Where to Eat Before the Boston Marathon
This post was updated on April 7, 2017.
Marathon Monday is a major holiday in Boston, celebrated at restaurants around the city in the form of all-you-can-eat pasta specials in the name of “carbo-loading,” the idea that runners should cram complex carbohydrates to build up their energy before a big race.
The concept has roots: “Carbs provide the quick energy needed for endurance events,” says Lauren Mayer, a Boston-based registered dietitian. But instead of simply gorging on garganelli the night before the marathon, health professionals consulted for this story advise a more well-balanced—but still carb-heavy—diet, starting several days before the 26.2-mile jaunt. This allows your muscles to stock up on glycogen, Mayer says.
Dan Fitzgerald, founder and co-owner of Heartbreak Hill Running Company, agrees. “Ideally, [athletes] should have been fueling and hydrating for every long run every weekend throughout the training period,” he says. “When it comes to the taper and especially the weekend of the race, athletes are running much less. By running less and eating the same, they are loading. Sometimes there’s a rabid enthusiasm around carbo-loading, but three plates of spaghetti will leave one feeling sluggish. Stick to what worked in the training period.”
If Kelly Whittaker, a trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp and an avid marathoner, feels like carbo-loading, she times the pasta palooza two nights before the race, she says. But overall, she advises a well-balanced diet. Incorporate as many whole grains as you can into your carb consumption, and make sure you’re eating lean proteins, vegetables, and fruit, too, she says.
Like what? “Olive oil, tart cherries, turmeric, red onions, red and purple grapes, chia and flaxseeds, salmon and sardines, ginger, blueberries, and lots and lots of greens,” advises Boston-based registered dietitian Laura Hartung. These foods have anti-inflammatory nutrients. Mayer also recommends foods that are high in nitrates, like Swiss chard, arugula, and beets, for efficient oxygen flow to your muscles.
“Consume lots of water to make sure your body is well hydrated,” Whittaker adds. “Waiting until the day before is a no-no.”
The day of the race, Hartung suggests avoiding anything too high in fat or fiber. “These foods take longer to digest and may lead to issues during the run,” she says. Whittaker suggests eating two or three hours ahead of the run so that your body can digest. Mayer says to keep your typical morning routine. Good breakfast choices include cereal, fruit, toast, and yogurt.
Now, while plenty of runners may opt to eat in prior to the race, the following is a restaurant-hopping guide for pre-Boston Marathon munching. Please note: the aforementioned health professionals did not consult on these recommendations; they’re courtesy of your friendly neighborhood food editor—not an athlete, but knows good food.
Based on the advice from Mayer, Fitzgerald, Whittaker, and Hartung, here are a few restaurants where you can enjoy the festivities around marathon time in Boston, while also making good choices about fueling up before the big day.
“Eating a large meal can cause disruptions in digestion and sleep patterns, and we all need a good night’s sleep before the race,” Whittaker says. If you’re worried about having too heavy a meal before the run, consider a bright and flavorful cold bowl from Dig Inn in Back Bay. In honor of the New York import’s first Patriots Day, it has the Marathon Market Bowl on the menu from April 10-17. Whole wheat pasta and quinoa comprise the base for lentils, broccoli leaf, green beans, pesto, and breadcrumbs for added carbo-loading.
557 Boylston St., Back Bay, Boston, 617-904-3711, diginn.com.
At the James Beard Award-nominated South End spot, co-executive chefs Kevin O’Donnell and Michael Lombardi and pasta maker Stephanie Cmar make their pastas with flours freshly milled in-house. These grains retain their germ, which typically gets pulverized during conventional milling. The germ contains more nutrients and good fats, and more flavor. They’re offering a #PoundofPasta special during dinner on Sunday, April 16, to help runners (or any pasta lover) get ready.
569 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-536-9500, srvboston.com.
You’re here for the Moroccan steak tartare toast. “Yvonne’s carb game is on point,” Boston magazine critic Jolyn Helterman wrote in his 4-star review. The Moroccan steak tartare, in particular, hits all the right marks for marathon carbo-loading: a civil serving of crusty sourdough bread topped protein-rich beef, a sunny quail egg, and brightly spiced yogurt. Plus, it’s delicious. Need more of a meal? Try the lamb pita, a stone-fired swath topped with, among other things, spicy tomato sauce and yogurt, a good source of protein and gut-supporting bacteria.
2 Winter Place, Boston, 617-267-0047, yvonnesboston.com.
There is a consistently long wait at this classic East Boston red sauce spot, thanks to chef Anthony DiCenso’s house-made pastas and other Italian-American delights. (Recommendations from chefs in the pixels of Boston magazine, and a visit from Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, probably add to the allure, too.) Rino’s is open for lunch and dinner, and it also does take-out. As tempting as it might be, avoid the gigantic, cheese-filled ravioli for pre-race noshing, as the rich cheese takes longer to digest than lighter, vegetable-based sauces and fillings. Stick to DiCenso’s sautéed calamari over linguini smothered in his ideal marinara sauce, or the meaty bolognese.
258 Saratoga St., East Boston, 617-567-7412, rinosplace.com.
Rice is a complex carbohydrate that provides long-lasting energy. Executive chef Hart Lowry’s crispy kimchi fried rice is an addictive flavor bomb. Topped with green onions, nori, togarashi, Neuske’s bacon, and a protein-rich fried egg, it’s also a fine choice for elevating your carbo-load. The dish isn’t too spicy, but if your gut is sensitive, do keep in mind that stomach cramps can happen during endurance runs, according to Mayer. On Marathon Monday morning, the restaurant opens bright and early at 7 a.m. with a breakfast sando (house-made maple sausage, two fried eggs, and American cheese on a warm croissant) on special.
The Verb Hotel, 1271 Boylston St., Fenway, Boston, 617-670-0507, hojokoboston.com.
The latest from chef Jody Adams is just a block from the finish line. Fuel up the night before on pasta specials, in addition to favorites like squid ink bucatini. Looking for protein, potassium, and Omega-3s? Try the seafood stew, with hake, mussels, squid, and yellow eyed beans; and the hamachi tartare. On the morning of the race, Porto—and its beautiful patio—will open at 8 a.m. with breakfast sandwiches and coffee to-go, and a lunchtime patio party features the Island Creek Oysters Boat and more.
Ring Road, Back Bay, Boston, 617-536-1234, porto-boston.com.
For proper carbo-loading, why wouldn’t you visit the North End? At this spot, pastas and breads are sourced from the old-world panetteria and salumeria next door, and for the Boston holiday, a large plate of bolognese is on special.
241 Hanover St., North End, Boston, 617-248-6800, bricco.com.
Make time this week to load up for the weekend at this busy bagel shop. “Bread or a bagel with a little cream cheese or nut butter is a good option to fuel your body with carbohydrates that can be broken down quickly for energy,” says Hartung. Here, try one of baker Mary Ting Hyatt’s seeded wheat bagels with her house-made almond butter, a good source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, Omega-3s, and protein. Or—heckit—have a pizza bagel.
1796 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge, 857-285-6103, bagelsaurus.com.
After the race, have a snack high in carbs, with moderate protein, to help with recovery, advises Mayer. Chocolate milk is the runner’s go-to, but Shake Shack has a sweeter take on that. At the Newbury Street location, just two blocks from the finish line, try the Team MR8 Shake, vanilla custard with cold-brewed coffee and chocolate fudge. The special, available all day on Monday, April 18, is named for eight-year-old marathon bombing victim Martin Richard. All proceeds from the sale of the treat will support the Martin Richard Foundation.
234 Newbury St., Boston, 617-933-5050, shakeshack.com.