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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Fueling Runners

I have had a request to talk about how to eat when you are training for a marathon and to give a typical day of what I would eat when I was in training. I will talk about what I learned when I trained for my first marathon today and tomorrow I will have a sample day.

You often hear about how vitally important carbohydrates are for athletes, especially for runners. Carbs are, of course, your body’s preferred source of energy, but fat and protein are also vital to the diet to have success in eating right for an athlete. I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian (no meat but ate eggs and dairy) for 12 years before I started marathon training. The most important lesson I learned was that, as a vegetarian especially, I was getting plenty of carbs, but I actually needed more protein in my diet! I know you are thinking that long distance runners, unlike weight lifters, don’t really need much more protein. However, runners are using their muscles almost as much as weight lifters, but just in different ways. Protein needs for endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, etc.) are higher than the average couch potato, but just not quite as high as heavy weight lifters. In fact, the RDA for protein is only 0.8 g/kg of body weight. To figure out your protein needs, take your body weight in pounds and divide by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms (kg). Multiply this by 0.8 grams. For example, a sedentary 150 pound person is 68 kg and needs 54 grams of protein per day.
An endurance athlete, or even a recreational exerciser who does more than 4 hours of aerobic exercise per week, needs 1.2 – 1.4 grams/kg of protein. For that 150 pound person, that would be about 82-95 grams of protein per day.

To get more protein, I made sure that I had a good source of protein at every meal. I didn’t realize it before, but I had a lot of meals that were primarily carbs and not much protein to be found. And I am a dietitian!

Protein was really important for me for two reasons. One was to repair and rebuild the muscles I was abusing with long mileage. The other, though, was because I was starving all the time! Carbs are used up very quickly (remember, body’s preferred source of energy). Protein takes a little bit longer to digest, so it stays with you longer. I found that when I added more protein to my diet I recovered more quickly from workouts and I also didn’t feel as hungry. I have talked to many marathon runners who actually gain weight when they train for a marathon because they are so hungry all the time! Snack regularly to keep your metabolism up (don’t go more than 3-4 hours without eating something) and also make sure you are getting enough protein!

Photo courtesy of istockphoto
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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