If you’re running a half-marathon, you’ll need a good fuelling and hydration strategy. This means working out what to eat the day before your race as well as planning what to eat and drink during the race itself. You’ll need to trial your nutrition and hydration strategy during training to ensure that you will perform at your best in the half marathon. Experiment with different foods, drinks and sports nutrition products to help you work out what foods sit best in your stomach, how often you need to eat and what makes you perform better (or worse).
Do I need to carb-load?
Carbohydrate-loading isn’t necessary for any race shorter than 90 minutes, but as most runners take longer than 90 minutes to finish a half marathon, it’s a good idea to begin the race with full glycogen stores. Even if you plan to run a faster time, you’ll eventually reach a point when your glycogen stores run low and cause fatigue. Your aim should be to ensure your glycogen stores are fully stocked, rather than enhanced, before the race. You can do this by tapering your training (reducing your mileage) during the few days before your race, and increasing your carbohydrate intake during the final 24 – 36 hours before the race.
What should I eat the day before a half-marathon?
Include a serving of rice, oats (or other grains), potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta or bread in each of your meals. Add a couple of extra carbohydrate-rich snacks, such as bananas, fruit and nut bars, fruit or toast. Eating little and often will help ensure your glycogen stores are filled. But don’t go overboard. Over-eating carbohydrate can make you feel ‘heavy’ and result in unnecessary water weight gain as glycogen is stored with three times its weight of water.
It’s best to avoid anything that may cause stomach problems or irritate the bowel in the 12 hours before the race. You may already have a good idea of what disagrees with you. Common culprits include spicy food, beans, lentils, cabbage and high-fibre cereals. On the other hand, if you’re normally fine with these foods, then there’s no need to avoid completely. Suitable meals include:
- Porridge with fresh or dried fruit
- Pad Thai (noodles) with tofu or chicken
- Baked Sweet Potato with avocado, chicken (or hummus) and salad
- Chicken Paella or Butternut Squash and Pea Risotto
- Chicken or Chickpea stew with couscous
What should I eat for breakfast on race day?
Most races start early in the morning, leaving you little time to eat and digest a substantial breakfast. You may be get away with running on empty, but most runners will benefit from a small amount of carbs it raises blood sugar levels, wards off hunger, making you feel better during your race. Opt for a banana, a fruit and nut bar or smoothie – stick to whatever you normally eat before your long training runs. If you are able to eat at least 2 – 3 hours before running, then have porridge, muesli, granola or eggs on toast.
How should I hydrate before the race?
Ensure that you are properly hydrated by drinking 350 – 500 ml fluid before the race start. Then sip small amounts, just enough to quench your thirst, but don’t overdrink otherwise you’ll be forced to make an early pitstop!
Should I take caffeine before the race?
It doesn’t work for everyone so only use caffeine if you’ve trained with it. Caffeine reduces your perception of effort and enhances endurance. It takes about 45 minutes to peak in your body but its effects last several hours, so take it before start of the race. Stick to your normal dose (don’t have more!).
Why do I need to fuel during a half marathon?
Your body can store only about 2000 calories worth of carbs, just about enough to fuel about 90 minutes of high-intensity running, or a quick-paced half-marathon. But fatigue will develop before your glycogen tank hits rock bottom, making it harder to maintain your pace. Even if you’re a speedy half-marathon runner, consuming carbohydrate during your race will help maintain blood sugar levels, provide your muscles with extra fuel and delay fatigue.
What should I eat during the race?
Fast-digesting in-race fuelling options include bananas, fruit and nut bars, dried fruit, jelly babies, jelly beans, energy bars and balls, gels, or homemade snacks, such as Cocoa and Almond Balls. Start fuelling after about 45–60 minutes. It takes 15–30 minutes for carbohydrate to get absorbed and reach your muscles so you’ll need to allow for that. Aim to have 15 – 30g carbohydrate every 30 minutes or every 3 – 5 miles (depending on your speed and tolerance). Get 15g carbs from 3 jelly babies, a small banana or a small fruit and nut bar. Take your own supplies if necessary – always stick with what you trained with.
Do I need gels?
Gels are a convenient fuelling option for long runs or races longer than 90 minutes but they’re not essential – runners either love or hate them! Experiment with different flavours but find a fuelling strategy that suits your body.
How can I avoid gut problems?
Gut problems are common but it is possible to ‘train’ your gut on your long runs so you can get used to digesting food on the move. Start with small amounts, e.g. one bite of banana, then increase gradually the amount and frequency so your gut becomes better at digesting and absorbing food while running.
How much do I need to drink?
There are no strict rules about how much you should drink – it depends on your sweat rate. Be guided by your thirst. You should have a good idea how much you need to drink from your training runs but be prepared to drink more or less than this amount during hotter or cooler weather. Grab water at aid stations. Find out in advance what brand of sports drink will be provided and try it in training.
I’ll be at the Experts’ Show on Centre Stage at the Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show at London ExCel from 24th – 27th April 2019 with last minute tips for fuelling your marathon. Its FREE entry! The show will feature lots of talks and interviews with celebrity runners! Click the link here for more information.
If you enjoyed this post and want to find out more about sports nutrition, then check out my brand new book, The Runner’s Cookbook. It features more than 100 delicious recipes to fuel your running. With a foreword from five-time Olympian Jo Pavey, the book also provides practical nutrition advice on fuelling before, during and after running, guidance on hydration and supplements, weight loss tips, how to recover from injury, and how to prepare for 5k, 10k, half marathons, marathons and ultra races.