are the same for men and women.

You don't need to be Eistein to work out that if Wozza does a two-hour training run and covers 12 miles, he'll burn up 1,600 calories. Add that to the 2,500 which he needs anyway and you're up to more than 4,000 calories a day. Here's how he should get them:

Carbohydrates - 600g
Fat - 112g
Protein - 150g

It's important to understand that good fats - the unsaturated olive oil, peanut oil, rapeseed oil and the oil in avocados aren't just good energy sources, but also help reduce cholesterol and contain heart-protective anti-oxidants. The essential fatty acids in oily fish are a vital part of any healthy eating programme and also act as natural anti-inflammatories, protecting against joint damage.

Saturated fats should be kept to a minimum as these are the real nutritional villains. Go especially easy on all processed meat products like pies, pasties, salami, sausages, pates, bacon, ham, luncheon meats etc. Up to 85 per cent of their calories come from artery-clogging saturated fat.

Get your protein from fish, poultry, lean cuts of meat, beans, lentils, soy, eggs and modest amounts of cheese.

It's often difficult to fit meals around a training schedule, and the last thing you need is a four-course dinner late at night. Get your calories by eating little and often throughout the day, but never forget that, even if all your training is done in the evening, your most important meal is breakfast, which should provide around a third of your total calories.

Always have a ready supply of dried fruits, nuts, seeds and bananas for healthy calorie boosts between meals. And instead of your usual sweet treats, eat more fruit, oatcakes or healthy wholemeal sandwiches with low-fat fillings. Oat-based cereal bars, which usually include nuts and dried fruits, can be very useful.

Most marathon runners start to wind down their distances in the week before the big day. The same should go for your food intake. Aim to reduce your calorie consumption by roughly 100 for each training mile you drop. Stick to your healthy eating pattern, but take extra fruit juices to increase your carbohydrate loading. In the final two days, keep off the high-fibre foods and increase your fluid intake with more water and diluted fruit juices.

Your last supper should be super-rich in complex carbohydrates. But don't forget to keep off the fibre - the last thing you want is to be looking for the loo around the 17th mile. When the big day dawns have a light breakfast - a couple of slices of toast, a glass of orange juice - but don't eat anything in the last three hours before the start. Drink plenty of water in the first hour - you'll get rid of it before the race starts. Take two cups of water 10 minutes before your start time - you'll sweat that out once you start running. In fact, you can lose pounds of water each hour.

Staying hydrating and keeping up your carbohydrate level is vital during the run and you should practise grabbing paper cups of liquid from a friend during your training - it's more difficult than it looks. It's worth slowing down a little to make sure your water or sports drink goes down your throat, now down your shirt. If you dehydrate you won't finish anyway. You need to drink every quarter of an hour and you mustn't wait until you feel thirsty - by that time you're already dehydrating.

It's not all over when it's over either. As soon as you cross the finishing line, drink plenty of water and after 15 minutes, get some simple food. Bread, a sports bar or a cup of soup will start the renourishing process, and during the next two days, make sure you graze constantly on high-carbohydrate foods and plenty of fluids.


You can't eat badly, take supplements and expect to achieve your goal safely and successfully. However, there are a few additions to your healthy marathon diet that could make all the difference:-

Kaloba, a registered herbal medicine that helps boost immunity and protect against infections that may interrupt your training.

CoQ10 - a natural substance which improves the conversion rate of food into energy.

GlucoSeline - to protect and rebuild cartilage.

Pulse - Seven Seas' mixed fish and fish liver oils for anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids.


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