How to Eat Your Way to Your PR at the New York City Marathon
Nutritionists team up to offer essential tips for pre-marathon fueling, plus favorite restaurant picks for the city’s best race-week grub
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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to running the New York City Marathon. From travel logistics to gear choices and packet pick-up, there’s enough to manage without having to stress out about your nutrition.
Luckily, when it comes to race week grub in New York City, we’ve got you covered. Having an intentional plan for the big day could save you a whole lot of headache. It could also prevent you from searching for the closest porta-potty on race day and help you nail that next marathon PR you’ve been aiming for.
Here’s how best to navigate your marathon nutrition plan to set yourself up for success come race day.
New York City Marathon Race Week Lead-Up:
Three Days Out (Thursday)
Gradual Carb Increase Begins. The taper can bring a certain fear around fueling properly during race week. Due to decreased activity, many runners think they need to restrict food intake – often carbohydrates – to be as lightweight as possible on race day. Unfortunately, this approach can backfire, leading athletes to race depleted and without enough glycogen to power a PR.
Many athletes wait for the night before the race to carb-load with plates of pasta, but this is an outdated solution that can leave many runners feeling bloated and uncomfortable on race day. Recent research suggests a different, more gradual approach. The act of reducing training volume and intensity with the taper, combined with a 2-3 day carbohydrate increase, can be most effective at fully filling your glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate) without fatigue or gastrointestinal discomfort on race day.
In order to nail a gradual carbohydrate increase correctly, make sure you are consuming proper amounts and types of carbs. Carbohydrate increase recommendations fall between 5-12 grams per kilogram (.45kg = 1lb) of body weight per day. Try to figure out where your current carbohydrate intake falls before determining which end of the carbohydrate load range you will target.
For example: a 160-pound runner, that would be about 364-873 grams total each day. The sheer range and amount of carbohydrates here can be overwhelming without a little bit of planning. To keep your stomach happy, stick to simple carbohydrate choices. Examples include: white bread, pasta, white rice, crackers, cookies, candy, and cereal. You will also want to consider a slight reduction of protein and fat in order to accommodate for the extra carbohydrates.
Meghann Featherstun, registered dietitian and owner of Featherstone Nutrition, is a big proponent of a full carbohydrate load before any goal race over two hours. Nicknamed “The Bagel Queen,” she engages in the practice herself of using bagels as her carbohydrate of choice, sometimes consuming up to 9-12 bagels per day during a carb increase.
She states that if we are trying to get the most out of our bodies and fitness level at a race over two hours, having fully-stocked glycogen stores is imperative to success. She’s seen much success with the three-day approach and encourages runners to “chunk up” their total carb needs into 50-gram carb servings, rounding their carb needs up to the nearest 50 grams. This allows for an easier, less “counting” approach to a successful carb-load.
An Important Note About Hydration: Fueling before the race goes beyond carbs. Staying hydrated is key in the lead-up to the big day. Before you down that gallon of water, keep in mind that plain water does not hydrate as effectively as fluids that contain sodium or carbohydrate, or when water is consumed with a meal or snack.
Drinking too much plain water all at once can actually cause the body to excrete more than you have taken in, not helping with the hydration situation. To help the situation, try consuming fluids with an electrolyte supplement like Liquid IV, Ultima, or LMNT. If you want to get bonus points, hydration mixes like Skratch or Tailwind could help you both reach your carb increase goals and deliver the hydration you need.
It can be most effective to spread out your fluid consumption throughout the day, taking in 6-8 ounces at a time, versus 24 ounces all at once. If you have trouble remembering to drink, try to pair drinking and eating, giving yourself a target amount of fluids to consume with each meal and snack.
Two Days Out (Friday)
Continue doing your gradual carb increase on this day. Keep in mind that taking in carbohydrate-rich snacks can help with this process. While you are eating those carbs, make sure you don’t get tempted to step on the scale. For every 1 gram of carbohydrate you store, you’ll also store 3 grams of water.
The Day Before (Saturday)
You’re so close! In addition to carbohydrate and fluid goals mentioned above, you’ll want to also focus on the following:
Timing of Meals: As a general rule of thumb, count 12 hours backwards from your race start time, and that should be when you have your last large meal, not counting race morning fueling. This can be helpful to allow for the digestive process to run its course. Try and eat your dinner meal three to four hours before bedtime so that it doesn’t impact your quality of sleep. Keep this meal lower in fat and protein if possible, as these macronutrients take longer to digest.
Keep That Fiber Low: Due to the impact fiber has on the digestive system (hint: it gets things moving), it is advisable to keep fiber targets low the day before the race. Keep intake to a minimum by avoiding raw fruits and vegetables, only going for the cooked varieties, or by having them blended up into smoothies or soups. Carbohydrate sources should mainly be simple, easily digestible carbs (i.e. no whole grains).
