Fuel properly before, during and after your half marathon in order to run your best race ever!
Fueling is a key to any successful race. What you choose to put in your body, even a week before the race, can help you run your best possible race and aid in recovery. If you have a race coming up, you should be thinking about what to eat before, during and after.
Don’t wait until the day before the big race to start thinking about fueling your body. Instead, start adding extra calories to your meals in the week leading up to the half marathon. A mix of both carbs and protein is important. Starting a race with a full store of carbs can improve performance and endurance so make sure to fill up on grains, starchy vegetables and fruits the week before the race. Also, as you consume more food during the week before the race, your protein levels should also increase as your portions become larger.
Many people make the mistake of waiting until the night before the race to eat their big meal. Try making lunch your big meal of the day before the race, instead. This gives your body more time to process nutrients, lowers the risk of stomach problems and can even help you sleep more soundly. Pasta is still often considered one of the best pre-race meals but instead of having it for dinner, eat it for lunch the day before the race and opt for a lighter dinner that evening, instead.
Related Article: How To Fuel For Workouts and Runs
What you choose to eat the day of the race, however, is just as important as what you eat the week before. In the two to four hours before the race, eat protein and simple carbs and drink water or sports beverages. Avoid high fiber, fatty and new foods, which can cause digestion problems. Good choices for pre-race foods include bread, bagels, cereal, fruit, and small amounts of peanut or almond butter, low-fat cheese, low-fat milk or a fruit smoothie. The hour prior to the race should just include moderate consumption of water, sports beverages, energy gels or energy chews.
During the race, it is recommended that you consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. Suggested energy foods to eat during the race include bananas, orange slices, energy, granola or fig bars, dried fruit and even LifeSavers, Sweet Tarts and gummy bear candies. Make sure to rotate between drinking a cup of water and a cup of sports drink every fifteen minutes to restore fluids and electrolyte levels but to avoid too much sodium from just sports drinks and over-hydration from just water.
Related Article: Editor’s Picks- Fuel We’re Obsessed With
Following the race, make sure to get a mix of high-carb and moderate-protein into your body as quickly as possible. A 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein is recommended. Good food choices at the finish line should contain both simple carbohydrates for quick energy and complex carbohydrates to level out your insulin levels. Your body is nearly completely depleted in carbohydrates and you need to replace them as soon as possible. Suggested food choices following the race are bananas, fruit, yogurt, milk, muffins and bagels. Also, soon after the race, try to eat a full meal that contains lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and some fats. Your body is craving calories and nutrients. Replacing them as soon as possible will aid in your post-half marathon recovery and repair and rebuild any muscle damage.
Fluids are just as important as food, after a half marathon, so make sure to consume sports drinks or other beverages containing electrolytes and nutrients, along with water. Drinking just water could further dilute your blood and increase your risk of over-hydration. Some good post-race drinks are sports drinks, soft drinks, juices or chocolate milk.
Proper training, along with eating and drinking right before, during and after the race should help you run a successful half marathon and result in a speedy post-marathon recovery!
Related Article: Recover and Replenish After Workouts With These Foods
- The Start-to-Finish Guide to Fueling for a Half Marathon
- How to Prepare for a Half Marathon: Half Marathon Fuel Strategy
- Half Marathon Fuel Strategy
- What to Eat During a Marathon Race
- Other Half Marathon Products
- How to Prepare for a Half Marathon
- 4 Great Energy Gels for Long-Distance Running
- How to Fuel For Running a Half Marathon
- Your general diet
- What are electrolytes?
- How much should you drink?
- How do I know which one is best for me?
- Energy gels
- Why take gels at all?
- What if I hate eating or am not hungry after a run?
- What should I eat the morning of a half marathon?
- Products from Amazon.com
- Half Marathon Race Fueling Strategy
- Practice your half marathon nutrition plan on your long runs
- Further Reading:
- Download your copy of my Half Marathon Fueling Strategy Cheat Sheet:
- What is your preferred fueling strategy?
- Half marathon nutrition guide
- How much is 30 g/h?
- Gastrointestinal Issues
- Common mistakes on race day
- A few extra points
- What Runners Should Eat While Training for a Race
- Two Weeks Out
- Three to Four Days Before the Race
- The Night Before
- Race Day
- During the Race
- After the Race
- If you’re running a half marathon:
- If you’re running a marathon:
- READ MORE: How to Develop a Race Day Fueling Strategy
- Week before the race
- 48 hours before the race
- READ MORE: What You Need to Know to Run a 1/2 Marathon
- Race morning
- READ MORE: 8 Common Marathon Mistakes to Avoid
- READ MORE: Expert Tips for Optimal Race Day Fueling
- Days following race
- READ MORE: Good Food = Good Medicine
- 24 hours before your race…
- The morning of your race…
- What are the Best Foods to Eat the Week Before a Marathon
- Marathon Rule #1: Never try anything new on Race Day
- 5 days from the race
- 48 Hours before the race
- 24 hours and before
- 18 hours before the race
- 4 hours and less
- RunnersConnect Insider Bonus
- Do You Need to Fuel During a Half Marathon?
- How often do should you fuel?
- Foods to Eat During a Marathon Explored
- Natural Energy Gels
- Easier on the Stomach Energy Options
- Whole Food Running Fuels
- Are sports drinks enough?
- What about Caffeine on Race Day?
- The Day Before The Race: Eat Some Carbs
- Race Day Morning: What to Eat for Breakfast
- During Your Race: Half Marathon Fueling & Hydration
- After Your Race: Recovery Snack
- The Bottom Line
- Very few people are able to run a marathon without fueling during the race. In this guide you will find the most important recommendations for designing a marathon nutrition plan.
- A marathon requires preparation
- Start out a couple of months ahead
- Long runs are for practicing
- 3-4 days before
- Make a list of foods you normally try to avoid and eat them. They are fully allowed now.
- The day before
- Stick to the usual – and add a little extra
- Be careful about completely replacing your meals the day before a race, for instance by switching entirely to white bread. Stick to what you usually do and add a little extra instead.
- Race day morning
- During your marathon
- Your carbohydrate stores will last only for 90-120 minutes of running. If you drain your carbohydrate stores completely you will hit ‘the wall’ so you need to fuel before this happens.
- If you lack sugar your pace will slow down. If your stomach aches you might not be able to run at all.
- Gels, bars, or bananas?
- Nyd dit løb!
The Start-to-Finish Guide to Fueling for a Half Marathon
Photo: Getty Images / Mario Tama
The arrival of spring means we’re welcoming tulips, rain showers, pastels-and running season! Sure, binge-watching Queer Eye while running on the treadmill all winter had its moments, but nothing makes me happier than getting outside with the rising temps and signing up for a spring race.
Whether you’re running the SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon or a race in your area, it’s officially time to start thinking about the part of your training that happens while you’re not actually hitting the pavement: fueling. Lacing up and logging miles may only be an hour or two out of your day, but fueling requires more thought, planning, and know-how. Although the topic of fueling for a long race may sound overwhelming, this handy guide will help you build a strategy that will soon become second nature. (And if you’re the type of person who works better with guidance and supervision, you might also want to consider meeting with a sports dietitian in your area.)
Here, your guide to fueling for a long race-starting from the beginning of your training all the way through eating for recovery after you cross the finish line.
If you’re a first-time marathoner, the concept of “fueling” may be unchartered territory. Even if you know the basics of healthy eating, food for sport is a different animal. These simple tips-which can be applied as you increase your mileage throughout your training and up until race day-are a great place to start.
Carbs are the #1 fuel source.
You’ve probably heard about carb-loading (or became a runner solely because of it). While training for a half marathon, carbs are your friend because they are your primary fuel source for running. You need to eat enough of ’em so that your body can store them in something called glycogen, which resides in your liver and muscles. Those stores and the carbs you eat will provide energy during your long runs. (Related: Can We Please Stop Hating On Carbs Already?)
What you eat depends on when you eat.
Fueling isn’t quite as simple as binging on bagels. You need to consider the timing of your meals in relation to your run. As a simple rule of thumb, eat a complete meal with carbs, some protein, and a little fat two to three hours before a run-something like a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, and cheese will do the trick. Within an hour of your run, stick with simple carbs-a piece of fruit, white bread, or a glass of juice.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
This is where I see first-time marathoners stumble the most. Hydration is just as important as eating. Not only should you be drinking water while running, but it’s important to drink enough water throughout the day. The simplest way to tell if you are hydrated is to check the color of your urine. A pale yellow means that you’re hydrated, while a dark apple cider vinegar color indicates dehydration. (More on that here: How to Stay Hydrated When Training for an Endurance Race)
Indigestion is bound to happen.
As you increase your mileage, your stomach will probably rebel. “Just like you train your muscles to run long distances, you also need to train your stomach to digest fuel during exercise,” says Chrissy Carroll, R.D., a USAT Level I Triathlon Coach. The indigestion will eventually subside with proper meal timing and if you keep fat and fiber to a minimum, adds Angie Asche, R.D., of Eleat Sports Nutrition.
Race Day Fueling
Once you know the basics of fueling, race day isn’t all that different from training. What you should take into consideration for a 13.1 is how you’re going to fuel your muscles once those glycogen stores are used up. That’s where sports products come in. Just be sure to see how your stomach will react on your long runs-and never try anything new on race day. “One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is not testing out their fueling choices early in their training,” says Carroll.
As a country with an obesity crisis, sports drinks come in for a lot of criticism. But they’re formulated to enhance athletic activity for endurance sports, and they’re a crucial tool. For runs lasting longer than an hour, the body needs supplemental carbs, fluid, and electrolytes to maintain energy. “Sports drinks are great race day fuel because they check all the boxes-hydration, simple carbs, and electrolytes,” says Asche.
