Diet for Marathon Runners – Fat

Why do you need fat?
Fat provides the body’s major store of energy. Most humans have several weeks’ worth of fat reserves. Fat spares protein so that protein can be used for tissue synthesis instead of as an energy source. Fat holds the body organs in position and protects them. It also insulates the body and aids in the absorption and transport of fat-soluble vitamins.
Marathon runners should try and keep fat to a minimum. As a general guideline, the daily intake of fat for an athlete should be between 70-100g. Larger, more active men are at the upper end of this range, while women are at the lower.
Prepare meals with minimal added fat (especially saturated fat) and salt.
Fat provides a concentrated source of energy. Your body requires some fat for essential functions. However, too much can contribute to being overweight, heart disease and other health problems, even for athletes who can burn off the extra energy. Eating too much fat leaves less room for the other much needed nutrients like carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins and minerals. It is undesirable to cut fat out of your diet completely, instead, try to reduce your intake if levels are high.

Hints to reduce fat:

  • Go easy on foods with hidden saturated fat, for example, fried fast foods, pastries, pies, high-fat cakes and cookies, chocolate, butter and cream.
  • When having take-out choose low-fat options.
  • Choose low-fat snacks.
  • Buy lean meats and trim off any fat you can see.
  • When you have chicken don’t eat the skin and fat.
  • Keep the meat, chicken, fish or egg part of your meal to the recommended serves using breads and cereals and fruits and vegetables to bulk out your meal.
  • Use low-fat milk and milk products, for example, low-fat yoghurt, Edam cheese, mozzarella cheese or alternatively, use less of richer cheese like tasty and mild.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods, for example, grill, bake, barbecue, microwave, steam. A non-stick frypan can come in handy.
  • Use a non-stick spray or add a little water to the pan to stop food from sticking.


Did you know that there are two types of fat?
Saturated fats are generally of animal origin. They are known to raise cholesterol levels, contributing to heart disease. Saturated fat is found in butter, cream, cakes, pastries, cheese, ice cream and the fat on meat.
Unsaturated fats come from plants and fish. Unsaturated fats can be further divided into monounsaturated (eg: canola, olive, avocado, nut and seed oils and margarine) and polyunsaturated fats (eg: sunflower, soybean and fish oils and margarine). Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help reduce cholesterol levels.
Remember, mono and polyunsaturated fats contain the same amount of fat as saturated fat – it is just the type of fat that is different.

Choose pre-prepared foods, drinks and snacks that are low in fat (especially saturated fat) and salt.
Take-out, fast foods, and high fat, high salt snack foods are often the easier alternative when you run out of time. Choose healthier options.

Healthier fast foods include:

  • Sandwiches and filled rolls with salad and lean meat. Ask for no margarine or butter.
  • Fruit
  • Yoghurt
  • Sushi
  • Kebabs
  • Chow mein
  • Hamburgers (when choosing at the fish and chip shop).
  • Subway instead of McDonalds, Burger King, Wendies etc

Alternatively if you have a little more time to make your own home-made fast foods like hamburgers, pizzas, burritos, tortillas and baked stuffed potatoes using low-fat ingredients. Home-made fast foods are quick to make, cheap and taste even better than the bought variety.

Healthier snacks include:

  • English muffins, toast or pita breads with toppings like jam, relish, tomato, cottage cheese, baked beans, spaghetti or corn.
  • Crackers (rice and/or water crackers) with relish, cheese, sliced cucumber and tomato.
  • Fruit bread.
  • Toasted sandwiches with spaghetti, baked beans, banana or creamed corn.
  • Breakfast cereal.
  • Fruit smoothie.
  • Soup.

Maintain a healthy body weight with regular physical activity and healthy eating.
People come in all shapes and sizes. By taking part in regular exercise and following healthy eating patterns you will be at a healthy body weight that suits you. As a marathon runner you generally should be better position than most in this regard.