Tara Gidus

Mythbuster: I can eat whatever I want!

I have heard so many runners say that because they just ran a certain distance, they can eat whatever they want. Three scoops of chocolate ice cream every night after dinner? "Why not? I just ran 18 miles!" Two doughnuts from the break room at the office? "Sure! No one else ran as far as I did this morning!" This all seems logical when you think about all of the hard physical work you are putting into your training, and surely you must be able to eat anything in the world you want, right?

WRONG. It is true that marathon training burns a lot of calories, but how much do you really need to consume? To perform and feel your best you must make sure that you are getting the calories that you need from nutritious foods, but it doesn't take as much food as you'd think to get those extra calories.

Chocolate Ice Cream

For example, say you were planning on running your 18 miles first thing in the morning:

  • The Night Before: You want to have had a balanced meal the night before with lean protein and complex carbs. Too much sugar after dinner say from your dessert may leave you feeling sluggish in the morning. And it doesn't take three plates of pasta and a loaf of garlic bread to carbo load. I might be slightly exaggerating, but it doesn't take that much food to get plenty of carbs.
  • Before Your Run: Always have something before your run. Fuel with primarily carbs that digest quickly to prevent an upset stomach.
  • During: You should fuel during your run to keep your body from getting depleted of energy. Eat quickly digesting carbs such as sports drinks, sports gummies or beans, or raisins during your long runs. Don't skimp on calories during a run. You need sugar during a run to keep you fueled.
  • After: After you run it's time to recover! You think that because you ran 18 miles you deserve pancake, omelets, hasbrowns, juice, toast, etc.
  • After the After: Later in the day you have a nice big dinner and a big dessert because you deserve it. You ran 18 miles this morning!
  • The Next Day: You ran 18 miles yesterday! Load up!

As you can see, to perform and feel your best you should be eating frequently and strategically to fuel your exercise. Many runners are perplexed at why they are gaining weight training for a marathon. But if you were to add up your extra desserts or overestimate how much you need to eat, you may notice yourself gaining weight.

The truth is, since you are fueling before, during, and after your run, you really don't need THAT many extra calories. Proper and complete nutrition is essential marathon runners, so remember to focus the nutrition that your body actually needs, and keep the splurges to a minimum.

Comments or questions? Tweet me @DietDivaTara.

Known as the "Diet Diva," Tara Gidus is a nationally acclaimed nutrition expert and the official nutritionist of runDisney.