Gummies and Gels
These sports products usually offer a shot of sugar and caffeine, but they lack in fluid. “In the case of gels … these are concentrated carbohydrate sources, so runners should consume water with these products to avoid getting an upset stomach,” says Asche. She also suggests taking a glance at the race map beforehand to time your gel or gummy intake with the fluid station. (Related: 12 Tasty Alternatives to Energy Gels)
You did it! You made it through the training and race day, but there’s still a little more work to be done-if you can call eating brunch work. The recovery period after a half marathon is within one hour, a window of time that’s critical for taking in the necessary nutrients to make you feel as good as possible tomorrow. Here’s what you should focus on:
Carbs and Protein
Although everyone is obsessed with protein, carbs are just as important for running recovery. Glycogen stores only last for about an hour, and they need to be refilled for tomorrow’s workout. Think of your muscles as the gas tank and carbs as the fuel. For the engine to start up again tomorrow, you need to refill it with carbs. Protein also helps to repair tired muscles. One of my favorite post-race meals is an egg sandwich on whole-wheat toast with a side of fruit. The eggs provide protein, while the toast and fruit restore glycogen.
Your stomach may be a bit wonky immediately after your race, so eating fibrous fruit may be a no-go. But if you can tolerate it, add some fruit or veggies filled with antioxidants into the mix to reduce inflammation in your legs. If you can’t tolerate these types of foods within an hour after the race, be sure to add some to your dinner. (Related: Exactly What to Do-and Not to Do-After Running a Half Marathon)
Chances are you’ll finish the race somewhat dehydrated, so it’s important to keep drinking plenty of those sports drinks-the sodium is crucial to replace all the electrolytes you’ve sweat out. Aim to have one 16- to 20-ounce sports drink immediately after finishing and another within the next hour. Continue until you’re rehydrated. Remember that you’re looking for a pale yellow urine color, even after the race.
- By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD @NutritionalaNat
How to Prepare for a Half Marathon: Half Marathon Fuel Strategy
Everyone knows that nutrition is a huge part of running a fast marathon, that you can’t really make it through a marathon without some kind of fueling, but what about those of us who are running a half marathon?
That is still 1-3 hours of running, surely that needs some nutritional attention?
Yes, I definitely believe it does,
Half Marathon Fuel Strategy
One of the most important half marathon tips I can give you is to make sure you know what to eat during a half marathon that will work for you.
Half Marathon Fuel Before Running
This is one of the most critical parts of getting the half marathon meal plan right is that in the days leading up to the race, you are only eating those foods you know your body handles well.
I would recommend practicing your pre half marathon dinner at least 3-4 times before the race. If you are not able to practice, it should be something you know your stomach will be happy with as it is used to running hard after you eat it.
Sometimes that means keeping it incredibly boring (hello, plain pasta!). I would recommend doing it the night before every long run in the few months before your race.
You have to ask yourself:
Would you rather eat a boring meal or have to go to the toilet mid run (and feel horrible!).
I know what I would choose.
What to eat the night before a half marathon and what to eat for breakfast
When it comes to what to eat, it really is personal preference, but the night before a half marathon, I like to have a few baked potatoes with butter. I told you it was boring!
Before the Indy Monumental Half I had a McAllister’s Giant Spud with cheese and chicken.
The morning of the race, I will eat a large sweet potato with almond butter three hours before the race. You will need to test out the timing that works best for you. I like three hours, but you may need more or less time depending on how you feel.
If you are planning on taking on fuel during your race, you can probably get away with around 300-500 calories before the race, if you run 1:20 or under so will not be needing fuel, try to have 500-800 calories.
All runners need to start practicing pre race meal for the morning of the race. Before race day, you should have tried this out 5-6 times minimum, including the 2 tune up races. If you notice a stomach upset, considering trying it with more time before the workout (yes, even if that means getting up earlier). If a product upsets your stomach more than twice, consider switching.
What to Eat During a Marathon Race
Half marathons are a little more tricky than marathons. Although there are less miles for something to go wrong. Many half marathoners sit right on the borderline of whether they can get away without eating.
That being said, I would recommend if your half marathon time is 1 hour 20 or slower, you should definitely be consuming fuel during the race. if you are under that time, it might be a case of personal preference.
At least a month before your race, I would recommend looking at the race website, do they have a fuel along the course? That might be an easy option for you to not have to carry anything. Purchase that product and start to practice with it for every long run and every hard workout.
If you find your stomach gets upset, consider a different brand. You won’t need as many or as much as you would in a marathon, so it should be easier to carry with you.
If you do not like that brand, or you find your stomach gets upset more than three times with that product, try something different. Once you find one you like, stick with it!
A note for anyone with stomach upsets:
I have NEVER heard of anyone having an issue with stomach upset when using Generation UCAN. If you have had gastrointestinal issues in the past, I would strongly recommend it. You can also make it into “gels” by mixing it into either these Hammer bottles or just mixing a scoop/packet into 3-4oz water in one of these ziplock bags and squeeze the air out. You can easily rip off the corner, and consume it.
Using the code RUNNING4REAL will give you 10% off.
Whether you use Generation UCAN, the fuel available on the race course, or something else, you must start practicing from the beginning.
That means you get the practice of taking it when you are fatigued, and ideally, you should take as many as you intend to in the race, at the intervals you intend to for the race.
How many energy gels for a half marathon?
If you are going to be using gels in your half marathon, once again, you will have to decide what works best for you and your body.
If you are going to take fuel every 40 minutes in the race, fuel every 40 minutes in your long runs and workouts. If you intend to walk through the water stations, take the fuel in between your repeats.
In workouts, you want to practice taking them at speed. During your long runs, you will mostly be going slow enough to take it comfortably, but it is a LOT harder to take it moving fast, so practice that too.
With gels, you must make sure to practice drinking too. Gels must be consumed with water.
Half marathon drinking strategy
I have definitely converted to liquid fuel during races, and is easier in every way than gels. I find I don’t have the sugar highs and crashes, and I as I mentioned, I have never heard of anyone having an upset stomach with the product I use.
Another good thing is that you don’t have to worry about taking water separately, as it’s mixed in with the UCAN.
Practice the liquid fuel the same as I mentioned with the gels above. Take it at the intervals you intend to use during the race, and in your workouts at race pace or even faster than race pace.
You want to practice with the volume you intend to use during the race. Around 5-7oz at a time is good for most people taking it every 20-40 minutes.
Practice by placing bottles along your running route, on walls, benches, or even on the floor. It is worth the few seconds you lose in your workout to bend down and pick it up. I have done some runs where I just do loops, or go back and forth, so I can practice my fuel.
When I practice, I usually mix up my own solution in smaller bottles, and carry them in my Saucony Bullet Shorts and Capris for long runs and workouts. Those hammer bottles I mentioned above are ideal for this. These shorts/capris are wonderful too, you won’t notice the bottle at all, really! It doesn’t bounce or move, and I cannot recommend them enough.
How do you eat and drink during a half marathon?
I mentioned I use Generation UCAN CranRaz Superstarch for my marathons, but as my half marathon PR is 1:13, I am just about okay to run without fueling.
However, if I could go back, I probably would have added fuel in there, as it was definitely long enough to need it, and I wonder if I would have run better with it.
Oh, and Meb uses UCAN, just thought you should know 😉
Other Half Marathon Products
Those are the main things you need to nail down, but I would just like to suggest a few other products for you to consider.
I have talked a lot about EnduroPacks in the past. For half and full marathons their Electrolyte Spray is ideal, and I put it in my Saucony Bullet Shorts during my races to spray into my mouth. You can also spray it into any water of your choice, I just find it easier to go right to the source!
If you struggle with electrolyte imbalance cramps, this will be a lifesaver.
You can use coupon code TINAMUIR for 15% off.
I only started using this about half a year ago, but it is a life changer if you find that you need a mental pick me up in the final few miles of your race.
It feels like you have had a shot of caffeine injected into your veins, and you will notice a sudden ZING when it works its magic, you will feel wide awake!
It can be a little tough to chew, and I found that out when I was racing the Indy Monumental Half, but it was well worth it for the energy buzz.
Run Gum also has Taurine and B12 vitamins, which are great for energy.
What other products do I use during a half marathon?
I like to carry the EnduroPacks bottle in my shorts, and spray 10 times into my mouth around the half way point, and take it with some water. You might want to take it more if you struggle with cramps.
I like to use RunGum around 10 miles to give me a wake up for those final few miles.
I don’t have coffee every day, but I do drink it for workouts and long runs. I like to have a cup of coffee 2 hours before my run, and on race day I drink it 2 hours before my race. It is important to practice this part too!
How to Prepare for a Half Marathon
This is the king of rookie errors, but definitely worth reminding you!
It is VERY important to decide which shoes you want to wear for your race at least a month before the race day, as you will need to wear them for at least 50 miles to get your feet used to them. I love wearing the Saucony Fastwitch for half marathons, and I will do my warmups in my Saucony Kinvara or Saucony Ride.
Just so you know, Molly Huddle likes Saucony Type A. Jared Ward also wears them too.
I recommend using your racing shoes at least one long run and your tune up races or a few workouts.
The remainder of your long runs, you can probably just use your training shoes. It would be even better to wear your racing shoes for all your hard days, but only if you have a second pair you can transition in with a few weeks to go. Just make sure you get at least 3 workouts in the new pair before you race.
You should also wear your race day outfit (all of it, from sports bra to socks) at least two times during your workouts to make sure nothing chafes. I would recommend you do this on your longest run of the training segment, to make sure it feels good.
If anything rubs, be sure to put vaseline in that area every time you wear that in the future.
The more you can control and practice on race day, the less things there are to go wrong. Then you really know you have prepared as best you can.
What do you practice before race day?
Training for a half marathon isn’t just about planning out your runs over the course of several weeks. It’s also about planning out your nutrition, figuring out how to fuel for the half marathon, and getting your prerace meal squared away. And that plan doesn’t start on race day. You want to practice all of your nutrition and hydration strategies during your training to ensure you have a solid plan for the half marathon. Below are expert-backed tips for the three most important aspects of fueling for your race.
1. The Carb-Load
You might be wondering if it’s as necessary for 13.1 as it is for 26.2. Honestly, it can’t hurt. A carb-load prior to a half-marathon needn’t last as long or be as intense, but it is still important and will have a positive impact on your race performance. Technically speaking, carb-loading really comes into play any time you are out on the road for more than 90 minutes. Carb-loading tends to lead to a bit of stiffness (because your muscles are fully stocked with glycogen) and weight gain (water retention), so for events shorter than 90 minutes, it’s not recommended.
