The day before a marathon is more than just a pre-race pit stop. It’s a crucial 24-hour window where you strategically top off your energy reserves and set your body up for peak performance.

Get it right, and you cross the finish line feeling strong and triumphant. Get it wrong, and you could face muscle fatigue, digestive woes, and a derailed race.

Aside from the ‘eat this, avoid that’ dogmas. What to eat the day before a marathon is a personal dance between science and your unique dietary needs. In this guide, we’ll provide tailored recommendations for the best pre-marathon foods.

Carbohydrates: The Marathoner’s Foundation


For marathon runners, carbohydrates are far more than just a dietary element; they’re the bedrock of energy strategy. They fill the body’s glycogen stores in muscles and the liver, ensuring a steady supply of energy necessary for the demands of endurance activities. 

Also, carbohydrates are key in maintaining stable blood glucose levels, which is vital for delaying fatigue and sustaining endurance throughout your race. 

So, a sufficient intake prevents “hitting the wall,” a challenging situation where depleted glycogen stores force the body to inefficiently burn fat for energy, causing a significant slowdown.

Given the crucial role of carbohydrates, choosing the right types is important. Complex carbs are particularly beneficial for your pre-race meal as they provide sustained energy release. 

Here’s a list of complex carbohydrates for runners:

1. Whole Grains

Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates to sustain energy levels throughout the race. Unlike refined grains, they contain all parts of the original kernel–the bran, germ, and endosperm. 

This presence of fiber, nutrients, and phytochemicals enhances glucose metabolism and slows the absorption of food, preventing blood sugar spikes.

Examples are: 

2. Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates and calories compared to non-starchy ones. Most importantly, they contain more complex carbohydrates, providing a good source of energy for your marathon. 

Despite their higher carb content, they also contribute valuable vitamins, minerals, and fiber to your diet. 

Here are some examples of starchy vegetables:

3. Fruits

Fruits are generally known for providing natural sugars, primarily in the form of simple carbohydrates, such as fructose. However, some fruits also contain complex carbohydrates, along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

Its fiber content contributes to slower digestion and absorption, offering a more sustained release of energy. 

Here are examples of such fruits:

Quality Protein for Muscle Recovery

protein foods

While carbs take center stage, you still need to take in some protein the day before a marathon. It helps repair and recover muscle tissues, which is particularly important because of the repetitive stress that running places on the muscles. 

So, adequate protein helps in reducing the risk of injuries and aids in recovery post-training or post-race. However, not just any type, you should aim for lean protein sources. 

They provide the necessary protein without the added fats in richer types. Moreover, you can make about 15-20% of your calories from protein sources.

Here’s a list of good sources of protein for runners:

1. Poultry

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is a lean source of protein that provides essential amino acids. These meats are low in fat, making them excellent choices for marathoners seeking muscle repair and recovery. Two common ones are:

2. Fish

Fish is a valuable protein source, especially for its omega-3 fatty acids that support cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation. Examples of lean choices that offer high-quality protein for muscle recovery are:

3. Plant-based Proteins

Plant-based proteins offer alternatives for marathoners with dietary preferences. They are rich in protein, fiber, and various nutrients. These options also contribute to overall muscle health and recovery.

Here are some options:

4. Dairy

Dairy products are rich in protein and calcium. These options contribute to muscle repair and also provide probiotics for gut health.

Two good examples include:

5. Eggs

Eggs are a complete protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids, and are versatile in preparation. They can be boiled, scrambled, poached, fried, or baked, and also used in omelets, frittatas, and as a rich addition to salads and sandwiches. 

Proper Hydration Strategies

runner drinking water

Maintaining proper hydration the day before your marathon is essential for optimal performance and recovery. 

Here’s a list of hydration options tailored for marathon runners:

1. Water

Water is the most fundamental and vital hydration option. It’s essential for maintaining the balance of body fluids, facilitating digestion, and regulating body temperature. Ensure you are well-hydrated the day before a race by drinking plenty of water. 

A good indication of proper hydration is if your urine is a light yellow color. As a general guideline, it’s recommended to consume about eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily, which equates to approximately half a gallon.

2. Electrolyte-Rich Sports Drinks (without excessive sugars)

These drinks are formulated to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat during prolonged exercise.  Look for sports drinks that are low in sugars but high in electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

3. Coconut Water

Coconut water is a natural alternative to sports drinks and it is rich in potassium and other electrolytes. 

Also, it’s a good option for runners who prefer natural sources of hydration and electrolyte replenishment. However, it’s important to note that it may not contain enough sodium, the main electrolyte lost in sweat.

4. Infused Water with Fruits or Herbs

Infusing water with fruits is an excellent way to enhance the taste of water, encouraging more intake. 

Using a variety of fruits such as lemon, lime, berries, or cucumber, and complementing them with aromatic herbs like mint or basil also add vitamins and minerals to your water. This method turns a simple glass of water into a more enjoyable and nutritious hydration option.

Snacking on Nutrient-Dense Foods

In between your main meals, snacks will provide an added nutrition boost. But here’s the thing, you must choose options that combine carbs, protein, and healthy fats.

These are some close-to-perfect options:

Meal Timing and Portion Size

The approach to meal timing and portions plays a crucial role in a marathon runner’s nutrition strategy, especially in the days leading up to the race. Properly timed meals can help maintain steady energy levels, support glycogen storage, and prevent digestive discomfort. 

Here’s how meal timing and portions can be effectively managed:

1. Small, Balanced Meals Every 3-4 Hours

Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day helps maintain a consistent energy level and prevents large fluctuations in blood sugar levels. 

Each meal should be well-balanced, containing a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. This approach ensures a steady supply of nutrients and energy.

For example, a small meal might include a portion of lean protein (like chicken or tofu), a serving of complex carbohydrates (such as quinoa or sweet potatoes), and a portion of vegetables.

2. Portion Control to Avoid Overeating

Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid feeling overly full o, which can happen from overeating. In this case, using smaller plates or bowls can help in controlling portion sizes.

Additionally, listening to hunger cues is essential; eat until you are comfortably full but not stuffed. This helps prevent digestive issues and ensures that the body isn’t overloaded with more food than it can efficiently process.

3. Balanced Snacks Between Meals

Incorporating balanced snacks between meals can help manage hunger and maintain energy levels. Snacks should also be balanced, combining carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. 

For instance, an apple with a handful of almonds, Greek yogurt with berries, or whole-grain crackers with cheese are good options. 

Snacking can also be a way to ensure adequate hydration, especially when including fruits and vegetables with high water content.

Final Tips for Pre-Race Nutrition

The day before your marathon is critical. Follow an eating plan focused on quality carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. Properly fueling your body will provide the long-burning energy and muscle recovery you need to perform your best. 

With pre-race meal planning strategy, you’ll cross the finish line feeling strong. Trust in your training and nutrition planning to conquer the marathon.