What to Eat When Training for a Marathon with Team In Training

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So, you’re training for your first half marathon or full marathon with Team In Training (TNT), congratulations! That is a big deal! You are taking on something most people will never do in their lifetime!

Plus, you are going to get into awesome shape, help a great cause, and lose a few pounds…am I right?

Well…

The Myth of Weight Loss

You will definitely raise money for a great cause and you will definitely get into great shape, but a better way to think about the pounds may be to switch your thinking from “How will I LOSE weight during training?” to “How can I make sure I don’t GAIN weight during training?”

WHAT?!? Gain weight? How is that possible? How could I possibly gain weight with all of this extra running/walking?

It seems to make sense that all of the additional training would be a great way to lean down. But, what you will soon discover is that because you are adding such a significant amount of training, your appetite is probably going to change significantly to meet the demands – so you may actually gain a few pounds during your first several weeks of training.

It makes sense if you stop to think about it. After all, if you could maintain the same intake of calories while adding the training – you would be at 10% body fat in like 3 weeks. The bad news is…that is NOT how the body works.  The good news is…learning a little about food and nutrition will allow you to avoid this common pitfall.

Think like an Athlete

You might not be training for the Olympic trials in running, but you are training for a significant event and so thinking a little bit more like an athlete will take you a long ways to reaching your goals and completing your event like a “Rock Star”.

So how do athletes think?

Athletes do not get hungry and say “Oh, I am hungry so I will just grab a burrito”…or <insert whatever other convenient and easy food is available>.  Believe it or not, they put a little more thought into it.

Bottom line is you need to think of food as fuel.  

The human body is simply amazing – kinda like an exotic sports car. Upon birth, we were all blessed with our own slightly different version of this exotic sports car we call our body.  What we do with that gift is up to us. If you owned a priceless sports car, would you just put any fuel in it?

Oh, the the gas is low, but the gas station is so far and fuel is so expensive, I guess I will just put in whatever “is easy and sounds good”.

Oh, here are some old coffee grounds, a half eaten donut, a banana peel, I’ll just stick that in the tank.

If you did do this, over time (if not immediately), your car would not perform at its best (unless it was the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, of course).

The purpose of your training is to break down your muscles so that your body can repair them and make them stronger. To get the most of the awesome TNT training program, you need to be performing at your best. You need to be able to perform during your training. You need to be able to perform after your training (recovery) and you want to do all of this while simultaneously leaning down a little.

Eat like a Real Person

We could put on our propeller hat and bow tie and talk about how endurance athletes need to 1/4 – 1/3 their body weight (lbs) in grams of carbohydrates per hour for optimal performance during training or racing, but most people don’t really know how to translate that into real food?

So, rather than give you a bunch of math to do while you eat, let’s just talk in ‘real regular people’ terms.

The key thing to remember here is – we are all different with different bodies and we all need slightly different fuel (types of fuel and timing of fuel). It’s your job to start figuring that out as you train.

While we are all different, there are definitely some basic nutritional guidelines that you can use to get started. Start with these and then start to make adjustments based on what works best for you.

What to eat BEFORE your training

There are a couple different types of trainings….the “long runs” (3-20+ miles) which usually occur on Saturdays, then there are your mid-week training runs (3-6 miles). Fueling for these are slightly different.

As far as fueling your body correctly, the longs runs are the most critical.

Bottom line is you want your fuel tank and your water tank (hydration) to be full as you start your long run, but you don’t want to BE full.

Meaning you don’t want to fill your tank by driving through Starbucks on your way to practice. You don’t want to be weighed down in your stomach, but you want your energy stores to be full. Make sense?

So, we want you to start thinking about your nutrition at least the night before (if not two nights before), and hydration, the whole week before.

For us, there are 3 phases to what you eat BEFORE your training:

  • the night before
  • the morning of
  • and, right before…

PHASE 1: The night before

This is the one time that you will ever hear us say to overeat. (Typically we advise our clients to eat to about 80% full, but the night before training, we want you to aim for 100-110%).

Before you get too excited and head out to the all-you-can-eat buffet with a planned stop at Baskin Robbins on your way home, let’s talk about what your body actually needs to perform the next morning.

You want to feel good during your run and this is totally possible with the right training and the right nutrition.

Ultimately, on your long runs, what your body is looking for is glucose and the goal before your long run is to have your fuel tank topped off (with good fuel).

What you do NOT want is to go into your long run with an 80% full fuel tank. If you do this, you won’t be able to perform at your peak and when you are done running, your hormones will force you to make up the missing nutrients, plus more. So, the net-net would be more calories in than you would have had if you would have just eaten slightly more the night before.

How can you tell if you ate enough the night before? Well, if you are completely famished after your run, you need to make some adjustments next time.

But, WHAT should I eat?  