Since most of us take longer than 90 minutes to complete a half marathon, my recommendation is that you carb-load in the days prior to the race. You can carb-load in as little as one day, but to prevent carb fatigue and the worry of, “am I taking in enough?” aim to start two to three days before the half marathon.
You don’t necessarily need to increase your calories—just make sure the majority of those calories come from carbs, especially at lunch and dinner the day before race day. Given time, your body can digest, absorb, and store the nutrients. That way, you’ll be able to rely on those fuel stores on the next day’s run. The day before race day, have your main meal at midday and a smaller meal for dinner so you have plenty of time to digest.
2. The Prerace Meal
The meal before the race is also very important, as you want to toe the starting line with a tank that’s primed but neither empty nor overflowing. While you are at rest, your body will have adequate time and energy to absorb and store those nutrients you ate, and then you’ll be able to rely on this fuel for the following day. The same goes for the day before your planned long runs. And don’t forget to eat a carb-rich, low-fiber, easy-to-digest, familiar breakfast the morning of the race!
3. During the Race
Now that we’ve covered carb-loading and what to eat before the race, it’s time to tackle the final question: “How do I avoid running on empty in those last few miles of the race?” As you may have noticed during your training, when you’re on the road for fewer than 75 minutes, you can usually rely on water, sports drinks, and your body’s own glycogen stores to carry you along. Any longer, and you begin to deplete those stores. Your muscles run out of fuel, and your body—not to mention your attitude—starts to drag. Consuming carbs mid-run can keep your blood sugar steady, so you don’t crash and burn.
Of course, don’t try anything new on race day. Since every runner is different, you may want to try multiple strategies during your training. Maybe all of them will work, and you’ll have plenty of options to thwart the feelings of weakness in those last few miles.
If you wait until you’re out of gas, and you won’t be able to recover from feeling hungry or weak. Your muscles will be forced to play catch-up, and you won’t be able to bounce back and finish the run feeling strong. If you’ve ever had a long run that started strong and then got slower and slower, it may be time to consider what you did during the first few miles of the long runs that you didn’t do during the last few miles. Many runners head out the door with a full tank but, feeling great, they neglect to re-fuel over the next few miles. If you don’t start fueling within that first hour, it’s likely that your empty tank will catch up with you, and you’ll bonk. Not only will you hit the wall, but once your muscle glycogen stores are depleted, it can also be very difficult to adequately recover during your run (and you may have to walk or crawl the last few miles). My advice: Aim for 30 to 60 grams of carb per hour (and start using your chews, gels, or sports drinks early and often).
4 Great Energy Gels for Long-Distance Running
GU Energy Gel, 24 Count amazon.com $32.97
A wide variety of flavors keeps your palette happy.
CLIF SHOT Energy Gel Double Espresso, 24 Count amazon.com $19.96
A quick hit of caffeine for when you need it most.
Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gel, 8 Pack Variety amazon.com $14.31
Organic, gluten-free ingredients you can actually pronounce.
Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel, 21 Pack amazon.com $25.23
The slightly thinner consistency is easy to get down.
You also don’t want to be afraid of fueling. Maybe you’ve tried a product in the past and didn’t care for it or it didn’t sit well with you. If that’s the case, know that there are always new products coming out. Don’t be afraid to experiment with a few different products and see what works for you.
Whatever concentrated form of fuel you are taking in, remember to dilute it with adequate water (or else it won’t be absorbed, and you will get nauseous). Lastly, find out what gel or product your race will be handing out. If you can tolerate it or like the brand, you’ll know that you won’t need to pack your own on race day. But if the chosen brand doesn’t work for you, you’ll need to plan ahead. In addition, you might try to find out at what miles the race will be handing out product and mimic that in your training to practice for race day.
How to Fuel For Running a Half Marathon
© Martinmark | Dreamstime.com
When preparing for a distance running event, one of the most important and critical things you can do for your training is getting the proper nutrition.
Proper nutrition includes both hydration and fuel. Getting the right fuel in your body is like getting the right fuel in your car. If you don’t take good care of yourself, you won’t be able to reach your real potential.
Proper fuel isn’t just during your run but also includes both before and after. We can break down fuel into a few different components:
Your general diet
Your overall diet is basically everything when you aren’t working out. You don’t need to eat perfectly 100% of the time, but it is essential to build in plenty of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Your peak training is not the time to diet or attempt to lose weight otherwise you’ll end up injured, hurt, or fatigued.
When you’re running, hydration is paramount. While some might prefer water, in the summer, or when racing hard, it’s essential to have a beverage with electrolytes.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that contain both sodium and carbohydrates. Most runners sweat during workouts and so the amount you hydrate should reflect your sweat rate. Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, or Nuun are some of the best ways to replace electrolytes you lose when you sweat.
How much should you drink?
Generally, most runners should consume about 4-8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes for runs that last more than 60 minutes.
How do I know which one is best for me?
There are a lot of things to consider when picking out a sports drink including caffeine, content, and sugar. For those who prefer something with calories, Gatorade and Powerade are excellent choices. For those who are looking for something without calories, Nuun is a great option.
It’s also important to take into account how much caffeine you are consuming with gels. Some people can handle more caffeine than others so pay close to attention to your gels. Everyone’s body reacts different to caffeine and the last thing you want is a headache in the middle of the race due to caffeine.
Another essential factor is flavor: Choose what you like the taste of!
If you get into longer races, chances are you’ll need an energy gel, block, or gummy. Gels are an easy way to get energy while running. They are relatively simple to eat. These days, there are hundreds of gels, chomps, gummies, and bars out there.
Remember to consume your energy gels with water or you might deal with an upset gel. Do not consume gels and an energy mix together, most peoples bodies reject that. I made that mistake during a half marathon several years ago, and had stomach cramps for several miles after.
Why take gels at all?
Your body only stores a limited amount of carbohydrate in your muscles. When it runs out, it needs replenishing. The job of an energy source is to replenish depleted stores of glycogen.
Your body doesn’t just “consume a gel,” and you get instant energy. It takes time to process the gel and convert it into glycogen. This means the timing of your gels is essential.
Each person is different, so the speed that we need calories is different. The best way to figure out your needs during hard workouts is by trial and error. For a half marathon, I suggest having the gel in the first 45 minutes of your run. See how your body reacts and respond accordingly.
The most important rule is don’t try a new gel on race day. Like anything, it’s important to practice. There are plenty of choices, so find one that works best for you.
I’ve personally known friends to use honey, Swedish fish, or candy instead of gels. The last thing you want is to ruin months of training by trying a new gel.
After a hard workout or race, it’s important to have something to eat. Many professional athletes will tell you they are willing to eat anything after a run, just to get calories back in.
Just be sure to get a high carbohydrate snack or meal within 30 minutes of your workout. If you’re on the go, energy bars or fruit are good options.
Another option for after a run is a protein bar. Protein bars can help both muscle repair and recovery. Protein bars are better post-run nutrition versus for a snack before or after a run.
What if I hate eating or am not hungry after a run?
Many runners don’t like eating directly after a run. There are plenty of options for you too! You can consider a recovery drink. Chocolate milk is one of the most well-known and simple recovery drinks.
There are plenty of smoothie recipes online too. Just be sure to find a drink that is loaded with both carbohydrates and protein.
While training and logging the miles is necessary, what you eat and consume during significant training cycles is just as important. Without proper nutrition before, during, and after a run, you won’t achieve your potential in your goal race.
Tell us some of your favorite runner-friendly foods!
Hollie Sick is an avid runner who’s completed more than 40 half marathons. Read her blog, or follow her on Facebook.
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Half marathon nutrition planning can make or break your race day. You need a proactive fueling strategy to feel and perform your best.
You can fuel properly, nourish your body, and sustain your fastest pace to cross the finish line with a new personal record, or you can fail to follow time-tested fueling guidelines and hit the wall miles before the finish line. If you haven’t hit the wall before let me tell you—it isn’t fun.
Training for a half marathon and putting in the miles is imperative, but these race day fueling tips can make the difference between feeling great through the finish, or crashing and burning halfway into the race.
I’m going to answer your most commonly asked questions about half marathon fueling, and walk you through designing your race day fueling strategy.
What should I eat the morning of a half marathon?
On the morning of your race, design your breakfast around one of the 5 best pre-race breakfast foods. I typically design mine around 2 of those foods. Before I race, I prefer to eat oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter, Nutella, and a sliced banana.
Your race morning nutrition timeline should look like this:
- 2-3 Hours Before Start: Eat breakfast. 1-4 g of carbs per kilogram of body weight
- 1-3 Hours Before Start: Hydrate. Drink 12-16 ounces of water, sports drink, or juice.
- 1 Hour Before Start: Stop drinking. This will allow you to “empty out” your bladder before the race begins.
- 1-2 Minutes Before Start: Consume 1 gel and 4 ounces of sports drink.
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Consuming a gel and some sports drink minutes before the start is a cheat every runner—even those with a sensitive stomach—can easily employ because your body is still at rest.
Half Marathon Race Fueling Strategy
Fueling during a half marathon is comprised of two major components: carbohydrate and water. Carbohydrate is necessary to restore the glycogen in your muscles and water is necessary to prevent the decline in performance that comes with dehydration.
How much water should you drink during a half marathon?
The most common advice for fluid and water consumption during races is to drink by thirst.
“Research has shown that runners typically consume 13 to 27 ounces per hour when they drink by thirst.”
The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald
However, I would caution you to not wait until you are really thirsty to start drinking. When I ran my first half marathon, I skipped the first several aid stations because I felt great. By mile 10, I was so thirsty that all I wanted to do was drink water.
Start drinking early in your race and be consistent.
How much carbohydrate should you consume during a half marathon?
Runners should consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour during a half marathon.
Training coach and certified sports nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald suggests that runners should consume at least 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour to see benefits. He also notes that as much as 60 grams and up to 90 grams are more beneficial in longer races.
“Many runners cannot stomach 60 grams of carbs per hour.”
The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald
Basically, consume as much as your stomach can handle without causing GI issues.
The average amount of drink given out at aid stations is 4 ounces. You can use this number against the number of aid stations at your race to calculate how many grams of carbohydrates you are likely to consume via sports drink, and how much you should supplement with a gel or other carbohydrate source.
