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Marathon Training: What to Eat

The Mysterious Eating Habits of the Olympic Long Distance Runner

If you eat like an Olympian, perhaps you'll run like one too. We discover the essential nutrition needed for long distance running by taking a look at the diets of professional athletes. The ultimate goal of their nutrition is endurance. It's not just what they eat, but when they eat, how often they eat and how they combine various food groups. Grazing patterns of the Genus Athleticus have been monitored and studied; the amazing foodie findings revealed here.

If you need a running programme to match this eating plan, get past Olympic athlete Cornelia Burki's personal Marathon Training Calendar.

Consistent winners, Kenyan runners have proven to be the most elite endurance athletes. The secret to their success must lie on the plates before them: what are they eating? Does Team Kenya employ a legion of Nutritional consultants? Do they swear by Patrick Holford’s Low GI tips? Does Gillian McKeith lurk outside their toilet doors? No!

Kenyan Marathoner, Victor Kipchirchir KebeneiKenyan Marathoner,
Victor Kipchirchir Kebenei

Key features of a Kenyan runner’s diet:

  • Five meals a day
  • A meal every 2 - 3 hours between 8am and 7pm
  • Always eat within one hour after workouts
  • No nutritional supplements
  • Very small amounts of meat only four times a week
  • Approximately 3,000 calories per day
  • High in carbohydrates (± 600g per day)
  • Low in fats (± 46g per day)
  • High in sugar (± 133.5g per day)
  • Protein (± 75g daily) mainly from beans and milk
  • More tea (± 1.25L per day)
  • Than water (± 1L per day)


The Kenyan menu offers little variety with bread, boiled rice, potatoes, cabbage, milk and beans. The only richer flavour is Ugali, corn-meal paste balls in various dipping sauces, which you may not find at your local grocery store.

The long-running star of Team GB, Paula Radcliffe offers a more tasty mix of foods in her daily diet. Along with about three litres of water, her daily nutritional intake will often include:

Team GB Runner, Paula RadcliffeTeam GB Marathon Runner, Paula Radcliffe
  • Black coffee
  • Toast with honey or almond butter
  • Cereal with chopped banana and almond milk
  • A poached egg
  • Apple juice
  • An avocado or tuna sandwich
  • Baked beans on toast
  • A fish curry
  • Fruit salad with soya yoghurt


In short, eat simply and eat often. Now you’re all set to emulate Olympic runners in the kitchen and dining room, and before long you’ll be more like them on the road. On your marks, get set, GO!

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Andrea Melidonis

Andrea Melidonis

It was in the shadow of her father, a shipwreck salvage diver, who has sailed most of the seven seas that Andrea first became interested in ''the world out there''. She travels at a slow pace enjoying markets, restaurants and other culinary pursuits that make food her regular travel writing subject. An avid pedestrian, she has explored some of the greatest cities from the ground up - coming across intriguing architecture, fun events and the local gossip. Happy roughing it in more rural areas too, Andrea's accounts make for interesting reading.