Marathon Training Food: How to Fuel Up for a Big Race - Sockwell

Marathon Training Food: How to Fuel Up for a Big Race

Meal ideas and planning tips from a self-proclaimed foodie and seasoned marathon runner.

By Susanna Kirby, Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon Ambassador and Organizer of Running for Brews Chattanooga

I love running, but I love eating even more. I’m often asked what I consume before, during, and after a long run to sustain energy throughout the training process. As a self-proclaimed foodie, the meal planning process is one of the highlights of training for a marathon.

Let me be clear: I am by no means Chattanooga’s fastest runner; if you are seeking a recipe to guarantee qualification in the Boston Marathon, you will not find it here. Nor am I a licensed nutritionist—although I did consult with a nutritionist when writing this post. I’m just a girl who loves to run and eat delicious food that nourishes my body, so I can perform my best.

Most marathon and half marathon training plans follow a structure in which you increase your mileage weekly, often with one long training run every week. When determining what marathon eating plan suits you, I recommend using each of your “long runs” as a dress rehearsal for the main event. It’s a great opportunity to get to know how your body responds to different types of foods and drinks. No single nutrition plan works for all athletes, so the best thing you can do is test out healthy foods, gels, chews, sports drinks, and homemade snacks to determine what helps you perform your best, so you’re set up for success on race day.

Here’s a look at how I eat when training for a marathon: pre-run, mid-run, and post-run.

Chattanooga Marathon, starting line


What’s on my plate?

A couple tablespoons of peanut butter, 1 teaspoon of honey, and 1 sliced banana, spread atop an English muffin or a rice cake, plus 8 to 12 ounces of black tea.


As a general rule, I eat a meal about 45 to 90 minutes before my run. For longer runs, I eat a larger meal which requires extra time for digestion. Most often, I prepare a meal with protein and easily digestible carbs. I strongly suggest avoiding dairy products, acidic foods, and high-fiber items. Trust me, you do not want to experience tummy troubles when you are eight miles from home and a functioning toilet.

Race Day

Don’t get creative on race day—stick with what your body knows! By this point you should have a set menu: a combination of foods and drinks that give you sustained energy and don’t upset your tummy. If your race is scheduled to start before you usually wake up, you may be tempted to brew a cup of coffee or tea. Keep in mind, if caffeinated beverages aren’t part of your typical pre-run meal, today is not the day to test it out. If you have an earlier than usual race time, plan ahead and build your body’s acceptance of caffeine by including small amounts with your training meals.

Chattanooga Marathon, Veteran's Bridge


What am I taking with me?

Hammer Nutrition Gel in Apple Cinnamon, Clif Bloks Energy Chews in Margarita (with 3x sodium) or Tropical Punch (with 25 milligrams of caffeine), and Gu Chews in Watermelon or Strawberry (with 20 milligrams of caffeine).


I have a high caffeine tolerance, so I typically gravitate towards caffeinated gels and chews. However, caffeine can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal system when consumed during a long run, so incorporating it in moderation during training will let you know how your body responds to it.

It’s important to determine how much to consume and at what frequency to do so. You shouldn’t wait until you feel hungry, thirsty, or cramping to consider eating or drinking something—be proactive! I aim to consume roughly 90 to 100 calories for every 40 to 45 minutes of activity. If you are a heavy sweater or plan to train and/or race in warmer months, you may want to consider snacks with extra sodium. Creating a plan that ensures you consume enough fluids, electrolytes, and carbs is necessary to fend off cramps, gastrointestinal issues, and fatigue.

Race Day

When race day rolls around, your plan is in place. If your plan involves eating and drinking the items the race provides, make sure you thoroughly read any race literature as it may detail where certain food items are located along the course. For beginners especially, I would recommend toeing the starting line with your own nutrition in case the race does not provide snacks that align with your typical mid-run items.

Susanna Kirby, Chattanooga Marathon Ambassador


What is my go-to make-ahead meal?

The joy of cooking with a slow cooker is that you can load the ingredients into it before a long run, and the meal is ready when you return! Cashew chicken is one of my favorite make-ahead recipes for a satisfying post-run meal.


Foods that help your body recover after a run are just as important as what you eat before and during a run. To replenish electrolytes immediately after a long run, I reach for a V8, chocolate milk, or pickles before I begin stretching. (PSA: Don’t skip stretching!) Long training runs will leave you tired and hungry. Whether you prepare a meal ahead of time or treat yourself to a ;dinner out with friends, a high-protein, high-carb meal is essential for nourishing your body. When possible, consider recipes with turmeric—a natural anti-inflammatory.


I typically begin visualizing my post-race meal about two miles into my race and use it as motivation to get to the finish line. Once you get there, celebrate—you deserve it! Whether it’s a Little Debbie, an ice cold beer, or the promise of brunch with friends that lured you to the finish line, treat yourself to whatever your heart desires. The Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon provides great post-race snacks like sweet and salty snacks, fruit, and ice cold beer. Throw on a clean pair of Sockwell graduated compression socks to aid in recovery (you better believe you will be sore) and get to snacking.

After allowing myself some time to recharge, I head to Chattanooga Brewing Co., The Feed Table and Tavern Co., or Mike’s Hole in the Wall to indulge in a great meal surrounded by people I love.


Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon logoThe Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon is a not-for-profit, locally owned and operated race weekend that consists of a marathon, half marathon, team relay, 5k and kids’ fun run. The race was established in 2016 when its founding partners came together with the mindset of creating a professional event that would have a positive impact and benefit the local community.

Registration for the 2024 Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon from March 1 to 3 is now live!


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