Bottom line – carbs before and protein after. Carbs to fuel you and protein to aid in recovery.

The night before, you will want to top your tank off with complex carbs. This means things like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and whole grain bread (like Ezekiel brand breads). You want your carbs to be absorbed slowly, so avoid any type of processed carbs (like white pasta).

Everyone is different, so the ideal complex carb meal will be different for everyone. For me, I have found that a whole wheat pasta meal does not sustain me as well as a sweet potato based meal with a little whole grain pasta mixed in.

One of our “night before long run” favorite recipes is Sweet Potato Kale Bake & a BIG fresh, salad, loaded up with veggies, fruit & raw nuts & pumpkin seeds.

Another favorite is just making a big pan of roasted vegetables (sweet potatoes, cauliflower, brussels sprouts). Served up with a BIG fresh, salad, loaded up with veggies, fruit & raw nuts & pumpkin seeds.

Try a meal like this the night before and then see how you feel during your training the next day.

How do you know if it’s working for you or not?

Check in with your body.

  • Do you have energy?
  • Are you sluggish?
  • Are you energized?
  • How is your pace?

You will start to notice over time, which foods work well for your body and which do not.

PHASE 2: The morning of

Okay, so you topped your tank off last night, good job! The morning of – you will want to top it off again as your body dipped into your tank while you slept.

Breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day and this holds true when you are training. But again, a little planning here is important. You do not want to grab a big  breakfast as you drive to training. Remember, the goal is to have a full tank, but not to BE full.

Breakfast is your chance again to top off your tank. We like to wake up about 1 ½ – 2 hours before we have to leave the house to have breakfast. Why? Well, to be honest, you want to allow time to digest & to get rid of waste before you leave the house. Remember, we want to have full tank, but not be full. It makes for a much more pleasant run. Plus getting up early is a great way to practice for race day – when you will be getting up pretty darn early!

We are big fans of oatmeal on the morning of our long runs…again, complex carbs.

Here is our 5-minute steel cut oatmeal recipe along with some other breakfast ideas.

PHASE 3 – Right before

You are ready to rock your training now. You topped your tank last night & this morning. You have cleared the pipes. You’re all set. Let’s do this!!

But, as you know, there is typically an hour of TNT business to take care of before we take off for our run, so it has probably been about 3 hours since you ate.

The last trick is to top your tank one last time. But, this time, you want it to be easier to digest. Nothing too fiber rich right before your run. You don’t need much, just a little to top tank.

What works great is a small green smoothie (the greens help your blood vessels expand and provide more oxygen to your muscles). Another great option is a piece of fruit – like a banana.  Just avoid anything that is hard to digest. You want some instant fuel here.

What to eat DURING your training

The goal during your run is to not let your fuel and water tanks get too low, to avoid the infamous “bonking”. If you wait until you get hungry or thirsty that may be too late. So, you’ll want to watch the time and fuel yourself along the way.

A good rule of thumb is to have a little fuel about every 45-60 minutes with water.

Studies show that endurance athletes need to 1/4 – 1/3 their body weight (lbs) in grams of carbohydrates per hour for optimal performance during training or racing.

But, what does that mean in terms of real food, gu, gels, etc.?

The great thing about training with TNT is the incredible aid stations they provide for us along the long runs. If you’re like us, you can probably hear the “hallelujah” music start playing in your head as you approach each one of them.

The aid stations are there to help you out. To remind you ‘when’ is a good time to check in with your body & to hydrate. Take advantage of these stops, enjoy chatting with your teammates and the lovely layout of fuel offered. Keep your visits brief and remember this is not meal time. You just need a little easily digestible fuel to keep you going.

Just because a food is available at the aid station – does not mean it is the best fuel for your tank. It’s just there to help if you don’t plan well & need a quick fix. If there’s some fresh fruit, that’s a great option. Orange slices, strawberries, pineapple, grapes – even a piece or two of dried fruit.

Try to avoid highly-processed items and candy. These items will give you a quick boost, but these types of items will spike your sugar level quickly and you will then come down from that with lower energy shortly after. You don’t want empty calories. Remember – think like an athlete. You want a steady stream of fuel. You don’t want to be running on fumes.

There are a plethora of running fuel packs on the market. In general, they will get the job done, but we would highly recommend reviewing the ingredients and making sure they do not have a bunch of chemicals you do not want in your body. Read the labels. Do some research. And then, give them a try to see how they work for you.

If you do want to buy your fuel Vega is a brand we would use if we did not make our own.  They have gels and electrolyte drinks that provide clean plant-based nutrition.

Because we always try to avoid processed foods (even engineered foods) as much as possible, we studied several ultra runners who share the same philosophy and found a recipe that works great for us as a fuel. It gets into your system quickly and sustains you for that next 45-60 minute segment of your run.