The average gel contains around 25 grams of carbohydrate.
Putting together your race day fueling strategy
With the above guidelines, you can piece together a nutrition plan that works for you. Everyone will be different in what their stomach will tolerate, so you need to test different options and see which one works best for your body.
Race Nutrition Options:
#1 Sports Drink + Gels + Water
This is the most preferable option.
Using the average of 4 ounces of sports drink per aid station, you can calculate how many grams of carbs you are likely to consume if you drink at each aid station.
To determine this, you need to know how many grams of carbs are provided in one ounce of the official race drink and how many aid stations on the course will be distributing it.
After you figure out how many of carbs you will consume through sports drink, you can supplement those carbs with gels and drink water to thirst.
#2 Gels + Water
When you don’t have the luxury of choosing which sports drink is provided at the aid stations (aka pretty much every non-elite runner), and your stomach doesn’t agree with the sports drink provided by the race, you can rely on carrying gels that work for you, and hydrate with water at the aid stations.
Simply use the figure of how many grams of carbs your type of gel contains (the average gel contains 25 grams), and figure out how often you need to consume a gel during your race.
#3 Sports Drink Only
This is the easiest option if the official race drink is acceptable to you and you don’t tolerate gels well. Also, it would remove the need for you to carry anything with you on the race course.
Practice your half marathon nutrition plan on your long runs
Never try anything new on race day.
DON’T try ANYTHING new on race day.
NEVER TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!
Ok…I hope you got the message.
If you notice the theme of the above nutrition discussion, your half marathon nutrition strategy will largely be determined by what your stomach can tolerate. The great majority of runners experience some kind of increased GI stress from running. Trying to eat while running just makes things less tolerable than if you were eating at rest.
However, the energy demands of a half marathon or marathon require most of us to consume carbs while we run.
Trying something new on race day, without practicing beforehand to know if your stomach can handle it or not, is just asking for your race to be ruined by unwanted stomach pains and worse—runner’s trots.
At least if you try it during one of your long runs, you aren’t jeopardizing your race if it goes south. By practicing your nutrition routine and fueling strategy BEFORE race day, you can be confident knowing that your chosen nutrition won’t upset your stomach at an inconvenient time.
If you’d like to dive deeper into fueling your body beyond the wall during your next race, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald covers the topic in depth.
Download your copy of my Half Marathon Fueling Strategy Cheat Sheet:
When you’re new to the fueling game, it can be overwhelming. There are SO MANY different products out there. It can be tough to know where to start (not to mention expensive if you get it wrong and have to throw something out).
Here are the products that I personally use, and recommend for you.
With 60 calories, 15 grams of carbs per serving, and great taste, Nuun Endurance is the perfect mix for powering through your long runs!
One of my favorite gels for fueling long runs are Honey Stinger Gels. They have some great flavors, are gentle on my stomach, and east-to-use. One caveat: you must love honey to use these gels.
Another gel I’ve tried recently is Huma Chia Energy Gels. The packages are a bit bigger, but they pack the same amount of calories. Huma gels don’t have the strong honey flavor of the Honey Stinger gels, and I have to say the Huma gels are slightly easier on my stomach.
Generation UCAN also has a Performance Energy + Protein drink that is perfect for post-run recovery. Drink it within 30 minutes of finishing your run. It helps me fend off the crazy hunger that most runners experience right after finishing a run, plus it helps get the nutrition my muscles need to jumpstart the repair and recovery process.
Low Calorie Hydration
When you need to replenish your electrolytes without all the calories of a sports drink, Nuun Sport is the perfect thing for the task. They come in several different delicious flavors, but Strawberry Lemonade and Tropical are my favorites. The tubes are convenient to carry, the flavor is great, and the calories are low so you can drink as many as you need/want!
What is your preferred fueling strategy?
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About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>
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Half marathon nutrition guide
For a half marathon or other 1-3h event, nutrition can be an important factor. It is helpful to have a nutrition plan and to be prepared for your race. Many half marathon runners experience problems that are nutrition related and can be prevented easily.
In this article, we will briefly discuss carbo-loading and breakfast, then move onto the nutrition basics, a few general rules of nutrition and some of the most common mistakes.
Carbo-loading is a technique that aims to optimize carbohydrate stores often in the days leading up to an event. For a half marathon no extreme carbohydrate loading is required. It is important to go to the start with carbohydrate stores full (and definitely not depleted), but this can be done by eating a normal amount of carbohydrate (The day before a meal that contains pasta, rice, or potato would work well). It is not necessary to eat large amounts. You want to go to the start line nice and light but with enough energy!
Breakfast is probably one of the most important parts of nutritional preparation for a half marathon. Ideally a breakfast is consumed 3-4 hours before the race and contains at least 100 grams of carbohydrate and has a low fiber content (especially for those who often get stomach problems). Good sources of carbohydrate for breakfast, that are very easy to digest, include white bread with jam, bagels, cereals that are low in fiber, and if stomach and intestinal problems are never an issue, oatmeal and muesli. A good breakfast makes sure that carbohydrate is stored in the liver and this will make sure blood sugar does not drop during your half marathon.
The nutritional issues during a half marathon are:
- Running out of Fuel
Hitting the wall, bonking, or just not being able to keep up the intensity during the last part of the race.
- Becoming Progressively Dehydrated
Becoming progressively dehydrated to an extent where this will limit performance. This is a problem in hotter races.
- Gastrointestinal Problems
Such as stomach cramps, bloating, etc. that can have a negative impact on your performance. This is a common problem and sometimes related to taking in too much nutrition during the run.
Your main fuel for an event like this is carbohydrate, especially if you are completing the race under the 2 hour mark. Your body stores contain roughly 500 grams of carbohydrate (this is 2000 kcal) and in theory this should be enough to get you to the finish line. To make sure there is enough energy, it is often recommended to take between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour (1, 2). This carbohydrate can be in the form of a bar, a gel, chews, or a drink. If you use solid foods, make sure fat, protein and fiber content are low (no more than a few grams). What foods and which forms you use is entirely up to you and your personal preferences. Faster athletes tend to use more liquids and less solids because it can be difficult to chew at high intensities.
How much is 30 g/h?
To give some idea of what 30 grams per hour equates to, it means that for every hour of the race you would need one of the following combinations:
- 1 gel and a small amount of sports drink.
- 0.5-1 bottle 750 ml of a sports drink.
- 1 energy bar.
For more accurate calculations check the food labels of the products you are going to use for exact amounts.
Especially in hot environments dehydration can definitely be a very important factor and can have a devastating effect on performance. During a half marathon drinking to thirst is a recommendation that will work fine for most athletes. However, some athletes want to be a little more prepared and they will work out ow much they will sweat in the conditions of the race and use this to guide their drinking. The aim here should be to prevent a weight loss (sweat loss) of greater than 2% of body weight. For someone who does not sweat much, this may mean they hardly have to drink anything. For a heavy sweater it may require a bit of planning. If you want to find out how to best measure your sweat rate visit Sweat Rater. Don’t drink excessively, and use common sense. You definitely want to avoid weight gain, which clearly would be a sign of drinking too much. Don’t forget that good hydration starts before the race, and hydrate well in the days leading to your race.
A large percentage of athletes, approximately 20 to 50 percent, experience gastrointestinal problems during a half marathon. Some of these problems are very minor but some of these may be so severe that they will affect performance. Some athletes are more prone to develop these problems than others. The complaints may be totally independent of food intake and sometimes they may only happen on race day. This suggests that “race day anxiety” has something to do with it. Studies have also shown that factors like fibre intake, fat intake and the use of very concentrated carbohydrate drinks are causes of gastro-intestinal discomfort (3).
Common mistakes on race day
Sticking to a plan at all cost. If for some unforeseen reason you cannot follow the plan (for example you are developing gastrointestinal problems), do not continue with the plan at all cost. Be flexible and adapt. A slightly lower intake is not going to be a problem, forcing more nutrition in can will.
Trying new things on race day. It is common to see athletes walk around at expos, buying new products for the race the next day. Only use products that you have tried and tested, products you know you tolerate well.
Thinking that more is better. Drinking more, eating more is not always better. Sure, you have to take in enough energy and enough fluids, but once you achieve the basic needs, more is not necessarily better and in some cases detrimental.
So it is important to plan ahead and have a rough idea where you are going to get your carbohydrate from (drinks, gels, bars).
A few extra points
- Sodium losses in a race like this are unlikely to affect performance in the vast majority of athletes (4), so sodium supplementation should not be a priority. Too much might cause gastrointestinal problems.
- Caffeine (low dose: 3 mg/kg one hour before; equivalent of a big cup of coffee or 2 espressos before the start) may help some athletes. Some athletes like it, some don’t.
- Experiment in training and find out what works for you. It is important to train your race nutrition plan in the weeks leading up to your race (8-10 weeks preferred).
These are the very basics of good fueling for a half marathon. Many athletes don’t get the basics right and many athletes are too concerned with other aspects and get distracted by details (such as supplements), without paying enough attention to the basics. Ensure you first have the basis covered.
The next step is that the plan becomes fully personalized, but this is a little more advanced and may require a few measurements.
- Jeukendrup, A. E. Nutrition for endurance sports: marathon, triathlon, and road cycling. J Sports Sci 29 Suppl 1: S9199, 2011.
- Jeukendrup, A. (2014). A step towards personalized sports nutrition Sports Med 44 Suppl 1: 2533, 2014.
- Rehrer NJ et al. (1992) Gastrointestinal complaints in relation to dietary intake in triathletes. Int J Sport Nutr. 2(1):4859.
- Baker LB, Jeukendrup AE. (2014) Optimal composition of fluid replacement beverages. Comprehensive Physiology. 4(2):575620.
What Runners Should Eat While Training for a Race
Whether you’re taking part in a major marathon or the local 5K Turkey Trot, it’s natural to be a little nervous to toe the starting line. Have you done everything you can to prepare? You have logged many miles, on trail and treadmill, to get ready. But nutrition for runners is different than an everyday diet, and you’ll need to prepare for that too.
