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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Sullivan

Sports Nutrition: Marathon Training

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

Have you ever run a marathon in your life? There are usually two answers to this question, depending on the person. One answer might be, “Yes, I have run one or multiple marathons and I can’t wait to run another!” The second answer might be, “Are you crazy? Why would I willingly put my body through the stress and pain of running 26.2 miles?!” The running community tends to be a strong, goal oriented group of people with Type-A personalities who love to challenge themselves in a physical sense, learning to push their body to its limits. Although running (or endurance training) is not suited for everyone, it is my preferred “vice.” Running helps me to clear my mind of worry or anxiety that I may feel towards the future or unknown. It allows me to release my stress and float on my “runners high,” knowing and trusting that everything will work out the way it is supposed to and everything happens for a reason. Many people have never experienced this runners high, however once you do, I promise you will never want to go back. I strongly encourage a long run or two and then you can let me know how you feel afterwards. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I regret going on that run.” It’s even better if you live in a climate where you can run outdoors. I love being outdoors and running along the mountain trails or alongside the ocean at the beach. The photo above is of me 1 day before the LA Marathon 2015 – excited and ready to take on the challenge. 

I ran varsity Cross Country and Track in high school, but never committed to any races longer than a 10K after that. In November 2014, I was selected among hundreds of applicants to be a part of Team Nutribullet to run and train for the LA Marathon 2015 stadium to sea. I was so excited and committed myself to putting my energy and focus into training and running my first marathon.

Over the next 5 months, we trained as a team with weekly speed training drills and long distance runs over the weekend (starting at 5 miles and increasing all the way to 24 miles towards the end of training). Speed training was at night during the week and endurance training was every weekend early in the morning, along with additional 5-10 mile runs we were required to do on our own time during the week. Strength training was also encouraged at least 2 times per week, as well as a yoga or pilates 1 time per week (flexibility and stretching class). This training schedule required discipline, strength, perseverance and so much more. Eating properly and adequate sleep are two key factors in maintaining a healthy, injury free body. This photo describes what marathon training consists of, in a nutrition facts style format. I love this!

As a Registered Dietitian, I know how to nourish and fuel my body properly. However, when you are training for a marathon, it is difficult to keep up with the high calorie requirements because your body is burning so much more fuel throughout the day. I highly recommend small, frequent meals because you will be hungry every 2-3 hours anyways, and overconsumption of high density foods can lead to weight gain (even with marathon training). Sometimes people overestimate the calories that are burned during a workout, and therefore consume more calories (i.e. pizza, double cheeseburger, etc.). You can treat yourself here and there (in moderation), but let’s not overdo it. Staying fueled properly throughout the day is important to maintain your lean muscle mass. Do not make the mistake of “packing too many calories in” only around your workout (in the afternoon for example) because this will lead to increased body fat composition (the opposite of what you want as an athlete or marathon runner).

Here is an example of my nutrient consumption during marathon training:

Breakfast: Greens protein shake (i.e. 1 cup spinach or kale, 1 cup mixed organic berries, ½ banana, 1 tangerine, 1 scoop plant based protein powder, 1 tbsp. hemp seeds, 1 tbsp. raw unsalted almond butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon and 6-8 ounces of unsweetened almond or coconut milk.

Mid morning snack: Steel cut oatmeal (1/2 cup dry or 1 cup cooked) with ½ cup organic strawberries, ¼ cup raw unsalted walnuts or almonds, 1 tsp. cinnamon (cooked in water or unsweetened almond or coconut milk).

Lunch: Grilled chicken sandwich: 3 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast on 100% whole wheat bread or Eziekel 4:9 bread (or gluten free bread if needed), with ½ of an avocado, spinach leaves, chopped veggies (i.e. onion, cucumber, tomato), and 1 tbsp. hummus or mustard spread.

Mid afternoon snack: Organic medium sized apple with 20 raw unsalted almonds and 6-8 ounces of natural coconut water.

