5 Basic Components Of A Long Distance Running Diet

marathon diet plan

I take it you’ve heard all about this buzz-word “nutrition”.

Back when you were at school, you were told: “make sure you eat right, especially around exams”.

You start working and the trend continues: “make sure you eat right to ensure that you stay mentally sharp at work.”

When it comes to exercise – be it gym, casual running on the crazy and intense running that long distance athletes participate in – this buzz-word nutrition becomes a priority.

Where running is concerned, good nutrition cannot replace a lack of training.

But it does significantly enhance your ability to perform when you train well. It also helps mitigate bad training. Simply put, if you are over-training your muscles, your chances of suffering common running injuries are reduced when you take in a large amount of proteins that assist with muscle repair.

But what exactly does a good diet entail for a long distance athlete?

Firstly, let me say this: I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as a specialized diet. Unless you are a competitive athlete who runs to win, a good diet is generally a diet that is recommended for everyone.

So, from the onset, please take comfort in knowing that your diet should be simple. Contrary to what most gurus will tell you, there are really no complications.

In answering what a “good diet” entails, I’m going to cover the 5 key components that are required for a long distance athlete to function optimally.

This post is less about telling you what food types to eat but more about giving you the fundamentals of good nutrition for long distance running.

1. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are undoubtedly the most important component in a long distance athlete’s diet.

In fact you’ve often heard long distance athletes referring to “carbo-lading” before a marathon or ultra-marathon. In essence, they are saying they want to load their body with a huge amount of carbohydrates.


A high intake of carbohydrates saturates your muscles with glycogen. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates that fuels endurance (in excess of 2hrs in length) exercise.

In your daily diet, you should be consuming over 55% – 60% of carbohydrates. When you carbo-load, 2 to 3 days before an endurance event, this percentage increases to about 60 – 70%.

2. Fats

It sounds a bit ironic that fats should make a substantial part of your diet.

I mean, who wants extra fat and weight when running?

But the reality is this – fat should form approximately 20 – 25% of your diet. What you want in your diet is good fats. Yes – good fats!

It’s the bad fats that cause chaos on your waistline and makes you grow horizontally. But, that’s a topic for another day.

For now, I want to focus on the reasons why you need good fats in your body.

In an article titled “Why You Need Fats”, an article published on AskDrSears, the following are listed as the reasons why good fats are important:

  • Fats provide energy
  • Fats build healthy cells
  • Fats build brains
  • Fats help the body use vitamins
  • Fats make hormones
  • Fats provide healthier skin
  • Fat forms a protective cushion for your organs

From the above benefits, it’s quite clear that good fats are of great use to anyone – whether you are a long distance athlete or not.

Avoiding fats completely in your diet is a myth.

3. Proteins

For a novice runner, preparing for a half marathon can get intense. For a regular and more experienced long distance runner, preparing for a marathon or ultra-marathon requires intense training.

As a result, that training programme breaks down a lot of muscle tissue, especially when you take into account cross-training that entails regular gym strength training.

To ensure that all muscles function properly and recover adequately, you need protein. Proteins are also good because they help balance your weight. Long distance running results in an incredible amount of weight loss. Personally, I hate looking skeletal. To counter-act this, I consume a high amount of proteins.

In your daily diet, you should be consuming between 15 – 20% of proteins.

4. Electrolytes

Electrolytes are ionic solutions (salts) that come in the form of minerals. They include sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride, hydrogen phosphate and hydrogen carbonate.

They are responsible for keeping the body properly hydrated so the muscles and nerves can function efficiently.

To understand this function, it’s important to understand that your body is pre-dominantly water. As a result, when you exercise, you lose a lot of these minerals and precious fluids through sweating. Through your intake of water and fluids with electrolytes, you are able to hydrate quicker because water follows electrolytes.

In addition, electrolytes reduce the amount of water lost when you urinate. This then allows fluids in your body to be absorbed back into the muscles, tissue and nerves.

To sum this up aptly, I lobe what Hammer Nutrition says about electrolytes:

Marathon training plan


This might come as shock, but I’ve come across athletes who drink water only when they train or run races. Either than that, water is an insignificant part of their day-to-day diet.

It goes without saying that water is the source of life. Every system in your body relies on water. I’ve already alluded to the fact that water forms a large part of your body. In fact, it makes up approximately 60%.

There are numerous studies that have been documented on the importance of water. I don’t want to waffle on about the details. It’s suffice to say that water flushes toxins out of vital organs and carries nutrients to your cells.

In essence all the key nutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats – mean bugger all without water.


Firstly, as a long distance runner, you are not studying to become a dietitian. Whilst, it’s important to take your eating habits seriously, don’t overly-complicate your life. It is quite possible (and simple) to keep to a good diet without making it rocket science.

Secondly, it’s important to note that the proportions I’ve stipulated above are general. They vary depending on factors such as age, gender, fitness levels and weight. Again, don’t worry too much about the semantics and details. Just understand the frame-work of what a good diet entails.

Lastly, enjoy your eating! Eating is fun. Don’t let a good diet turn you into a dull eater.

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