Here is our HOMEMADE GU recipe:

1 sweet potato (cooked)
1 banana
1 tbsp chia seed
1-2 tbsp maple syrup (you can use honey too)

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it’s like baby food. Then place 2 spoonfuls in a snack baggie. While running, you can just rip the corner off of the baggie and suck it down. This recipe makes about 6-8 packs so you can freeze them, which works well because by the time you actually eat them they will be thawed.

Hydration

Being well-hydrated is super important for runners.  Most people have less than optimal hydration levels to begin with and when you add in some long training runs, you are going to run into some challenges.

Similar to your fuel, you can’t guzzle a bunch of water on your way to practice and think you are covered.  You really need to think about hydrating yourself all week long.

There is no magic amount of water that is required, it all depends on your body. The standard 8 glasses a day is a good place to start. If you do not eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, you will need even more water, but we prefer you just eat more fresh fruits and vegetables (heck, you may even find out that helps your training ;)!

First thing in the morning drink water. This the perfect way to start your day. We typically drink between 32 oz first thing then another 32 oz throughout the morning and then another 32 oz in the afternoon. You can use a water bottle or whatever will help you keep track. Start with this and adjust to your body.  Yes, you will pee a lot at first. That is ok. (Note: If you are well-hydrated, your pee should be clear.)

Again, play around, listen to your body, and find out how much is right for your body. Proper hydration happens over time so make this a part of your regular routine. This will serve your body well.

As an endurance athlete, you will need to consume approximately 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your long workouts.

Salt & Electrolytes

Should I take salt and Electrolytes? Again, everyone is different and everyone will need to determine what their body needs. If you are not properly hydrated, these will be even more critical for you to play around with.

We typically drink some electrolytes at each aid station and that seems to work fine for us. Again, the goal is to not drain your tank. Without the electrolytes, your body will have trouble staying hydrated. If your muscles are cramping, that’s a sign that you don’t have enough.

Salt packets are another thing you will see at aid stations. Sodium is critical for maintaining hydration. And, a salt packet can be a good quick fix if you find yourself drained.

The general recommendation with is Salt  (1/2 marathon = 1 salt packet at start of race. Full marathon 1 packet at start of race and 1 packet at 13 miles).

The key thing with nutrition and hydration is to use each practice to test these things out.

Once you start to get it nailed down, you will want to stay consistent. Not all electrolyte drinks are the same. Ingredients vary from brand to brand, so when you find what works for you, stick with it. If you use the electrolytes offered at the aid stations during our weekly runs – you will want to make sure you use that same brand on race day.

What to eat AFTER your training

After your training run, if you are famished and feel like you could eat a horse, well, that means you need to think about what you ate on Friday night and don’t do that anymore.

You should be hungry, but if you are famished, then that might be a tip that you could be doing a better job of topping off your tank.

Your muscles will recover more quickly if you replace your depleted carbohydrate stores within 30-60 minutes after a workout. Protein is also important post workout to repair muscle tissue.

We typically like to have a green smoothie right after a run. This has carbs and nutrients from the fruit and greens and then some added protein for muscle recovery.

Here is a link to our green smoothie recipe.

One of our favorite post-run meals (after the green smoothie) is black beans, brown rice and corn tortillas, that seems to do the trick for us. You just want to have a mix of carbs and protein. Peanut butter sandwich (with Ezekiel bread) is another quick & easy option.

Don’t skip out on eating and don’t load up with processed foods after a good run. Your body needs nutrients to repair and you want each training run to help you get stronger. That means getting your body the fuel it needs.

Summary

So, if this post was too long and you didn’t read it…here are just a few notes that will help you along the way.

  • Think of food as fuel. Don’t cheat yourself of the energy you need.
  • Plan ahead so you can keep yourself fueled before, during and after your run.
  • Fueling before a long run starts 24 hours before (not the morning of).
  • Hydration starts several days before your run (not the morning of).
  • Eat a strong breakfast (complex carbs for slow burning fuel).
  • Keep fueled during your run (every 45-60 minutes).
  • Don’t forget your electrolytes. Keep a salt packet handy in case you need it.
  • Be prepared to eat a good meal (protein, carbs, healthy fats) within 30-60 minutes after your long run. This is important for recovery & tissue repair.

Most importantly – ask questions along the way. That’s what coaches and teammates are for. To share information, experience and advice. If you need any ideas, troubleshooting or recipes this season, feel free to ask us. We have all kinds of tricks up our sleeves when it comes to nutrition, eating healthy and saving time.

Have a great season!

If you or someone you know is struggling to lose weight long-term and wants to learn how to do it a healthy and sustainable way, please ask us about our transformation coaching program and our TNT discount. It’s an amazing program that goes way beyond food & into real life application for lasting results.

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