Dinner: 3-4 ounces of wild salmon or lean ground turkey (prepared grilled, baked or broiled) with ½ cup to 1 cup quinoa (depending on how hard my workout was that day – you will need more whole grain carbohydrates if you had a more difficult workout), and 1 cup steamed broccoli.

Optional (additional high fiber carbohydrates if needed): I added a ½ sweet potato if I had a long distance run that day or was still hungry after consuming the meal listed above.

Night snack: ½ cup nonfat or low fat plain Greek yogurt with 1 tbsp. chia seeds (high fiber and help with sleep), 1/2 cup mixed berries, and 1 tsp. cinnamon.

As a team, we ran a series of “practice races” such as a 5K or 3.2 miles at Universal Studios (finished with a time of 22 minutes), the 10K or 6.2 mile Christmas run in Santa Monica (finished with a time of 45 minutes) and a Half Marathon in Ventura where I placed second for my age group with a time of 1 hour and 37 minutes (i.e. 7 minute and 40 second miles for 13.1 miles). It was all very exciting and the practice races help to mentally prepare us for the “big dance” (i.e. marathon). Leading up to the LA Marathon, I was feeling every emotion possible (excitement, fear, nerves, anxiousness, happiness, etc.) but I was mostly excited to be a part of such an incredible and supportive team and coaching staff and to conquer my first marathon!

As the LA Marathon approached, record heat and temperatures came into the forecast at 88-90 degrees, which was very scary considering its dehydrating effects. I made sure to eat well and hydrate properly the days leading up to the race. Also, the most important sleep you can get is actually 2-3 days before the race. This is what will affect your body most on race day. We know no one is ever able to get a good rest the night before the race considering nerves and excitement, not to mention the super early wake up call.

The day of the LA Marathon 2015, I woke up at 3:30am, and met with my team before the race for a pep talk and to gear up for the race. I was nervous but excited! The first 6-8 miles consisted of some pretty large hills starting in Downtown LA at Dodgers Stadium, but it wasn’t a problem because my legs were fresh and I was running and chatting with teammates along the way which kept my mind busy. The course was incredible being able to literally run through all of Los Angeles by foot.

By mile 17, my legs started to tighten up and I saw a sign that said, “Pain fades away, muscles heal quickly, achieving 26.2 miles….PRICELESS!” This mantra stuck with me for the next few miles until I came across mile 22 in Brentwood passing Lululemon Athletica where they had another sign reading, “Run with your heart, not your legs.” This made me smile and push a little harder. A few of my friends and my husband jumped onto the course for the next 3 miles to help encourage me and keep me running strong. They kept telling me, “Pain is an illusion. Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I gave it everything I had in the last 200 meters of the race, and finished with a time of 3 hours and 48 minutes, which I was happy with for my very first marathon! When I crossed the finish line, I felt such a rush of emotions, but mostly sheer joy. That feeling of, “It hurts so good!” I went to celebrate with my family and friends and get some recovery nutrition into my body. I also ended the day by jumping into the ocean which served as a great way to “ice my legs” and reduce the swelling and inflammation caused by the race and the heat. I highly recommend it if you live in a climate that allows for this. We are blessed with warm temperatures almost year around in Southern California, which makes running into the ocean easier!

I leave you with some of these motivational mantra’s to keep in mind while running any distance or endurance race that requires extra mental energy. When you feel your body giving out, don’t give up. If you maintain a strong mental state, your mind can take you to complete the rest. Finish strong and good luck!!!

I am currently 7.5 months pregnant, so unfortunately, I was not able to run the LA Marathon this year (2016). However, I went to the race and cheered the runners on as well as my Nutribullet teammates and had so much joy doing it. Congrats to everyone who ran the LA Marathon this year. What a huge accomplishment it is, no matter your time! I know a lot of people get hung up on their time (maybe not being what they set out for it to be), but just completing a marathon is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Stay confident in knowing and believing that!

For more information regarding sports nutrition to suite your individual macronutrient needs and training regimen, contact Courtney Sullivan, Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer and Founder of Nutrition for Body and Mind.

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