Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Tips For Marathon Runners

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.

As an Osteopath Iím certain that all of you intending to run the London Marathon have slipped over the edge of eccentricity into the abyss of lunacy. I watch in horror every year 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 ankles, knees, hips and spines. Thereís 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 that will hopefully help with training, improve performance and, with luck, offer a modicum of protection to your poor bones.

In principle, the ideal diet for a marathon runner differs little from all the advice on healthy eating thatís 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 athletesí 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 youíre 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 bodyís 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, youíre hooked into the sugar trap.

Constant peaks and troughs and a craving for sweet things is often a sign that you arenít getting enough good 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 youíre running and how much you weigh. A runner 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 donít need to be Einstein to work out that a two-hour training run of 12 miles, burns up 1,600 calories if you weigh 14 stone. Add that to the 2,500 which are needed anyway and youíre up to more than 4,000 calories a day. Hereís how he should get them:

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

Itís important to understand that good fats - the unsaturated olive oil, peanut oil, rapeseed oil and the oil in avocados arenít 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, and lean cuts of meat; beans, lentils, soy, eggs and modest amounts of cheese.


Itís 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 donít 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 donít eat anything in the last three hours before the start. Drink plenty of water in the first hour - youíll get rid of it before the race starts. Take two cups of water 10 minutes before your start time - youíll 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 - itís more difficult than it looks. Itís worth slowing down a little to make sure your water or sports drink goes down your throat, not down your shirt. If you dehydrate you wonít finish anyway. You need to drink every quarter of an hour and you mustnít wait until you feel thirsty - by that time youíre already dehydrating.

Itís not all over when itís 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 re-nourishing process, and during the next two days, make sure you graze constantly on high-carbohydrate foods and plenty of fluids.

Michaelís Supplement Box For Marathon Runners

You canít 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. This natural plant medicine really does protect you from the sort of infectious illnesses that could seriously interfere with your training.

FlexiHerb, the first MHRA registered herbal medicine containing the African plant Devils Claw, a natural anti-inflammatory. It will help relieve aching joints, muscle pain and back ache without the digestive and stomach problems so often caused by the usual chemical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

For information and special offers on both of these please visit: www.schwabepharma.co.uk

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

Omega-3 has the potential to improve athletic performance from club level to elite Olympic athletes. Omega-3 can be beneficial to athletes in a number of ways such as improving blood flow to muscles and increasing oxygen delivery to heart muscles, its effect of reducing inflammatory hormone production , and its ability to minimise the impact of trauma and so improve recovery from injury. By far the best and purest product is Ideal Omega 3.

For more info go to: www.healthyandessential.co.uk


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