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Nutrition and the Marathon

BY Hal Higdon

Proper nutrition will always be important for those participating in any endurance sport. When training for a marathon focus on the training, not losing weight.

Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


Can you share your thoughts on weight loss and training? Should it be much of a concern as I prepare for my next marathon? When I calculate my weight/height, I am on the border of normal/overweight. I’m not planning that race because I think it will help me lose weight, but the extra calories burned might allow me to tighten up just a little bit. Or is it more productive to just focus on the training itself?


You got it right. Put training ahead of diet—or at least ahead of losing weight. Proper nutrition (i.e., high carbs) will always be important for those participating in any endurance sport. Let me repeat that: Always! Nutrition and the Marathon: I’m not sure why that subject has spawned so many best-selling books. And too many of them, those pushing one fad diet or another, offer truly terrible advice. (For good advice, consider Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.)

From a scientific standpoint, losing weight is simple: a case of calories-in vs. calories-out. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. Guaranteed! If you consume more calories than you burn, the opposite: you will gain weight. Also guaranteed! Simple in stating; often very difficult in execution, particularly because runners often become ravenous following their long runs and start pigging out on simple carbohydrates (sweets) rather than the complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, veggies) that are better for good health as well as performance.

Nevertheless, you seem to already have figured out that it is more productive to focus on the training. A visit to a Registered Dietitian like Nancy might help you fine-tune your diet. If you train and eat sensibly, eventually you should approach your ideal weight.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.