What Elite Athletes Eat: Marathon Edition

For anyone racing a marathon, either for their first or fiftieth time, the pre-race dinner is always a hot topic.

What should you eat?

What should you avoid?

Is carb-loading really all it’s cracked up to be?

We may not have the exact answers, but what we’ve learned over time is that it’s best to eat what you’re used to, and that a carbohydrate-rich meal is a go-to for most runners.  There is a large Canadian elite contingent coming to race at the Canadian Marathon Championships at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, so we took the chance to ask them what fuels their fire the night before a big race.

Sami Jibril: When I’m out of town, maintaining a routine diet has its challenges. I personally try to pack at least one meal and snacks for long out of town races but when its not possible, and I am stuck in an airport with limited food options, I need to be flexible. I understand unhealthy food is better than no food, but healthy food (good fuel) is even better.

The most important factors I consider for selecting meals is food that is high in carbohydrates and easy to digest. The simpler the foods the better, and nothing unfamiliar.

Living in the Toronto and running STWM I have the luxury to eat a personal homemade meal the night before my race. I typically eat a heavy meatless pasta/spaghetti dinner with lots of veggies and I binge on fruits for dessert.

Leslie Sexton: My go-to meal before long runs and workouts when I’m at home is usually beef or chicken kabobs with grilled vegetables (splashed with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and linguine with pesto sauce. I love cooking on the BBQ during the summer because it adds a bit of flavour and usually requires less clean-up. And of course some chocolate for dessert!

Kevin Coffey:  The last supper isn’t much of a change from the usual meal before a focused long run. I never experiment with new foods and I try to keep the fibre as low as I can.  For my last meal before a big race, I will have Thai gluten free stir fry rice noodles with a simple tomato sauce and half a serving of chicken (60g-75g of carbohydrate) with a refreshing glass of sports drink (30g carbohydrate). I have found gluten free pasta works best for my stomach and it often has less fibre than whole wheat.

Catherine Watkins: My favourite pre-race food is simply chicken or salmon with brown rice and veggies. For the marathon, I’ll go heavier on the rice and lighter on the veggies!  If it’s a shorter race and out of town I find sushi is a great pre-race food. Usually a salmon roll, tuna roll, and avocado roll.

Natasha LeBeaud Anzures: Before a race, I love to have a giant veggie-packed salad topped with my all-time favorite food: beets.  I love a big serving of brown race pasta (I have Celiac disease, so I cannot have any gluten) with marinara sauce and a side of salmon.

Trevor Hofbauer: My pre-race meal while traveling is pasta with a cream sauce and chicken. Regular pasta with a tomato sauce is an appropriate alternative as well.  For STWM, I’m actually bringing my pre-race dinner with me from Guelph. It will be my staple carbohydrate meal; cornmeal, sweet potato, chicken breast.

John Mason: The night and even through the week leading up to the race I eat a lot of bread.  I eat a lot of bread in general, but even more in the last few days heading into a marathon.  In 2015 before STWM I ate 4 loaves of bread in the last 36 hours leading into the race, an entire loaf of bread for dinner as I was strolling the streets of Toronto.  Bread and butter really is my marathon “bread and butter”.