Expert’s Guide To Marathon Training For Beginners

Training for a marathon requires changes in lifestyle and diet, and a whole lot of discipline and determination.

Published On Apr 07, 2021 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024


Whether you are a runner at heart or not, if you want to stay en vogue with the millennial marathon culture—also the new health trend doing the rounds—be doubly sure that the decision to run a marathon is not taken on a whim. Unless you've been following actor and marathoner Milind Soman on social media, and know that marathons are a part of his daily routine. In fact, his fitness resolution for 2018 was running a seven-hour marathon every day. Yes, you read that right. That's how many hours one's expected to stay at work.

To make things clear – the decision to run a marathon is the easiest one in the run-up to the actual running. After that, sets in the reality of prepping for the run, which demands lifestyle changes, discipline, dedication and determination. These are the four key elements that maketh a runner.

One cannot simply make it to a marathon or even get to the start line without enduring months of hardship–blisters, sore muscles and exhaustion. If you are thinking about participating in a marathon, and don’t have a game plan, fret not.

We’ve got Lovneet Batra, a Delhi-based sports nutritionist (and runner) and Rajeswari Shetty, Head Dietetics, SL Raheja Hospital - a Fortis Hospital Associate, to help you get to the finish line, and mark that much-awaited marathon off your bucket list.


The worst idea you can come up with is to just go out and start running. You need to have a plan in place or else you may under-train and not be prepared or over-train and cause an injury. A good place to start could be the doctor’s clinic to ensure that you are healthy enough to run.

Go for a complete physical test (Batra suggests the following - calcium, vitamin B12 and D, iron, magnesium, transferrin saturation and kidney profile) and discuss any injuries or health concerns with your doctor. The most important tool that you can invest in, after your health, is the right pair of shoes. Invest in a good quality pair of shoes that fit well, offer adequate support and cushioning.

Batra recommends a well-spaced out training routine to make sure you gain both, strength and stamina, before the big run. Batra suggests starting three months prior to the day of the marathon and running five or six times a week. She says, “I train for 6 days, followed by a rest day. For two days, it’s a 4 km long run; the next three days, I double the distance to 7-8 km, and once a week, I go for a long 15 km run.” To avoid too many long and dull runs, she does a session of circuits for strength training before every run. 

However, if you have never trained for a marathon before, it’s important that you listen to your body. If you develop muscle soreness (and you will), you may want to go easy on your workouts for the next training session. It’s important that you carry out a training schedule that is safe and effective.

To stay dedicated, you can join a running club or training program. You can always join a group of other runners and train together to keep up the energy levels. If you are a novice runner, it’s always better if you run a few shorter races, prior to committing yourself to a marathon. Doing so will give you the experience you need to take your running to the next level.

As part of your fitness plan, include exercises for strengthening your body, especially your abs and lower back to avoid pain and injuries.

As you train, you may need to make other lifestyle changes too. Batra says, “It’s important that you fix your sleep timings, avoid skipping meals, drinking alcohol and smoking.” As the race day approaches, it’s best to not do anything or make any big changes to your otherwise normal routine.

Since rest is key to preparing for a marathon, it’s important that you get more rest than usual, and go to bed earlier the day prior to the run. Batra suggests getting a good eight hours of sleep and recommends taking a break from the training.

During marathon training, you happen to burn more calories, and therefore following a proper diet to make up for the loss is crucial. Running or any kind of workout increases the appetite, as the body tries to maintain its weight homeostasis. Shetty explains, “More calorie consumption during marathon training can help maintain your muscle protein and your blood sugar levels.”

If you are not looking to lose weight, you’ll need more calories during the day, so it's better to spread them out throughout the day with small meals every three to four hours. This will help maintain your energy levels throughout the day, curb hunger pangs and reduce your risk of overeating at your next meal.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends half of your plate to be fruits and vegetables at all meals. “Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption ensures that you are getting a healthy and mixed source of carbohydrates, antioxidants, fibre, and other essential vitamins and minerals, that promote optimal health,” explains Shetty. However, to make the most of health-benefiting fruits and vegetables, eat a variety of different colours.

To meet your desired protein intake which Batra explains is 85 to 80g for males and 75 to 80g for females, consume protein-rich foods such as fish, meat, beans, nuts, whole grains, egg whites, and some vegetables such as amaranth to repair damaged tissues, ensure that you. Apart from these, Shetty suggests energy drinks, fruit juices, nutri-bars, trail mixes, milk and milk products (shakes, smoothies, paneer, low-fat cheese, lassi, etc), whole grains and pulses.

While Batra’s breakfast usually consists of a bowl of paneer and sprouts, her mid-morning snack consists of a fistful of nuts with pomegranate or an orange. For lunch, she prefers a simple meal of dal, rice, sabzi. In winters, she says, this could be substituted by a bowl of yoghurt along with some millets khichdi. “In the evenings, I try to have a fruit—a chickoo or a banana smoothie with flaxseeds—while dinner is a bowl of sabzi with paneer and roti or paneer and dal cheela with sabzi. Before going to bed, I have a cup of turmeric milk,” says Batra

Your pre-run meal—what you feed your body right before you hit the road—is important as it determines your performance and endurance. On days that Batra trains, she ditches her cup of coffee for a glass of fresh coconut water, along with 30ml wheatgrass juice and 30 ml amla juice. Staying hydrated at regular intervals is the key to ensure you replenish the body with vital fluids.

“For a run that’s longer or more intense, a pre-workout snack is critical as it may cause gastrointestinal distress and can also reduce your endurance by leaving you fatigued,” explains Shetty. Having a banana is ideal as it is light yet filling. However, if it’s on the day of the marathon, it’s best to stick to a banana or a glass of coconut water 45 minutes prior to the event, recommends Batra.

“Staying well-hydrated prevents decreased coordination, muscle cramping and keeps the joints adequately lubricated to prevent any wear and tear,” explains Shetty. Staying hydrated can also control cravings as it is easy to mistake thirst for hunger.

While 8-10 glasses are what’s recommended, to know if you’re adequately hydrated, Batra recommends the Hydration Urine Test—very pale yellow to clear to know if you are well hydrated.

Moreover, while we all know that water is essential for hydration, it is not the only way. There are other sources – fruits and vegetables with a high water content such as cucumbers, apples, watermelons, and more, and drinks such as buttermilk, coconut water, lemon juice and more - that do a pretty good job at helping replenish the body's fluids.

This is vital for replenishing lost energy levels and plays a significant role in helping the body recover. After a long or high-intensity session, it is recommended to eat within the first 30 to 45 minutes, says Batra. “Eating a combination of foods rich in carbohydrates and proteins helps to rebuild the muscles after exercise,” says Shetty.

She suggests opting for foods like steamed or boiled rice, bananas, oats smoothie, or a peanut butter sandwich. Non-vegetarians can turn to boiled eggs or a chicken sandwich. Within 30 mins of finishing your big run, Batra suggests treating your body with a whole egg and one glass of milk or a glass of milk with two moong dal cheelas or simply one scoop of whey protein mixed in a tall glass of water.

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