What Should I Eat? Understanding How to Eat During the First Couple of Months of Marathon Training

As a mentor with Team in Training, and a former local running advocate with a popular multisport retailer, I have gotten this question MANY times. There are so many right and wrong answers to this, so I want to make sure that I address a new runner’s concerns. You may have heard the phrase “eating like a marathoner,” but if you are following the basic training plan, then increasing your caloric intake is not recommended.

Longer distances call for higher calories, but make sure you are using the RIGHT calories.

A person who weighs 150-170 pounds typically will burn about 110 calories per mile (unfortunately it is roughly the same whether you are doing an 8 minute or 12 minute per mile pace, so increasing your speed really doesn’t make a difference….sorry). If you are averaging 15 miles per week, then you are really only burning about 1650 calories from your activity. Therefore, eating a huge pasta dinner, or a burger and a beer from the local pub each night will just cause a weight gain. Actually, a grilled chicken burrito (based on the Qdoba website) has over 1200 calories. And, that is just in one meal!

The shocking nutrition information for a Qdoba Burrito. (But they are SO TASTY!)

The key is to add small snacks during the day if need be. I personally like Fiber One or Luna Bars for something to tie me over. Bananas, blueberries, or any type of fruit or vegetable that you enjoy is also a great snack! Just hold off on the caramel to supplement your apples, or peanut butter or ranch dressing on your celery! I currently am following the Weight Watchers program, so I am exposed on a daily basis to the nutritional information for just about everything (it can be a curse sometimes). I do just want to add the disclaimer, that at my weight, I am NOT trying to lose an immense amount of weight. I use this program to get lean for my racing season, and other health reasons. The other health reasons being that I was just informed by a blood test that I am low in certain vitamins and my blood sugar is extremely low for an athlete. The only reason why I would suggest this program for anybody who is, or intends to become an endurance athlete, is to merely monitor his or her intake of the proper nutrients. I, personally, am not a fan of multi-vitamins. I enjoy knowing that I am getting those proper nutrients from a regular diet. And by diet, not necessarily weight loss, but the entirety of what one eats.

Here is a great article from RunnersWorld.com called “What’s Your Ideal Weight?” It actually highlights how much time can be taken off runs of distances of 5Ks to marathons by just making sure you don’t overeat in the beginning of training.

The point that I am trying to convey is that if you are beginning an endurance, or any type of running program, with the main goal to shed some extra pounds, do not feel that by running two miles entitles you to eat a Dairy Queen brownie sundae (lord, they are so good, but just DON’T DO IT). Stick to the basics. Here are some great meals and snacks to still indulge in until you get up to about 25 miles per week:

Jell-O with Cool Whip–a VERY low-calorie quick fix for that sweet tooth. Try using the low-fat or fat-free Cool-Whip. For only slightly more calories, you can have Jell-O sugar-free pudding. At 60 calories per cup for the store packaged version (or make it from scratch on your own), you have the perfect fix to help the craving pass.

Pick up any Weight Watchers products, even if you aren’t following the program! They are very low in calories, although that company some how found a way to make things taste GOOD!

Sorry Sugar, I’m using Splenda!–Did you know that Splenda has absolutely NOTHING calorie-wise to it? Don’t worry about the headaches, continued cravings or anything else that our sugar addictions leave us with. If you cook at home (even Grandma’s Chocolate Chip cookie recipe), use Splenda. It cuts everything down in calories by leaps and bounds.

Save this type of meal until AFTER a long run!

Buying ground beef? Check out Trader Joe’s. They sell 96%/4% fat-free ground beef as opposed to Jewel, Dominick’s and the other major supermarkets. Anything you wish to make will be so much less in calories. Are the buns too much for you? How about trying a whole wheat tortilla wrap around a home-made vertical-rolled burger? I’ve done it many times. It has fewer calories, even with adding ketchup, BBQ sauce, or mustard (again, no ranch dressing).

When all is said and done, the best options for keeping your body going without putting on extra pounds is to incorporate large amounts of fruits and vegetables into your diet.  These super foods will keep you alert and hydrated, while giving your body the proper nutrients without adding anything that will make you sluggish.

Happy Trails!


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