” nutrition should be part of your ongoing training, not something you start to do only in the weeks leading up to the race,” says Kathleen Porter, MS, a registered dietitian and longtime runner from New York City. She offers some guidelines for runners to follow. (While you’re at it, use these tricks to improve your running technique.)
The number of calories you need to consume daily depends on the duration and intensity of your workouts. One fun fact on nutrition for runners? You’ll burn roughly 100 calories for every mile you run, depending on your size. If you run four miles, you’ll burn about 400 calories more than you would have if you hadn’t exercised.
You’ll want to eat enough so you don’t feel faint or weak toward the end of your workout, but don’t use running as an excuse to eat everything in sight. Unless you’re a high-mileage runner, your daily calorie needs aren’t going to be dramatically higher than a non-runner’s. You might want to consult with a sports nutritionist who can help you tailor an eating plan that’s right for you.
Porter suggests aiming for the following breakdown for your daily meals:
To optimize your training, when you eat as almost as important as what you eat, says triathlete Cindy Sherwin, a registered dietitian and personal trainer. Within an hour of finishing your run (and ideally within 30 minutes), you should refuel with a snack. (Related: 6 All-Natural, Energizing Foods for Endurance Training)
When it comes to nutrition for runners, Sherwin recommends that the post-jog snack contain carbs and protein at a ratio of roughly 4-to-1. Her suggestions: a slice of whole-grain toast with peanut butter and jelly, or some fruit with half a cup of yogurt.
“What you’re looking to do is replenish your glycogen stores so you can be ready for your next workout,” says Sherwin. “The maximal uptake of glucose is in those first 30 minutes after your run.”
In addition to getting you fit for race day, training provides you with the opportunity to practice your fluid-replacement strategies. You’re going to need to drink regularly during long races (half-marathons and marathons) and, in hot weather, shorter races. Experiment with hydration during your training runs. Do you like drinking on the go, or do you prefer to stop running, take a few gulps, and then get moving again? Can you stomach Gatorade and similar sports drinks, or do you prefer to stick to water? Use your training runs as dress rehearsals for race day.
Two Weeks Out
Some nutritional principles to keep in mind as race day approaches:
- Start adding more complex carbohydrates to your diet. Complex carbohydrates, found in all plant-based foods, take longer for the body to digest than simple ones and are available as stored energy for use when needed. Whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and vegetables are good sources of complex carbohydrates.
- Drink lots of water. Being even slightly dehydrated can leave you feeling sluggish, so make sure you’re getting plenty of fluids. There’s no need to worry about exact measurements, but it’s a good idea to keep a water bottle with you during the day so you can drink frequently. During long training runs, you should drink water every 20-30 minutes or more often as needed. (Related: How to Stay Hydrated When Training for an Endurance Race)
- Be an iron-woman. A runner who doesn’t get enough iron may become anemic and feel tired and weak, and also could be more susceptible to infection. To avoid getting depleted, increase your iron intake: lean red meats and leafy greens are good sources. Lisa C. Cohn, president of Park Avenue Nutrition in New York City, says you can also find iron in blackstrap molasses, gingersnaps, and chia seeds, which are available at most health food stores. (Related: 9 Iron-Rich Foods That Aren’t Steak)
Three to Four Days Before the Race
- Emphasize carbs for energy. This one is key to proper nutrition for runners: Your diet should consist of about 70 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent fats, and 10 percent protein.
- Increase consumption of complex carbohydrates. Carbs will give your muscles and brain the fuel they need to get through the race. Most women tend to load up on familiar sources like pasta and rice, but Cohn suggests considering complex carb sources like tabouleh, oatmeal, and other whole grains.
The Night Before
- Don’t experiment. While we all love to try new foods and taste new flavors, it’s best to stick with what’s familiar and what works for you the night before the race. If you had marinara sauce the night before your last successful long training run, don’t try something heavy and different on this night. New food or spices could upset your stomach or leave you feeling “off.” (Related: Best Foods to Eat Before and After Running a Marathon)
- Eat a nutritious meal composed of whole grains (whole wheat pasta or brown rice); grilled or steamed vegetables or a salad (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and light dressing); and a small amount of protein such as grilled chicken, fish, or lean red meat. Again, stick with what’s familiar: If you’ve found that too much fiber was problematic for you on your training days, then you may want to eat a white-flour (not whole-grain) carb source.
- Continue drinking water.
Morning of Race (Three Hours Out)
- Eat a healthy breakfast of 400-600 calories. The trick is to top off your energy stores without eating something that will feel heavy in your stomach. Some good options: Oatmeal or cold cereal with low-fat milk, or half a bagel and some low-fat yogurt. Stick with what’s familiar and has worked well for you in training.
- Drink water to stay hydrated.
- Avoid fatty foods that could make you feel nauseated, full, or lethargic. You don’t want your body wasting energy on digesting something heavy.
- If you’re used to doing so, have a cup of coffee. Caffeine can make your run seem easier, but beware: It can also stimulate your digestive tract.
During the Race
- Keep hydrated. It’s a good idea to take a drink at every drink station, even if you don’t feel thirsty and especially on a hot day. However, it’s important not to overhydrate. Hyponatremia is a rare but serious condition in which the body’s natural balance of electrolytes is disturbed by too much fluid. Consider taking Gatorade or another electrolyte-replacement drink along with water to make sure you don’t experience “water intoxication.” If you feel nauseated, dizzy, or overtired, stop running and seek medical attention.
- Maintain your blood sugar levels. If you’re running a long race (a half-marathon or longer), it’s likely that some fueling stations along the route will offer energy gels containing carbohydrates and caffeine. This may be a good energy-replacement option for you if you’ve tolerated energy gels well in your training runs.
After the Race
- Drink Gatorade or another sports drink to replace electrolytes, and sodium and potassium you burned off during the race. (Related: Your Complete Guide to Sports Drinks)
- Eat a piece of fruit, some pretzels, or something with sugar to start stabilizing your blood sugar levels and aid recovery. You may not feel hungry after the race, but it is important to consume something,€” even if it’s just a sports drink€” to avoid fainting and aid recovery.
- Avoid eating a huge meal immediately after the race. Your body has been taxed and overeating may nauseate you. So even if your family and friends want to treat you to a celebratory all-you-can-eat brunch, don’t overindulge until you’re sure you can stomach a large amount of food.
- Go easy on the alcohol. You may be tempted to toast your new personal best with a couple of drinks, but be aware that alcohol causes dehydration and you may get drunk faster if you drink after a race. Keep drinking plenty of water. (Related: The Best Workout Recovery Method for Your Schedule)
- Let your body recuperate. Stretch gently after the race, and consider booking a massage to help your taxed muscles recover. Consider your time on the table as a reward for your effort!
In addition to knowing what’s best to eat before and after a race, you need to know what works for you during a race. The guidelines below outline what you should expect to consume during longer events. Practice and experiment with different food options during your long runs—ideal fueling and hydration varies from runner to runner and may also be affected by the heat.
If you’re running a half marathon:
“Since most of us will be out running for at least 90 minutes during a half or longer, we should aim to take in 30–60 grams of carbs per hour plus 24–32 ounces of fluid,” Antonucci says. A sports drink may have everything you need, but if you prefer water, then add gels, energy chews or other sources of easy-to-eat and easily digested carbs. If the weather will be very hot and humid or if you have a history of muscle cramping, you may want to consume extra sodium, from a salt packet or electrolyte tabs.
If you’re running a marathon:
The marathon presents a greater challenge to most runners because of the amount of fuel you burn while running for several hours. “You can try to increase your carb intake up to 60–90 grams per hour, since the event will last more than 2 hours,” Antonucci says. Similar to her half marathon suggestions, she says a combination of sports drink and gels or chews work well for this distance, and you should add electrolytes or salt at least twice or about every hour.
READ MORE: How to Develop a Race Day Fueling Strategy
As a general rule during training, you’ll want to focus on eating healthy, nutrient-rich foods. But in the days leading up to a race, you should cut back on fiber, choosing white rice over brown and possibly even shying away from that big lunchtime salad full of hearty greens, depending how your stomach reacts on the run.
Here’s a plan for how to choose what to eat and when as you approach the big day and recover from your race.
Week before the race
Antonucci says to increase carbohydrates and slightly decrease protein. This may look like a little more rice than usual and a little less chicken.
48 hours before the race
Focus on eating more carbs and decreasing fiber, and you can skip protein from one or two meals per day. For example, you may switch your usual scrambled eggs and multigrain bread with avocado and cheese on sourdough.
READ MORE: What You Need to Know to Run a 1/2 Marathon
Take in extra fluid and salt to help pre-hydrate by eating soup or pickles or drinking a glass of V8 juice, Antonucci suggests. You want to continue to eat carbs and maybe a little protein (no bigger than the size of your palm). Definitely skip roughage and high-fiber foods, such as beans, salads and certain crackers, cereals and bread. Stick with white bread, rice or pasta, because these are more easily digested.
Again, carbs are king. If you’re running a half marathon, you want to get about 300 calories, such as a bagel or toast and banana. For a marathon, you may need up to 500, Antonucci says. Eat what has worked well on your long run mornings. There’s no need to skip your coffee, but you may want to have a smaller cup, depending on the height of your nerves, and have some water too.
READ MORE: 8 Common Marathon Mistakes to Avoid
Be sure to drink sports drinks from aid stations to ensure you’re replenishing fluids, carbs and salt. Photo: Brian Metzler
With your focus on carbs in advance of the race, you’ll have topped off your glycogen stores, but they will be depleted during a marathon or half, so you need to practice fueling during your long runs. Because it might be hard to choose among drinks, gels, chews and bars, Antonucci explains how she works with clients: “I always start with a sports drink, because it contains all three things every runner needs: fluids, carbs and salt. Once we figure out how much sports drink an athlete needs and can realistically drink per hour, then I add additional chews or gels for more calories or salt packets/electrolyte tabs to meet their sodium needs.” However, she adds that people won’t get enough calories from just gels, chews or bars.
