Making it through a marathon: Ten tips for long distance runners

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Marathon runners need adequate nutrition and hydration to make it to the finish line.

Loyola University nutritionist Brook Schantz offers ten tips for marathon runners that can help maintain energy and prevent injuries.

Schantz explains it's important for long distance runners to start by practicing.

Waiting until race day can lead to failure. Understanding how your body reacts to the demands of running a marathon requires practice that should start early.

Hydration for marathon runners

Schantz explains hydration before exercise is essential. Drink 16 to 20 ounces of water two hours before running, and 7-10 ounces of water 10 to 20 minutes prior to exercise.

"Every 15-20 minutes consume 6-8 ounces of water. If you are exercising for longer than one hour, consuming a sports drink with 4-8 percent of carbohydrates will provide energy to working muscles."

Focus on carbs for high intensity running

Most runners start loading up on carbohydrates six days before a race. Schantz says it’s still possible to maintain endurance for a high intensity run by consuming a high carbohydrate diet the day before a race.

Calculate calorie needs

Understanding calorie needs can help prevent stress fractures experienced by runners.

Women can be susceptible to hormonal imbalances from marathon running that can lead to irregular periods. The formula for calorie needs provided by Schantz is:

  • 16-18 calories per pound for 30 – 60 minutes of activity a day
  • 19-21 calories per pound per 1 – 1.5 hours of activity a day
  • 22-24 calories per pound for 1.5 – 2 hours of activity
  • 25-30 or more calories per pound for 2 – 3 hours of exercise activity

Limit fiber to reduce stomach cramping


Fiber in the diet is important for overall health, but if you’re getting ready to run a marathon it’s best to limit fiber intake. Too much can mean intestinal distress and cramping when race time arrives.

Weigh before and after exercise

Understanding your fluid intake needs means weighing before and after a race. One pound (16 ounces) of weight loss should be replaced with 16 ounces of water.

If you know you lose an average of 3 pounds in 4 hours of intense exercise, it means you should drink 6 ounces of water every 30 minutes during a marathon.

Consider the weather

Hotter temperatures mean more sweating. Fluid replacement and calorie needs differ, depending on weather. Hydrate more often when sweating is worse. In colder temperatures, consume more calories to maintain body heat. Wear appropriate clothing to compensate for the differences.

Eat during a run

If you’re exercising for more than an hour, eat 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates every hour. Options include gels, jelly beans, sports drinks, sports bars or a combination of these products.

Check your urine

Urine that is dark in color is concentrated and could be a sign you need more fluids. Checking urine can help marathon runners understand when more fluids are needed.

Runners need protein

Schantz says runners should eat 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg/day. A maximum of no more than 1 gram of protein per pound should be consumed in a day. Protein helps repair damaged muscles and contributes to lean muscle mass.

Preparing for a marathon takes time and practice. Focusing on nutrition before, during and after a race can help prevent injury and ensure you’ll make it to the finish line.

Marathon runners need the right food and liquids for fuel. Understanding your own body’s needs when undergoing endurance training and events can mean success. For a personalized nutrition plan, Schantz suggests consulting a registered dietitian.

Image credit: Morguefile