Nutritionist stresses importance of eating healthy while training for marathon


Imagine you’re running in your first marathon: You can see the end in sight, people are cheering you on, but suddenly, your muscles start to buckle and your vision begins to blur. What is happening? Odds are, an improper diet is to blame.

Brandy Rivera, a registered dietician nutritionist with Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance and Valley Medical Arts says balancing a healthy meal plan is just as important as setting training goals.

“When you are training for a marathon, you always have to consider food as the fuel for running,” Rivera said. “Start with the basics — make sure you’re eating three nutritious meals a day and make sure you’re getting the minimum amount of fluids, about 64 ounces. If you don’t have these basics, the run itself will not be easy.”

Life is hectic and sometimes the easiest meal involves grabbing fast food or downing a protein shake, but these habits can be detrimental to the body, Rivera said. She suggests prepping meals ahead of time such as turkey wraps or lean beef hamburgers to keep meals quick and easy.

“I truly believe you cannot out exercise a bad diet, especially with distance running,” she said. “After 30 minutes of running you have depleted what you ate before your workout. If it wasn’t a good meal then your performance can show that.”

Rivera, being a distance runner herself, works closely with runners and athletes to help create the most ideal meal plan for each individual. Everyone is different, she said, and it’s important to figure out what will work for each person.

Since there are typically months to train before a marathon the best way to determine how to fuel up before the big race is to start testing different meal plans. Sticking to lean proteins, leafy greens and healthy fats is the best way to keep the body fueled up and healthy.

“Some people can eat a full meal before they go on a long run while others get stomach issues, so it’s important to play around with your diet along with your training to figure out what works,” Rivera said. “For example, if you know having a banana before a long run sets well, then you want to maintain that routine throughout training. Once you figure out what works, the better your results will be.”

Some of the basic nutrition rules any runner should follow is to stay away from foods high in sugar and fat. These foods take longer to digest properly and can weigh the body down, potentially making a runner sick.

Also, despite popular belief, carb loading before a big run could actually do more harm than good, Rivera added.

“I suggest carb loading the third and second day before a marathon, and sticking to a normal diet the day before,” Rivera said. “Don’t change up your diet the day before too much or have too many carbs because you will definitely feel the weight. It’s typical for people to have a huge pasta dish the night before and suffer the effects on race day.”

After the race, Rivera suggests to consume protein within 30 minutes and go for the liquid calories found in beverages like Gatorade, chocolate milk or even beer.

“Beer is actually a great way to replenish carbs and calories right away,” Rivera said. “But the nutrition part beforehand should be taken seriously to ensure you have the best possible running experience. If you don’t have the nutrition to back you up during a race, you’re not going to feel good and probably wouldn’t want to try a marathon again. Anything can be unhealthy if you don’t live a healthy lifestyle to begin with.”