READ MORE: Expert Tips for Optimal Race Day Fueling
First you want to re-hydrate, so drink up (and not only in the beer tent!). Water is always a good option, but consider fluids with salt plus carbs and protein—this could be a high-protein recovery drink at the finish line. And don’t delay your post-race meal, assuming you feel up for eating. Antonucci says you want about half your body weight in grams of carbs (so 60 grams for 120-pound runner) plus 20 grams of protein. You could have a bagel with eggs and smoked salmon or soup and a sandwich.
Days following race
Continue to hydrate, listen to your hunger and eat healthy foods. Did you know that your body is unable to restock all the fluids and calories burned on a run with on-the-go fueling and hydration alone? Thus why recovery hydration and fueling is so important. Antonucci says, “It takes the body up to two weeks to fully recover/repair from a half marathon and up to three weeks for a full marathon.” Focus on fruits, vegetables and anti-inflammatory foods (fish, nuts, avocados, hummus) to help facilitate recovery and get you ready to train again!
READ MORE: Good Food = Good Medicine
Nicki Miller Nicki Miller is the former editor-in-chief of Competitor Running and managing editor of Women’s Running and is an RRCA certified coach. She loves encouraging runners, helping them avoid injury, covering sports nutrition and developing healthy recipes. Follow her at @nickiontherun
Figuring out what the heck to eat before a half-marathon can feel just as difficult as the running itself. Eat too much, and your stomach cramps or bloats, sending you searching for the nearest bathroom mid-race. But eat too little, and you can say goodbye to any hope of a PR.
“Figuring out a training diet is critical for peak performance,” says Torey Armul, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “What you eat is the fuel for your working muscles. Eating the right foods keeps you energized, reduces cramping and minimizes fatigue during your workout.”
The first rule: Don’t try anything new, says Armul. “Don’t go to the new neighborhood sushi restaurant for the first time,” she says. “Stick with what you know and what you’ve tolerated well in the past.” You don’t want to introduce a new variable that could mess with your performance.
“For a long race like a half-marathon, it can be helpful to focus beforehand on eating adequate carbohydrates. This helps to ‘top off’ your glucose stores before you toe the line,” says Armul. (And you need glucose to make sure you don’t make like an older phone and lose your charge mid-race.)
But that doesn’t mean just downing a massive bowl of spaghetti, Armul says—that can be rough on the digestive system. “Keep your portions reasonable,” Armul advises, a.k.a. stick to a regular serving size—like 1/3 cup of rice or a slice or two of whole wheat bread.
And carbs aren’t the only food you should use to fuel up before a marathon. Skip out on race-day sluggishness and stomach aches with these dietitian-approved meal ideas:
24 hours before your race…
- Fruit smoothie with almond butter: The fruit provides a carbohydrate boost that your body can quickly digest for fuel, while the almond butter adds some protein and fats for satiety.
- Eggs with toast or sweet potatoes and veggies or fruit: The protein and fat in eggs, paired with carbs and other proteins and fats, will help support you through your run, sans that feeling like you want to collapse (hey, it happens!).
- A whole-wheat sandwich with turkey, avocado, and cheese: Your muscles will want the glucose from whole-wheat bread (or other healthy grains that your body can quickly digest and use for fuel). Pairing it with a protein and a healthy fat means you get more fiber and fat for added staying power.
- Green salad with chicken, tomatoes, cheese, nuts, and olive oil: The greens are packed with vitamins and minerals to up your stamina, and putting them in a salad with protein, nuts, and healthy fats will give you the mix of macronutrients you need to feel strong, even after several hours of activity. And Jessica Cording, R.D.a NYC-based dietitian says tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that fights inflammation and helps the body absorb iron (which you need to help carry oxygen in the blood during a race).
- Salmon with a side of rice or potatoes and veggies: While any meat will give you plenty of protein to support muscle repairing and rebuilding post-race, salmon also offers omega-3 fatty acids, which can help counteract inflammation, Cording says.
- Bean-and-lean-meat chili: If your digestive system can handle it, make some bean-based chili for your pre-marathon dinner. Cording says they’re rich in protein, complex carbs, and iron, which will help get oxygen through your blood (and to your muscles!). Just proceed with caution—the last thing you want during a half-marathon is gas and bloating.
The morning of your race…
- Oatmeal topped with almond butter: Almonds, peanuts, cashews—they all contain satisfying amounts of fat and protein that your body digests slowly, therefore keeping you fuller (and energized) for longer. That’s a necessity for a long day of logging miles.
- Bananas and berries on top of peanut butter toast: You can get the same energizing boost from peanut butter, but on top of whole-wheat toast. The vitamins and minerals in fruits will also help fix cell damage from your 13.1 miles of cruising, says Armul.
What are the Best Foods to Eat the Week Before a Marathon
You have pushed yourself through the hard workouts. You have made it through those never-ending long runs. You have made it to race week without any major injury, and now all that is left to do is to make sure you do not mess it up.
This is where our brain plays tricks with us, and we obsess over the little details. But there are only a few things runners really need to be prepared for on marathon week, and one of the biggest ones is fueling correctly for the race.
The most common question I get from both beginner and veteran marathoners alike is:
“What are the best foods I should be eating during the week before and the morning of the Marathon race?”
It’s a great question and a runners diet in the week before a marathon is a very important part of success on race day.
Since I covered how to practice your marathon nutrition strategy in training in a prior article, today I will cover an ideal eating plan for runners before your marathon race, starting 5 days out from the race so you can follow our tips to start planning what meals you are going to eat before your marathon.
Marathon Rule #1: Never try anything new on Race Day
In addition to clothing, pacing, and training, this rule also applies to your nutrition strategy in the five days leading up to the race.
You should not experiment with any new foods or venture too far from your normal diet. It’s easy to get nervous in the last few days of your taper and be persuaded by a new product a friend recommends or something you see at the race expo.
However, if you haven’t tried it before, especially at marathon pace or during a long run, don’t be tempted.
It’s also important that you experiment with the types, quantity, and timing of the food you eat before you run. Some runners have very weak stomachs and need up to three hours to digest food before they can run comfortably. Other runners can eat within an hour of a hard run with no adverse side effects.
It is important to figure out which type of runner you are during training and to take this information into account when you plan for the race morning.
Experiment with your pre-race meal before race day.
Your last two long runs or difficult marathon paced workouts should be similar to race simulations. Try wearing the clothes you think you’ll wear on race day, the shoes, socks, and everything you can think of.
Eat the same pre-race meal you’re planning for the night before the race and when you wake up in the morning, eat the same breakfast you plan on having.
This will give you time to change things up before race day if you find it doesn’t work for you.
5 days from the race
Begin to increase your total carbohydrate intake by adding in more pastas and starches (low glycemic index foods) to your diet throughout the week.
The old idea of depleting your carbohydrate stores the week before the race and binging on carbohydrates the last few days in an attempt to trick your body into overcompensating and storing more fuel is outdated.
Ensuring that you consume a higher percentage of your total daily calories as carbohydrates is sufficient.
Remember, you’re not running as much as you have been, so eating too much more than you normally do will make you feel bloated and lethargic.
At this point in the nutrition cycle, relax and don’t go overboard.
Examples: Sweet potatoes, pastas, baked potatoes, brown rice, sandwiches, bagels with peanut butter, quinoa, whole grains, oatmeal
48 Hours before the race
Your last big meal should be two nights before the race.
It will give your body ample time to digest anything you eat so you won’t feel bloated on the morning of the race. I’ve seen too many people gorge on pasta the night before the race only to reach the starting line the next day stuffed and lethargic.
Have you ever tried to run the morning after Thanksgiving?
If you have, you know the bloated feeling I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, I don’t recommend scheduling a tough workout.
Example: The overwhelming favorite is pasta for most people, but other options include rice, potatoes, and pizza.
24 hours and before
Eat normal balanced meals like you would normally do on any training day.
Make sure you drink plenty of liquids all day long, especially electrolyte fluids such as Gatorade or use electrolyte tabs such as Nuun.
It helps if you carry a water bottle along with you throughout the day to remind yourself to drink.
Your main meals should still be in the form of low glycemic to medium glycemic index foods. Ideally, you won’t be too active on the day before the race, so you may feel full quickly. That is fine, you shouldn’t try to stuff yourself.
Good choices are: Sweet potatoes, pastas, baked potatoes, white rice, bagel with banana
18 hours before the race
Start eating small meals every 2-3 hours, but after lunch, cut out red meat, fried foods, dairy products, fats, nuts, and roughage.
You should only be consuming light, digestible foods like energy bars, bread, and small sandwiches.
Keep drinking water and electrolyte beverages and avoid salty and high fiber foods.
Examples include: energy bars, bread, cereal, and small sandwiches.
4 hours and less
You should be up early enough before the race to eat a small breakfast with plenty of time to start digestion before the gun goes off.
If you need 3 hours to eat a small meal before running, then you need to get up at least three hours before the race to get in a light breakfast.
You’ll want to drink mostly water (unless you know temperatures at the race are going to be warm), with some electrolyte fluid.
Don’t try to get all your fluids down by chugging your water bottle.
Drink small, regular sized amounts. Room temperature water is absorbed quicker than warm or cold water. I estimate that you’ll need 6 oz. every hour or 8 oz. every hour on hot days.
Lots of runners will take a GU or energy gel right before the gun goes off.
I only recommend this if you have a weak stomach and you haven’t eaten in 3 hours. If you’re able to stomach more solid foods 60-90 minutes before the race, this is preferable.
Basically, energy gels are mostly simple sugars and you’ll be consuming another 2 or 3 gels before the race is over. Even for the biggest sweet tooth this is a lot of sugar.
My favorite breakfast – oatmeal with banana and coffee. Other options include bagel with peanut butter, toast with honey, or dry cereal.
At this point, you should have a good idea of what works best for you pre hard or long run, so stick with what works.
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The half marathon is a tricky distance when it comes to fueling. It borders on the line of whether you do or don’t need to fuel. The answer depends on a number of factors, like the amount of time you’ve been running long distances or how fast you can complete the race.
For those targeting their first half marathon, knowing when to fuel, how much to eat, and what to consume can be confusing. Ok fine, even after running them for years a lot of us are still trying to figure what we need!
So let’s break it down to make it easier for us all, shall we?Photo from the lovely @jbirdruns
Do You Need to Fuel During a Half Marathon?
