Best Foods to Eat, Avoid to Prepare for the Chicago Marathon

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness October 07, 2013

Fall marks a favorite time of year as the air becomes crisp and the leaves start to change color. With it brings one of my favorite events that I have had the opportunity to be a spectator, participant and volunteer. On Oct. 13, nearly 40,000 runners will fill the streets for the Chicago Marathon many of them for the first time. As a 5-time participant, I remember the months of hard training and planning that led up to race day.

Chicago Marathon participant Meghan Stewart, MPH

While enjoying this week of decreased mileage, don’t forget to fuel up on carbohydrates to maximize your race potential. When you eat a bowl of pasta, most of the carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. During a half or full marathon, the body uses both glycogen and fat. Glycogen is the body’s preferred energy source so it is depleted first. When you run out of glycogen the body has to slow down to convert fat to energy. Carbohydrate loading helps to prevent muscle glycogen depletion and to maintain desired pace throughout the marathon. At least two to three days prior to race day, you should eat three to five grams carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day to prevent your body from depleting its glycogen stores or “hitting the wall” during the race. A 150-pound person should eat 450 to 750g carbohydrates or about 85 to 95% of total calories daily while carbo-loading. In addition to carb loading, 48 to 36 hours before race day, you still need to consume midrace fuel such as sports drinks, gels, chews, and candy to maintain energy levels.

Sample Carbo-loading 1-Day Menu (500 grams Carbohydrate)

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal with ¼ cup raisins and 2 teaspoons brown sugar (dash of cinnamon if desired)
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 large banana
  • ½ bagel with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 medium apple
  • Grilled chicken sandwich
  • Pear
  • Baked potato chips Butternut squash soup
  • Chocolate milk
  • 8oz Granola bar
  • Baked potato
  • Broiled fish, 3oz
  • Steamed asparagus 1 cup
  • 1 Pretzel roll
  • 1 Cup frozen yogurt with topping of your choice

*Don’t be alarmed if you see a few extra pounds on the scale. This means you successfully carbo-loaded.

Night before race day tips: Dinner should be similar to the carbo-loading dinner in the meal plan. Remember to choose easy to digest foods. Do not try any new or unusual foods that may result in gastrointestinal upset. Avoid heavy sauce for pasta and choose only 3 ounce servings of lean meats such as chicken breast, fish, or turkey breast as fats and protein take longer to digest and fill you up faster than carbohydrates. Avoid foods that cause gas such as beans and broccoli. Avoid alcohol. Pasta, rice, stir-fried noodles, white bread, and baked potatoes (without skin) are good carbohydrate choices. Avoid salads and most raw fruits and veggies the night before race day Eat dinner early and don’t overeat. You should wake up hungry on race day.

Race Day: Eat breakfast as early as possible. It may be challenging to fuel up before the race since the start time is at 7:30 a.m. I would not recommend skipping breakfast. Instead, try low fiber carbohydrates such as half a bagel, cereal, oatmeal, energy bar, English muffin, with banana or yogurt in addition to a sport drink if prone to gastrointestinal upset. Good luck to all 2013 Chicago marathon participants, especially my friends and family. Long may you run!

Meghan Stewart MPH, RD, LDN, CSO Advanced Dietitian, Northwestern Memorial Hospital Five-time Chicago Marathon participant.

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