Marathon Nutrition – Fuel like an athlete

Most participants in any given marathon cover the second half of the race slower than the first, many slow down even more dramatically after the 32km mark, also known as “hitting the wall”.

We chat with Australian Marathon runner Jess Trengove, after her superstar effort at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (where she walked away with a bronze medal). Jess shares with us some of her nutrition secrets, and how she believes her ability to run an even paced marathon is down to her nutrition plan!


How important is nutrition in the training phases leading up to a marathon? Share with us your fuelling secrets.

There are lots of fancy products and special sports drinks that are designed to help give runners a competitive edge in training and racing. With so much choice available it can be very confusing to know which ones are going to work best for you as an individual. With the help of my Sports Dietitian (Accredited Sports Dietitian, Olivia Warnes) I trial recommended products that I plan to use in races i.e. gels and electrolyte formulas, a few times during training.

For the bulk of my training however, I focus on eating the basics; lean protein, vegetables and wholegrain carbs to fuel me through sessions and my work as a physiotherapist. I always make sure I eat a pre- and post- training snack to maximise training adaptations. Some of my favourites before training are rice crackers, cruskits with honey, a banana, muesli or Bonk Breaker bars. Post training I like to have a Musashi “Recover” whey protein recovery drink. I mix this with water for practicality, but if I am home I mix with milk because it tastes better!


How important is weight management for performance?

I have worked with Olivia to determine different nutrition strategies for light and heavy phases of training as well as for races. I have learnt that the timing of my meals is very important to both maximise my training and manage weight for performance at key races. I choose to have my larger meals for breakfast after the morning run to set me up for the day and then also after key sessions. I try to include a good amount of protein and carbohydrates in these meals. On lighter training days I will tend to have a smaller overall intake for the day. This strategy enables me to develop lean muscle mass and recover adequately from sessions without gaining non-lean mass.


What has been your biggest marathon nutrition mistake?

My biggest marathon nutrition scare was when I managed to catch a gastro bug before one of my Japan marathons, six days before my race. Thankfully I could eat normally again three days before and was very relieved to feel adequately fuelled and raring to go by race day. It showed me just how important fuelling properly during the final three days leading into the race was on my performance.

In my first two marathons I used citrus gels and found that I could only manage 1-2 during the race before feeling queasy. I now use a vanilla flavour which works better for me, and I can take on more gels if I feel the need. Most of my marathons to date have been similar in time for the first and second half which indicates that my nutrition plan has been sustaining me to the finish.


Share with us your carbohydrate loading plan

I’ve worked with Olivia for my past 3 marathons. We have stuck to a similar plan for each race since it’s been working for me. Prior to that I just upped my carbs a bit the day before but didn’t follow a set plan. With the new plan, I generally eat more of a protein-based diet with less carbs than I would usually eat in the week leading up to race day (because my training load is lower during a taper week so I need less energy than a usual training week) , and then increase my carbohydrate intake according to Olivia’s plan from 3 days out (i.e. for the Friday & Saturday for a Sunday race). I mainly try to eat carbs that are lower in fibre and keep “heavy” foods like red meat & higher fat snacks like nuts, eggs, avocado, cheese etc. to a minimum in the final days leading into a marathon.


Any tips for hydration during a marathon?

I have trialled Gatorade, Powerade, Endura and Gastrolyte in my marathons to date! I have found each to be effective but made sure that I noted the concentration of carbohydrates and electrolytes in each type/brand beforehand to determine the volume I would aim to take in every hour. I tend to take a few gulps of fluid at all or most hydration stations located every 5 kilometres throughout the marathon course. Gastrolyte was chosen in the hot summer afternoon race in Moscow (2013 World Championships) for its high concentration of electrolytes. Whatever you choose, make sure you trial it in training.


Race Nutrition, if you had one tip, what would it be?

Stick to what you know but don’t neglect the importance of carbohydrates during the race and electrolytes, particularly in the heat!


List 10 foods in your cupboard/fridge the week leading into a marathon?

– Bananas

– Sourdough bread

– Honey

– Rice crackers

– Muesli/oats

– Bonk Breaker bars

– Some sort of tomato-based pasta sauce

– Rice/rice noodles

– Yoghurt

– Some veggies & salmon (just because I love it but probably not ideal the day before the race!)


Nutrition Fast Facts:


Pre-Race: Low-fibre, carbohydrate-rich food. Eg. Two Weetbix, ½ cupcorn flakes and a banana with watered down milk + a piece of toast with honey, about 3h before my race.


Within 90min of Race start: Switch to carbohydrate-only snacks. Go for smaller amounts of food that are fibre-free and easy to digest (e.g. Gu Chomps). Never experiment with a new food on race day.


During Race: a couple of gels. Water and watered-down sports drinks (e.g. Gatorade)


Post-Race: Protein shake to help settle my stomach and get my body into recovery mode faster. Once my stomach has settled (usually by that night or the next day, whatever I have been craving in the lead up to the race (e.g. burger with sweet potato wedges just to name one!)