Your body relies on two primary sources of fuel to feed the muscles during long runs—fat and carbohydrates. Since fat breaks down slowly, it’s not the most effective source of quick energy, however it’s what you want to train your body to use more of during base building.
The less you rely on carbohydrates for fuel during training, the less food you’ll need to take in during the race!! BONUS points for saving your stomach from those dreaded runners trots or well vomits.
This doesn’t mean you don’t need carbohydrates, it’s just that you may need far less than you’ve always been told, after better training.
We can typically store about 90 minutes worth of glycogen stores (aka carbohydrates) in our muscles before it begins to deplete. Since most of us will take longer, there’s going to be a pay off for a smart race day fueling strategy.
Gels, chews, and some whole foods replenish the glycogen consumed by your body, providing a boost to continue forward at the same effort.
How often do should you fuel?
Step one is to ensure you’ve eaten enough prior to the race, which is covered in depth in what to eat before a race!
The most important part of fueling is getting those calories before you actually need them. If you’re feeling low energy or have already bonked, then it’s too late and your performance will suffer.
What’s interesting is it’s less about the calories and more about telling your brain that fuel is coming! Some studies have shown even that bit of sweetness on your tongue from a sports drink can give you a boost. Photo from @sandinypaver getting ready for an ultra.
A good rule of thumb is begin consuming fuel between the first 45-60 minutes of a race. Continue every 45-60 minutes after that. Try and time your intake with the aid station so you can wash it down with water (not sports drink, that’ll be sugar overload).
Knowing when to fuel during a half marathon takes practice and learning to read your energy levels. Which is to say you need to fuel before you start hitting the wall!
Sample Half Marathon Fueling Plan
While I may not take in much during long training runs, on race day the following has worked well for me and a number of other runners I’ve spoke to:
- Start line pre-workout
- Mile 3 a little bit of fuel (couple shot bloks or suck on a gel for awhile)
- Mile 8 a little bit more fuel (I like something with a little caffeine)
- Mile 11 final fuel
Pushing this out to full marathon fueling:
- Start line pre-workout
- Mile 5 a little bit of fuel
- Mile 10 a little bit more fuel (I like something with a little caffeine)
- Mile 15 I will actually hold a gel and suck on it for a few miles
- Mile 22 final fuel
**Hilly races can be an exception because the higher your HR is shooting up, the more carbohydrates your body is burning. In those cases, I’ll actually organize my fueling around taking something a little before any of the major hills.
Remember if you eat breakfast two hours before even starting, you might benefit from those quick carbs on the start line. You want your body to feel primed to go.
You’ll notice I’m not saying to take an entire gel at any of those points. Because that’s always been more than my body has wanted, which is why we’re going to talk about options!But first, as always it’s key to find what works for you. Though you may not need a ton of fuel on your training runs, try out just one or two things to see what your stomach does.
Maybe you feel good with gels or maybe they give you an immediate stomach ache. Maybe you have a huge boost from caffeine or maybe it just makes you need to pee!
Mid way through your race is not the time to try new foods!
Tired of trying to figure out all this fueling on your own?! Get my cheat sheet for what to eat before a run (hence less on the run food needed!).
Foods to Eat During a Marathon Explored
The endurance fuel game has changed so much since companies started manufacturing them for distance athletes. As the understanding of sports nutrition has evolved and improved, there are now infinite options available for fueling your body during long runs.
How do you even go about sorting through all the choices? For most, it’s trial and error. The right nutrition plan is the one that works for you and doesn’t give you an upset stomach.
While some prefer gels, others go with chews or whole foods. Here’s a breakdown of the options.
Natural Energy Gels
Energy gels range from standard brands like GU to more natural options listed below. Standard gels can often lead to GI distress due to the fructose, so try several different brands to see how you feel afterward.
A few natural energy gel favorites (of mine and those I polled) include:
- Honey Stinger
- Huma Chia Gel
- Spring Energy Gels
- UnTapped Maple Syrup Athletic Fuel
Easier on the Stomach Energy Options
Chews are a great alternative for those who can’t stomach energy gels. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to practice chewing something gummy while running. It’s not as easy as you think and 1 blok or a couple beans are not the same volume of energy as a gel (which is ideal for some, but not all!)
A few of my go to picks are:
- Honey Stinger Energy Chews + Waffles
- CLIF BLOKS
- PROBAR Bolt Chews
- Jelly Belly Sport Beans
- Skratch Labs Fruit Drops
The main downside here, is I find people munching on them as snacks. HA! We don’t need that much sugar between runs.
Whole Food Running Fuels
If all the sugars in gels and chews makes your stomach revolt, whole foods might be a better option. Lately, I’ve been breaking up whole food energy bars like the vegan Better Than Coffee Energy Bars into small pieces to eat during longer runs or on race day because I like that steady little drip of caffeine and fuel.
If you choose whole foods, you may want to consider eating fewer calories, but more often, say every 30-45 minutes. These are some great whole food choices for race day:
- Squeeze packet of fruit puree
- Nut butter packets
- Dried apricots
- Energy bites (here are 21 easy and delicious recipes to make your own)
I’ve got an entire post on what you need to know about using whole foods for fuel, so go read that for all the details and lot more ideas!!
Still trying to figure out your race day fuel? Here’s an in depth look at what you need and some more natural options. #bibchat #running #runchat
Are sports drinks enough?
Maybe. Like gels, chews, and whole foods, sports drinks replace some of the lost glycogen stores. In addition, the electrolytes contained in the sodium and potassium help with fluid retention lost from sweating.
If you plan to rely solely on sports drinks as your fuel, then pick one with more carbs and calories, like Tailwind Nutrition Endurance, which is designed for this exact purpose!!
One Nuun tablet contains just 10 calories and 1 gram of carbohydrates. While it’s great for hydration, it’s not the best choice for fuel.
Regardless, hydration is part of fueling and should be incorporated into your training and racing nutrition plans because we know dehydration is going to drop your energy and slam you in to the wall.
What about Caffeine on Race Day?
Many energy gels and chews include caffeine for an extra boost during a long run. If you’re not a regular consumer, then don’t just go all out on race day. That could be a recipe for disaster.
Instead, experiment with one gel or chew per hour and see how your body takes it. Or try consuming a cup of coffee in the morning 30 minutes or so before heading out on a long run, as caffeine can take 45 minutes to peak in your system.
Be sure to pay attention to how coffee affects your GI system. Does it make you need to run to the bathroom immediately, or does it take a little while to work its way through? Make sure you know the answer before leaving for that long run.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you can get a bigger caffeine boost by giving it up completely for 3 weeks prior to the race. It will feel like rocket fuel that day. In fact, that’s why I like to use it on race day. I rarely have caffeine, so it’s a great energy tool for me.
Do you fuel during a half marathon?
What are your go to energy sources?
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If you’re preparing for an upcoming 13.1 mile race, you’ll want to read this guest post all about half marathon fueling! This post comes from Sami, a nutrition student at Boston University, (with a few added notes from myself).
Some may think that the most important part of training for a half marathon is the actual physical training, but the nutrition side is equally as important. To be able to do all the long runs, speed work, and strength training, you have to know what to put into your body to make sure all your training goes smoothly.
While proper nutrition strategies are important throughout training, it’s the half marathon fueling in the days leading up to the race – and the day of the event – that many runners tend to get confused about.
You might find yourself asking questions like “Should I carb load? Should I drink sports drinks or do I only need water? What should I have for breakfast that morning?!”
No need to worry about these, my friend. Let’s break down the important fueling information that you’ll need to know to have your best half marathon race!
The Day Before The Race: Eat Some Carbs
Carb loading is a nutrition strategy used by endurance athletes who are preparing for an event that will last longer than 90 minutes. Carb loading means eating a larger quantity of carbohydrates at meals than normal. The reason this is done is that your muscles store carbohydrate (in a form called glycogen). When you are doing endurance exercise, your body needs this glycogen to supply your muscles with a steady stream of energy.
Think of your muscles like a sponge, and think of carbohydrates for energy like the water that a sponge can hold. If you try to squeeze a dry sponge, nothing is going to come out of it. But if you saturate that sponge with water, it’s easy to squeeze water out – aka if you eat good, carb-rich meals leading up to your race, it’s easy for your muscles to use those carbohydrates for energy.
For most recreational athletes, a half marathon will generally take somewhere between 1:30 and 3:00, so carb loading can be somewhat beneficial (around 2-3% improvement). It doesn’t mean going crazy with your meals for weeks before your race though.
Instead, focus on balanced meals that contain some good sources of carbohydrate for 2-3 days before your event, and then enjoy a high-carb meal – like a big ‘ol bowl of pasta for dinner! – for lunch or dinner the day before your event.
This strategy will ensure your muscles have good glycogen levels to provide you with the energy needed for your long activity.
Race Day Morning: What to Eat for Breakfast
Now we are at race day! What exactly should you be eating before you begin? We’re back at carbohydrates, again, as these will give you that fast energy wanted on race day. The key is to aim for easily digestible carbohydrates that will settle well in your stomach on race day morning.
Eat a meal with carbohydrates and some protein about 1-4 hours before your race. The specific time frame depends on your personal preferences – generally the further out you’re your race that you eat, the more you’ll want to consume (but also the more time your body has to digest).
Here are some examples good pre-race breakfast options:
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- Banana with peanut butter
- Bagel with a little cream cheese or peanut butter
- Toaster waffle with fruit
- Leftover rice with a poached egg
- Sweet potato breakfast bowl
If you are the type of person who can’t get yourself to eat before working out, try drinking a sports drink before your race. This will still provide you with some carbs (as well as electrolytes) to help fuel your run.
A quick warning: You may want to avoid eating high fiber foods both the evening before your race and on race day morning. Fiber can cause stress in your GI tract (especially when coupled with exercise) and leave you running for the bathroom – instead of the finish line.
Each person has a different sensitivity to fiber, but it’s often wise to skip foods like leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, beans, lentils, and high-fiber cereals before your race.
During Your Race: Half Marathon Fueling & Hydration
During your race your goal is to stay hydrated with fluid/electrolytes, and also fuel yourself a bit with carbs.