Recommended Places to Eat in New York City, Before (and After) the Race:
Americano Café – 7 Navy Pier Ct, Staten Island, NY 10304
If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee and a casual breakfast, walking distance from the Staten Island Ferry, this is your place. It opens at 8 a.m. which is too late for race day but perfect if you’re checking out the island or plan to stay close by.
What to order: Banana Muffin and coffee.
Aubergine Café – 49-22 Skillman Ave, Queens, NY 11377
Pre-race meals are typically loaded with carbs, and this café offers a variety of options to top up your carb levels. If you want something sweet, try the peanut butter banana bagel. Savory choices include avocado toast or hummus toast topped with smoked salmon.
What to order: Peanut butter banana bagel and coffee.
Beatstro – 135 Alexander Ave, The Bronx, NY 10454
Eater NYC named Beatstro a top brunch spot in 2021. It features a variety of cross-cultural cooking styles and “celebrates the Bronx as well as its rich Puerto Rican and African-American presence,” according to Beatstro. The brunch menu offers delicious favorites like low country shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles, plus sides of andouille sausage, smoked bacon with hot honey, and more.
What to order: Kale salad plus “locrio,” a dish featuring shrimp fried rice and beans, sunny eggs, and kimchi.
Tra Di Noi – 622 E 187th St, The Bronx, NY 10458
Located on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy, Tra Di Noi is a traditional Italian restaurant serving pastas and homemade desserts among other traditional favorites. Be sure to visit the bakeries nearby after your meal!
What to order: Lasagna alla bolognese.
Sunday in Brooklyn – 348 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Sunday in Brooklyn is in Williamsburg, a neighborhood of Brooklyn that’s easily accessible via the East River Ferry. Check out this popular restaurant for brunch, a midday meal, or dinner. The brunch menu features a variety of sweet and savory choices, like hazelnut maple praline pancakes, a warm grain bowl, and the Sunday burger. If you drop in for dinner, you can choose from multiple pasta dishes like gnocchi and wood-fired lasagna.
What to order: shakshuka, a side of Sunday fries for the table, and your favorite drink.
La Bagel Delight Dumbo – 104 Front St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Go to Dumbo for the sweeping Manhattan views, stay for the yummy bagels from this unassuming bagel shop on Front Street. Choose from a variety of hand-rolled bagels, spreads, and other traditional bagel toppings. Order from the counter and head to Brooklyn Bridge Park for breakfast with a view.
What to order: Mrs. Bagel on a whole wheat everything bagel.
Frankies 457 Spuntino – 457 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
In the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn is this intimate Italian restaurant that offers a variety of house-made pastas. There are multiple pasta dishes to choose from, including a pappardelle with a lamb ragu, cavatelli with hot sausage and browned sage butter, and fettuccine puttanesca. You can even order a sampling of cheese with their mozzarella tasting.
What to order: Roasted vegetables with balsamic vinaigrette; sweet potato and sage ravioli in a parmesan broth.
Juliana’s Pizza – 19 Old Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Juliana’s Pizza is under the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side of the East River. The restaurant serves New York-style pizza that’s made to order and cooked in a coal-fired oven. Be sure to leave plenty of time, since there’s usually a line for a table.
What to order: Build-your-own pizza.
Old John’s Luncheonette – 148 W 67th St, New York, NY 10023
This luncheonette is a neighborhood institution and is conveniently located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan just under a mile from the finish line. Choose from classic favorites like a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a brioche roll, to sweet treats like challah French toast. The diner also offers lunch and dinner as well as classic egg creams.
What to order: Fruit waffle with berries and banana and latte.
Jajaja Mexicana – 63 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014
This vegan Mexican restaurant has multiple locations throughout the city and for good reason – it’s delicious. We guarantee even avid meat eaters will love their meal here. The menu features burritos, quesadillas, street tacos, and bowls, so there’s sure to be a choice for everyone in your group.
What to order: Beet and pumpkin empanada; enchiladas mole.
George Keeley – 485 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024
There’s no shortage of places to hangout after the race, but if you’re looking for a spot with a unique draft beer list plus bar food, George Keeley is a good choice. It’s about a mile north from the finish line in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
What to order: Feel good wrap; everything bagel fries.
Tap NYC – 267 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10023
If you’re looking for a post-race recovery drink, Tap NYC has exactly what you need. Choose from organic acai bowls or smoothies for a quick-and-easy boost. This location is a short walk from the finish line on the Upper West Side, and while it may be crowded when you arrive, it’s worth the wait.
What to order: Power Bowl.
Kylee Van Horn, RDN, is a licensed sports dietitian and competitive trail runner. Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, is a food writer, registered dietitian nutritionist, and specialist in sports dietetics.
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