I’ve never gone on a diet. I tend to fall into a pretty healthy, comfortable weight range by eating mostly what I want, and trying to balance my food intake.
But I’ve also never trained for a marathon before. So, I turned to a local expert to help me better understand the role nutrition plays in my training.
Ruth Goldstein is an outpatient registered dietitian at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, where she has worked for about three years. She does nutrition counseling on a range of topics including weight management, eating disorders food intolerances, general healthy eating and more.
We corresponded via email this week, and I started by asking her about my most immediate curiosity: What nutrition advice would you give runners at this stage in their training, about three months out from the Clarence DeMar Marathon?
“While endurance athletes do have specialized nutrition needs, it is basic healthy eating patterns that create a foundation for energy, stamina, and strength,” Goldstein said. “Making sure to eat regular meals and snacks sourced from a wide variety of high quality whole foods will set you up for success.”
Specifically, she suggested nutrient-dense whole foods including fiber-rich whole grains and beans, brightly colored vegetables and fruits, protein-rich lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.
“So, don’t forget about foundational nutrition principles of moderation, variety, balance,” she said.
Speaking of balance, Goldstein also helped me better understand the macronutrients that everyone, including endurance athletes need: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Protein, she said, is important for muscle repair and growth, while carbs provide quick energy, along with glycogen, the storage form of energy that fuels endurance exercise. Lastly, fat supplies long-lasting energy, and supports the absorption of certain vitamins.
Additionally, Goldstein said we all need micronutrients — vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — to support our metabolisms. She specifically highlighted B vitamins, zinc and magnesium as important dietary elements to fuel endurance activities. Leafy greens, meat, eggs and beans are high in B vitamins, Goldstein said, while sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are good sources of zinc and magnesium.
“Of course, runners will need to make particular choices about easily digestible fuel before and during races,” Goldstein added.
I’m still figuring out that part of my training. I’m planning to run a half-marathon this weekend, and begin testing out which of the bevvy of goos, gels and gummies out there are right for me. (Got any suggestions? My contact info is down below, and I’d be awfully grateful for your tips!)
And while I’m still shy of halfway through my marathon training plan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask an actual dietician about the only marathon nutrition element I knew about before embarking on this journey: carbo-loading. Goldstein told me that this practice centers on glycogen, the storage form of sugar that fuels endurance exercise.
“Endurance athletes require large amounts of carbohydrates to provide adequate glycogen to the muscles,” Goldstein said. “Eating properly before exercise is important.”
She cited Janice Dada, a Southern California-based dietician (and marathon runner), who recommends consuming 400 to 800 calories of foods high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and moderate in protein two to four hours before a race.
“If the race starts very early in the morning, eating a late dinner to provide these carbohydrate needs may work better,” Goldstein wrote to me. “For those who can tolerate food closer to the start of exercise may find that breakfast cereal with fruit and 1% milk or soy milk, or a whole grain bagel with tomato and low fat cheese is a good option.”
Finally, I asked Goldstein the last question I ask everyone I interview: What else would you like to add? Her advice is critical (and something I need to improve in my own training), so I’ll give her the last word:
“Hydration is critical before, during, and after a race. To be adequately hydrated, runners need to worry about both fluid and sodium replacement. 2 hours prior drink 16-24 ounces of fluid, then 15 minutes prior another 8 ounces. During exercise, 6-12 ounces of fluid for every 15 minutes during exercise.”