When it comes to hydration, you want to make sure you are replenishing some of the fluid and electrolytes that are lost via sweat. There’s no hard-and-fast rule as to the exact amount of fluid you should drink, because people sweat at different rates. The weather affects this as well, with hot temperatures generally increasing sweat losses.
Generally, it’s good to try to drink to thirst throughout your race. But sometimes, it’s easy to ignore these signals with the amped up environment of your event. If that happens to you, remind yourself to drink something every so often (like every 20 minutes or at every aid station).
Since a half marathon is over an hour of activity, it is also important to fuel yourself with carbohydrates. Aim to eat 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. This can come in many forms, such as the following (disclosure – these are Amazon affiliate links; as an affiliate this site earns a commission on qualifying purchases):
- Sports drinks, like Gatorade or Powerade
- Gels, like GU or Clif Shot
- Chews, like Gatorade Chews or Shot Blocks
- Waffles, like Honey Stinger or GU Stroopwaffel
- “Real food” options like raisins, banana, or fig newtons
Each have a relatively similar range when it comes to carbohydrate content per serving, and should be tried out before the day of your race so you know which one works best for your body! Adding in these things are essential to keep a steady stream of energy flowing to your muscles.
After Your Race: Recovery Snack
After your race you might feel obligated to reach for that boozy drink, but it is a better idea to first grab a chocolate milk, or a sports drink along with a protein bar.
Once you’ve finished a long and hard workout, you want to eat a snack that has both carbs and protein. This will help repair your muscles and of course restoring glycogen levels once again.
Chocolate milk has a 3:1 carb to protein ratio so it is an excellent recovery source. A bottle of Gatorade (for carbs) and a protein bar (for protein) is also a good option. As is a good balanced meal from the post-race buffet. The choice is yours!
Ideally, you want to have one of these within 30-45 minutes of finishing your race. If you only were able to grab a small snack, then you should also try to have a good meal within 2 hours of finishing. Aim for a meal that consists of healthy carbs, protein, and fat.
Lastly, you can’t forget about hydration! Drinking water is just as important as eating well afterwards.
The Bottom Line
As you can see fueling for a half marathon is quite important. It gives your body the energy you need to perform in your race, and also helps your body recover afterwards. We hope these tips are useful as you prepare for your upcoming race!
About the Author: Sami Mirchin is a junior studying Nutritional Sciences at Boston University. She is very interested in all things health and wellness. She is an avid runner herself and can often be found at the gym or at a local coffee shop guzzling down as much coffee as she can drink. She is studying towards becoming a dietitian and cannot wait to continue cultivating her passion for nutrition. You can find Sami over on LinkedIn.
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Chrissy Carroll is a Registered Dietitian and USAT Level I Triathlon Coach. She specializes in sharing nutrition and fitness tips, as well as recipes, for runners, triathletes, and active women.Chrissy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition, a Masters Degree in Public Health, and is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer.
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Very few people are able to run a marathon without fueling during the race. In this guide you will find the most important recommendations for designing a marathon nutrition plan.
This guide was developed by MSc in Sports science, Anders Spanggaard from the VO2 Lab test centre, which is part of the Sparta Performance Centre. Anders is a running, cycling and swimming trainer and practices triathlon himself.
A marathon requires preparation
Very few people are able to run a marathon without thorough preparation. This is true not only in relation to training, but also when it comes to intake of energy and fluids, especially before and during your marathon. That is why you need a plan on how to fuel up with energy before and during your marathon – a marathon nutrition plan.
Start out a couple of months ahead
It takes practice and experience to find out which energy supplements that works for you – and your stomach – during a marathon. Start contemplating and practicing your nutrition plan as early as a couple of months before the run.
Long runs are for practicing
Use your long runs during the last couple of months leading up to the race to practice your nutrition plan. You will gain experience with regards to:
- What kind of breakfast works for you and how to time it before the run
- Your morning toilet routines
- How to take in enough fluids, especially before and during the run
- Which energy supplements you prefer during a run
- How to carry and consume your supplements while running
It is important that you practice fueling at your actual marathon pace. There is a big difference between consuming a gel or drinking a cup of water at easy pace compared to marathon speed.
3-4 days before
3-4 days before your marathon you should start taking in more fluids and increasing the share of carbohydrates in your diet. It’s not about taking in more calories but rather increasing the share of carbohydrates while cutting protein and fat. Rice, pasta, fruits or bread are excellent sources of carbohydrates – you don’t necessarily have to eat expensive energy supplements at this point.
Guideline: 80 pct. of your pre-race energy intake should consist of carbohydrates.
Make a list of foods you normally try to avoid and eat them. They are fully allowed now.
Consider it a haven: You can eat toasted soft rolls with jam without a guilty conscience if that is what you like. It is equally acceptable to have soft drinks, lemonade or soda. Adding energy drinks is fine too, if it makes you increase your fluid intake.
Avoid overdoing it, though. The whole purpose is to fill up your carbohydrate stores and with an increased intake of carbohydrates combined with tapering you can be sure to obtain your desired effect.
High5 guide: Carboloading plan
The day before
If you been carboloading for 3-4 days you can be certain that your stores are now fully fueled. The rest is just to “top it off”, so focus on
- Resting / tapering
- Intake of fluids and carbohydrates
Many enjoy eating pasta the day before a race and that is definitely a good idea. A vegetarian diet can also be beneficiary, not only because it is a little starchier but also because meat is digested very slowly, especially red meat.
Stick to the usual – and add a little extra
Try sneaking the extra carbohydrates into your meals without changing the basics of what you eat. If you are used to eating wholemeal you should avoid switching entirely to white bread. This runs the risk of stalling your stomach because you are not used to eating white bread.
Be careful about completely replacing your meals the day before a race, for instance by switching entirely to white bread. Stick to what you usually do and add a little extra instead.
Trust that your stores are sufficiently fueled the night before your race. There is no need to drain a bag of gummy bears before going to bed. This is nothing but an unnecessary stimulant that, combined with nervousness, could make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Even if difficulty sleeping before a marathon is considered normal, most people will find sleep important, at least mentally so.
Tip! Some people like to a have a beer the night before a race. It helps you relax and there is no harm in it.
Race day morning
On the day of the run it is important to have a good, carbohydrate-based breakfast, one that you know is guaranteed to work for you. The strategy is clear: Do not eat or drink anything that you have not previously had before running.
Suggestions for a good race day breakfast could include:
- Oatmeal with fruits and sugar
- Oatmeal porridge with raisins, banana, sugar, or syrup
- A bun with jam or honey and a piece of fruit
- Preferably drink 1-1,5 litres of water (it does not need to be an energy drink if you had a bit of extra sugar with your breakfast)
- A cup of coffee is a good idea, so you can go to the bathroom before start
Stop drinking, or take only a few sips, about an hour before race start. The water will just slosh around in your stomach and you will need to pee shortly after starting. Besides, many have the need to urinate more frequently urination due to nervousness.
Tip! Oatmeal porridge is easier for your stomach to digest than plain oatmeal because it has already been broken up and mashed a bit.
During your marathon
Unless you are an elite athlete you will need to take in energy during a marathon.
Your carbohydrate stores will last only for 90-120 minutes of running. If you drain your carbohydrate stores completely you will hit ‘the wall’ so you need to fuel before this happens.
Guideline: You can absorb a maximum of 60 grams of sugar (glucose) and 1 litre of fluids per hour – on average! This equals a maximum of 3 gels/bananas and 3-4 cups of water per hour. On warm days the body absorbs less sugar.
However, it takes practice to absorb 3 gels an hour! So, if you are uncertain as to how much you can take in, try with 2 gels an hour. This is sufficient for most and you would much rather do without sugar than get a stomach ache…
If you lack sugar your pace will slow down. If your stomach aches you might not be able to run at all.
Here is a suggestion for what to consume during a marathon:
- Some like to top off with a ”carbohydrate-snack” short before race start. Go with a bar, a banana or a gel, preferably caffeinated, and some water
- Take your first gel about 30 minutes into the race (go for the isotonic kind and, if you like, with caffeine every other time). Always take it with a cup of water
- Take an average of 2 gels an hour for the remainder of the race
- If you don’t use gels, take a cup of energy drink at every hydration station (3-4 cups an hour, equal to approx. 60 grams of sugar)
- Drink water at every hydration station
- At 20 degrees Celsius or above your body’s ability to absorb sugar decreases, so increase your fluids (up to 1 litre) and decrease your sugar. This may cause you to lack sugar but this is preferable to dehydration.
Gels, bars, or bananas?
Most people use energy gels during a marathon. They are easy to carry, consume and digest, and you are on top of your amount of carbohydrates. Others however either do not like gels or get an upset stomach from them and in this case bars, jelly candies, or energy drink are excellent substitutes or supplements.
The goal is to find the best and easiest way for you to take in and digest the required amount of energy, and the only way to figure out what works for you is by testing and adjusting.
Consider these factors when choosing your energy supplement product:
- Technique (way of intake, amount of time spent on intake)
- Digestion (amount of time required to digest the product and whether or not it works for your stomach)
- Carbohydrate mix (fruit sugar (fructose) is rough on your stomach and 25 grams an hour is a maximum. Be sure to choose a mix of carbohydrates)
Tip! If gels just aren’t your thing, use jelly candies, bars, and/or fruits. In general, solids take longer for your body to digest and absorb than gels, but unless you are running at a very high intensity, this might work just fine.
Nyd dit løb!
When you have finished testing and settled on what you want to eat and drink in connection with your marathon you are well on your way to a good marathon experience.
Here are just a few final tips and pieces of advice for you:
- Don’t forget that you are allowed to divert from your nutrition plan. If you get a stomach ache you can easily substitute or completely switch to energy drinks or other kinds of supplements.
- If you are a first-timer: Focus on water and carbohydrates, and forget about salt tablets, electrolytes, creatine, and all sorts of other products. Regular energy drink contains both sugars and salts, which is most important.
- Keep it simple. After all, energy is not rocket science.
- Wise words, which can be read online, are often written by people with several marathon in the book and based on their own, personal experiences. Accept the fact that you need to make your own experiences and that you might not get it right the first time.
Have a great race!