You’ve logged countless miles on the pavement. Mentally, you’re prepared to tackle the distance, all 26.2 miles of it. But no matter how much time and energy you’ve spent training for your first marathon, what you’ve eaten for breakfast can make or break your race.
Whether you’re competing in a marathon, triathlon or 5K, proper nutrition can help you get ahead of the pack, says professional triathlete Linsey Corbin. “As athletes, we’re always stressing our bodies and pushing our physical limits. In order to do that, you have to support yourself nutritionally,” says Corbin, who has knocked out 15 Ironman competitions to date since 2006, finishing in the top 10 almost every single race.
To power through the grueling Iron Man races—which consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2 mile-run—Linsey recognizes the importance of proper nutrition. Below, the seasoned marathoner offers her expert tips for what to eat before, during and after the big day to ensure optimal performance and recovery.
Week before the event: In the days leading up to the event, focus on consuming a high-quality, wholesome diet rich in fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Limit processed foods and dairy. “I eat really cleanly,” Linsey says. “Lots of fruits and vegetables and protein.”
Night before the race: The old-school train of thought was that athletes should “carbo-load” the night before a race. Now, however, nutritionists are recommending marathoners to steer clear from big, carb-dense bowls of pasta; it’s important to get some protein, too. The night before an Iron Man, Linsey eats a clean, well-balanced meal consisting of a protein, a serving of whole-grains and vegetables. “A typical meal for me is grilled chicken, a sweet potato, some couscous, broccoli and a little dark chocolate for dessert,” she explains.
2-3 hours before the event: The morning of the event, eat a breakfast that’s low in fiber and easy-to-digest. Linsey’s go-to breakfast? A cup of coffee, peanut butter on toast, and a bowl of KAMUT® wheat cereal with almonds and Keifer. “I try to eat a good mix of carbs and protein to power me through the first leg of the event,” Linsey explains. Most importantly, she adds, now is not the time to try out a new energy drink or food product. “Don’t introduce any new foods,” Linsey recommends. “Stick with what you know.”
During the event: “You only have enough calories in a decent-sized breakfast to get you so far throughout an event,” Linsey says. She recommends fueling during any race that is over an hour and a half. “You should aim to take in 200 to 400 calories every two hours, depending on your size and whether you’re male or female,” she says. Linsey recommends bringing along quick, easily-digestible sources of energy, such as Clif bloks. As far as hydration during longer events, she suggests drinking electrolyte-enhanced beverages like Gatorade, which is often provided at many event stations.
Immediately after the event: “It’s important to get calories on immediately,” Corbin says. “Chocolate milk is always my go-to after a race. It’s tasty, and it has a perfect ratio of carbohydrates and protein, which is really important for recovery.”
2-3 hours after the event: Aim to get a balanced, substantial meal that combines protein and carbohydrates. “Usually 2-3 hours after the event, I’m ready to sit down and eat a proper meal,” Cobin says. “I usually treat myself to a burger, sweet potato fries and a milkshake.”
Week after the event: Long races can deplete your nutrient stores, so it’s important to consume an iron-rich diet to aid with recovery. “In the days following a big endurance event, that’s when I really try to up my intake of leafy green vegetables, quality grains, lean proteins, beans, vegetables—things that are going to replenish the nutrients that you most likely drained yourself with,” Linsey says.