Even though marathon walkers don't have as much cachet as marathon runners, both are demanding endurance sports that require similar diets. As the Run the Planet website states, "Walking a marathon is both easier and harder than running a marathon." While the training demands are not as intense if you walk instead of run, you'll be on your feet for up to eight hours, much longer than runners. So eat what other endurance athletes eat and you'll power through the 26.2 miles with more energy and enjoyment.
As Marathon Guide.com explains, endurance athletes store glycogen, derived from carbs, as their major source of fuel. So your diet needs to maintain and replenish carbs during your training for a marathon walk. A total of 60 to 70 percent of total calories should be derived from carbs. The best carbs come from nutritious foods, rather than junk foods such as candy and soft drinks. Healthy carbs, primarily whole grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta, provide an excellent foundation for your diet. Add in lots of fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products to round out your glycogen-rich diet.
High-quality proteins are an essential part of an endurance athlete's diet. Protein builds and repairs muscles that are damaged during training. Your daily protein intake should total about 12 to 15 percent of your total calories. Good proteins include lean meat, fish, poultry, beans, eggs, tofu and nuts. Low-fat dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, are steller protein sources. But too much protein is detrimental, since it's an inefficient fuel source and it's relatively hard to digest.
Don't dread the "F" word: Fats, at least healthy fats, are good for you. Actually, good fats are essential. About 30 percent of your diet should come from fats, with less than 10 percent from potentially harmful saturated fats, such as bacon, hot dogs and red meat. The balance should be derived from healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados.
Hydration is critical for endurance athletes. The "Journal of Sports Science" notes, "carbohydrate and fluid intake before, during and after a workout may help to reduce fatigue and enhance performance." In fact, you need to drink before you become thirsty during workouts and races; otherwise, dehydration sneaks up on you before you're aware of it. A sports drink should supplement water, since it contains important electrolytes, such as sodium, that are lost during endurance training and events.
During a marathon walking race, hydrate often. Bring easily digestible foods or drinks, but try them out during your workouts to determine which work best for you in terms of digestion. Sports bars and gels, sports drinks, fruit and even solid foods such as sandwiches all are options. After you cross the finish line, eat and drink recovery foods within 30 minutes or so in order to replenish your stores of carbs and proteins and speed your recovery. A ratio of roughly 4 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein seems to provide optimal recovery. Chocolate milk is one highly recommended carb and protein source, since it contains essential amino acids as well as the ideal 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to proteins.
Endurance sports aren't for everyone. Run the Planet says marathon walking isn't a good idea for kids -- their growing bodies can't handle the long distances required to train or race. People on restricted diets aren't good candidates for marathon walking either. If you're pregnant, get your doctor's approval before training for or walking in a marathon.
- Marathon Guide.com: Marathon for the Endurance Athlete the Marathoner's Diet for Optimal Performance
- Medical News Today: Chocolate Milk's "Natural" Muscle Recovery Benefits Match or May Even Surpass a Specially Designed Carbohydrate Sports Drink
- Journal of Sports Science: Nutrition for Distance Events
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.