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Marathon: preparation, supplements and nutrition

The marathon is considered the supreme discipline for runners. For many, the legendary long-distance race is not just a competition, but a way of life. Running a marathon and preparing for it requires both physical and mental strength. Long-distance runner Emil Zátopek sums it up with the following quote: "If you want to run, then run a mile. But if you want a new life, run a marathon."

In our blog post, we answer all your questions about the marathon and how to prepare for it.

Table of contents:
  1. Why is the marathon so popular
  2. How long is the marathon course?
  3. Am I fit enough for a marathon?
  4. How long do I need to prepare for a marathon?
  5. How to support your marathon preparation with nutritional supplements
  6. Amino acids and sports supplements
  7. The right nutrition before, during and after the marathon

Why is the marathon so popular?

The number of participants in marathons and half marathons increases steadily from year to year. Many running enthusiasts regularly take part in competitions and use them to exchange ideas with like-minded people, optimise individual best times or measure their training success. For some, the marathon is also a personal challenge to prove their own stamina and motivation. Others need the competition date as a means of exerting pressure to muster the necessary discipline for regular running training.

You can find marathon dates in almost every city or region. If you prefer something more spectacular, the New York Marathon is one of the most popular long-distance events with 40,000-50,000 finishers and is the highlight of many runners' marathon experience.

The history of the marathon

You probably know the Greek legend on which the origin of today's marathon is based. A messenger ran the distance from Marathon to Athens - around 40 kilometres - to report the Athenian victory. After proclaiming his message, he collapsed dead.

Read more about running in the blog post Running: Everything you need to know.

How long is the marathon course?

The marathon is the longest Olympic running discipline. In 1921, the course length was set at 42.195 kilometres. On average, men need around 4:21 hours and women 4:42 hours to complete the marathon course. The current world record is 2:01:39 h for men and 2:15:25 h for women.

Am I fit enough for a marathon?

Have you been running regularly for 18 months? Do you run 2-3 times a week and cover at least 25 kilometres in total? If you can answer "yes" to both questions, then you fulfil the basic requirements for a successful marathon participation. Have you just started running or have you only been running for a few months? Then you should first try a 5 or 10 kilometre run or a half marathon at the most. Even if you are very disciplined and highly motivated, bear in mind that your tendons and joints also have to adapt to this strain and that this requires a certain amount of running experience.

Anyone who suffers from high blood pressure or has orthopaedic problems should not take part in a marathon. It is generally advisable to have a medical check-up before taking part. A marathon run is an enormous strain on our cardiovascular system, which in the worst case can lead to cardiac arrest. As in the Greek legend, deaths occur again and again after the finish line.

What you should never do after a marathon

After intense physical exertion, the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline increase dramatically. This can lead to cardiac arrhythmia and even cardiac arrest. Experienced runners therefore know that they should never simply stop after reaching the finish line, but always run out.

How long do I need to prepare for a marathon? Absolute beginners need to plan around 1.5 years for a marathon. If you already have enough running experience and regularly cover sufficiently long distances, you can plan for less time. Around three months is the recommended preparation time. During this time, you should cover at least the marathon distance every week. Have you already successfully run 30 kilometres in one go several times in training? Then the chances are good that you will successfully cross the finish line in the marathon.

How to support your marathon preparation with nutritional supplements

Running a marathon is an extreme challenge. But it's not just the race day that is challenging, the intensive training - especially in the last few weeks - also pushes the body to its limits. It is therefore important that it gets enough regeneration and rest phases. You can only maximise your performance if you recover optimally. In addition to sufficient sleep and relaxation, you can also support your body with the right nutrition. You need more energy, protein and micronutrients due to the high training load during the preparation period.

Marathon: you need more of these nutrients If you train a lot, you sweat a lot. The first priority is therefore to balance out the minerals that are lost through sweat. These are mainly sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as smaller amounts of zinc, iron and iodine.

In addition, a high intake of antioxidants (vitamins C and E) is essential, as the increased metabolic activity and energy supply leads to an increase in free radicals (known as oxidative stress). In addition to vitamin C, fruit and vegetables also provide many secondary plant substances. These include polyphenols, a group of particularly effective free radical scavengers. You can find them in red berries, dark chocolate or green tea, for example. Vitamin E is mainly found in nuts and vegetable oils.

You can read more about how a vegan diet can help you prepare for a marathon in the blog post Vegan nutrition in professional sport.

Vegan nutrition in professional sport

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The enormous physical exertion makes the body more susceptible to infections. To strengthen the immune system, marathon runners should therefore make sure they have a sufficient intake of iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and vitamin A. Endurance itself also appears to benefit from vitamin D. According to a study, a higher vitamin level is associated with better performance. Read more in the blog post New study shows: Vitamin D improves performance.

Vitamins B12 and B6, iron and folic acid are also essential for performance. They are involved in the formation of red blood cells and ensure normal oxygen transport in our body. The B vitamins (including vitamins B1, B2, niacin, panthothenic acid and biotin) also play an important role in energy metabolism. Athletes therefore have an increased requirement.

