Overall dietary guidelines:
Contrary to previous beliefs, the week before the marathon isn’t all about piling on the pasta. In fact, to maximise carbohydrate (fuel) stores before the race, runners only need to start ‘fuelling up’ or ‘carb-loading’ two or three days before the race (three days if you prefer slower increase in your daily intake). Read more in our guide to carb-loading.
With an increase in the number of runners following a vegetarian diet (or even ‘flexitarian’ one, including meat with some meals), we have put together a plan for a week’s worth of meals leading up to the marathon to suit those requirements. A well-structured vegetarian diet should deliver the main macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) required during training, but vegetarians should also make sure they are getting enough iron and B12 (both important for energy production).
While these recipes provide a good framework, there will also be times where an extra serving of higher-protein foods (such as dairy, pulses, grains, nuts and seeds) can be added to meals to increase the overall daily intake.
Earlier in the week, it may be useful to start including snacks to train the gut in preparation for increased carbohydrate intake in the days leading up to the race.
As a general rule, what you eat should be different depending on the training demands for that day (or when you are preparing for the race itself) to promote sufficient fuelling and recovery. Discover what to eat on different training days with our training meal plans for runners.
We’ve included examples of the race training programme from London Marathon to plan your nutrition for this day.
The big day is here. Breakfast provides the final opportunity to top up fuel stores ahead of the race.
The most important thing is to stick to your plan here, selecting a breakfast you have eaten before and are comfortable with. If you are travelling for the race, remember to plan ahead and choose an option that will be available in the hotel – or take it with you.
Often the biggest mistakes here are trying to eat too much the day before and feeling uncomfortable on the morning of the race. Remember, your increased carbohydrate intake over the last few days will have been stored as fuel, so you will be ready to race.
Post-race, the priority is to refuel. A drink is a great option to provide some carbohydrate, water and protein too, which will kick-start the repair process. This is then followed up with the meals, which can also be a treat to share with friends and family who have supported you.
While these are both great options, remember to choose a breakfast that you have tried before a race in the past and works well for you.
Snack (during the race)
Water and easily digested carbohydrates from sports drinks, gels or jellied sweets are best – aim for something each hour.
Post-race recovery snack (within 30 mins)
Blend a mix of pomegranate juice, soya, banana and honey for a nutritionally-balanced smoothie.
Post-race recovery meal/Lunch
Egg & rocket pizzas
Use seeded tortillas as pizza bases for a quick and healthy lunch, with added protein from the eggs.
Chickpea & coriander burgers
High in fibre, low in fat and counting as two of your five-a-day, this tasty veggie burger delivers on every level.
Evening snack (optional)
Mango & passion fruit fool
This fruity sweet treat uses just four ingredients for a quick evening snack.
Go back to the week-long vegetarian marathon meal plan.
Find more expert advice and answers to your training questions in our marathon hub.
These meal plans were reviewed on 1 September 2021.
James Collins is recognised as a leading Performance Nutritionist through his work with Olympic and professional sport. Over the last decade he has worked with Arsenal FC, the England and France national football teams and Team GB. He has a private practice in Harley Street where he sees business executives, performing artists and clients from all walks of life. He is the author of the new book The Energy Plan, which focuses on the key principles of fuelling for fitness.
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