To cover your micronutrient requirements, you can also take supplements such as our Sport Essentials. These have been specially designed for extreme exertion and support your regeneration and immune system.

Omega-3 fatty acids support regeneration

Omega-3 fatty acids are also antioxidants and can therefore absorb oxidative stress. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and have a positive effect on regeneration. For example, one study found lower blood concentrations of inflammatory markers (e.g. TNF-α) after exercise. You can find more information on omega-3 fatty acids in the blog post Omega-3: Why athletes benefit from taking it.

Amino acids and sports supplements


L-carnitine is the most popular supplement in endurance sports. The dipeptide transports long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria (= power plants of the cells), where they are used to generate energy. Carnitine also acts as a buffer system and thus counteracts the accumulation of lactic acid (lactate). This prevents premature fatigue and muscle soreness. Carnitine is found in food almost exclusively in meat. Vegans and vegetarians in particular can therefore benefit from supplementation.


BCAA are among the essential amino acids and must be obtained from food. The so-called branched-chain amino acids are of particular interest to athletes. BCAA are not only involved in building muscle, but also serve as a source of energy for muscle cells. BCAA can provide support during intensive training sessions in particular. If the carbohydrate stores are depleted, they serve as an emergency reserve and prevent the breakdown of the body's own protein. BCAA also support regeneration. Studies show that the amino acids reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and promote muscle protein synthesis.

You can read more about BCAAs in the blog post BCAAs: muscle building and muscle protection.


Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in muscles and blood. Glutamine is considered a semi-essential amino acid. Although the body can produce it itself, this is not always sufficient in certain situations (e.g. illness or intensive training). Glutamine can be converted into glucose and serves as an energy supplier for the muscle cells in the event of a carbohydrate deficiency. After strenuous physical activity, the glutamine level in the blood drops significantly. Those who train intensively therefore benefit from supplementation. Taken before training, you have more energy - taken after the workout, it supports your regeneration. In particular, those who train on an empty stomach should take glutamine before training, as it protects against the breakdown of valuable muscle protein.

Glutamine also plays an important role in immune defence, as it is not only involved in the formation of immune cells, but also serves as a source of energy for them. You can find out more about glutamine and boosting the immune system here.

The right diet before, during and after a marathon

A marathon pushes the body to its limits. The right diet can help to mobilise the last reserves of energy during the competition. The body primarily uses carbohydrates (more precisely: glucose) and fatty acids to generate energy. The longer the exercise, the more fatty acids are used to generate energy.

7-4 days before the competition: Carboloading

To maximise the amount of energy available, the carbohydrate stores in the liver and muscles should be filled to the maximum. Carboloading is used to increase the storage capacity. This involves reducing the proportion of carbohydrates in the diet around 7 days before the competition - while maintaining a high training intensity. This has the effect of emptying the carbohydrate stores. 3-4 days before training, you increase your carbohydrate intake again (over 60%, e.g. in the form of pasta or rice) and only train lightly. This results in supercompensation, whereby the carbohydrate stores can be filled above the normal level.

On the day of the race

You should eat your last meal around 2 hours before the start so that you start with a stable blood sugar level and digestive processes do not put you under strain. The meal should be easy to digest and high in carbohydrates.

Also important: a balanced fluid balance. Therefore, drink enough before the start - but only take in a small amount of liquid shortly beforehand.

During the marathon, you lose around 3 to 4 litres of sweat. You therefore need to keep replenishing fluids and electrolytes during the run. Plain water is not suitable here. On the contrary: if you drink water without electrolytes, you risk cramps and dizziness. Isotonic/slightly hypotonic drinks with a glucose content of 80 g/l and a sodium content of 0.4 to 0.8 g are ideal. This combination maximises water absorption in the intestine. About 400 ml should be drunk per hour.

Carbohydrate gels or energy bars are suitable for providing quickly available carbohydrates. It is best to test whether these are tolerated during training. The golden rule during the marathon is not to eat or drink anything that has not been tested for stomach tolerance beforehand.

The loss of fluids and the depletion of carbohydrate stores limit your performance the most. You should prevent both during the run in order to perform optimally.

After the race The most important thing after the run: replenish fluid and electrolyte losses and replenish carbohydrate stores. A carbohydrate-rich, easily digestible meal should be eaten within the first two hours after the end of the marathon.

Protein is also important to promote recovery and repair muscle micro-tears. Protein shakes from Nutri-Plus can help here. The targeted intake of individual amino acids - especially glutamine and BCAA - can also help to promote regeneration. The Nutri-Plus V-Loader is ideal for this. It combines quickly available carbohydrates with protein, individual amino acids and micronutrients.

Running a marathon weakens our immune system enormously. To prevent an infection, you should therefore change your clothes as quickly as possible. A high protein intake supports the immune system in producing important immune cells.

Do you prefer running off the beaten track? Then take a look at our blog post on trail running. Walking and trail running

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