If you have a half marathon coming up I’m sure you’re doing everything right as far as your training. But that’s only part of the equation, understanding half marathon nutrition before, during and after the race can be make or break.
You need a good balance between the three pillars of training, rest, and nutrition to perform at your best and ensure you’re keeping in good health.
I covered everything you need to know about training and preparing for a half marathon. In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about nutrition, feeding your muscles what they need to recover, and the best ways to keep hydrated.
Half Marathon Nutrition: Balancing Carbs, Protein, and Fats
You can group foods into the following three groups when looking at how they function as fuel for training, and how to balance your intake:
Carbohydrates will be your main source of energy when running a marathon. Carbs often get a bad wrap and are blamed for weight gain and a lot of diets cut carbs pretty hard, but they are vital for fueling you throughout a marathon.
You should be getting around 50% of your total daily calorie intake from carbohydrates. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best sources.
Protein is fundamental for strong and healthy muscles, bones, and cartilage. The right balance of protein in your diet will help your body recover faster and stronger.
Marathon running is an endurance event, so about .75 grams of protein per 2 lbs of body weight is about the right intake. This should work out to 30% of your calorie intake.
Foods that are low in saturated fat, such as chicken breasts, eggs, fish, and lean meats are the best forms of protein.
Fat is not such an ugly word when you need lots of fuel to run a marathon. Fat is responsible for a large amount of the energy stored up in your body.
There are good and bad fats. You should be eating good fats, like nuts, avocados, and lean meats. About 20% of your daily calorie intake should come from good fats.
What to Eat on the Day of Your Marathon
It’s important to remember that this is a general guideline. However, I would suggest following this nutrition plan for the day of your marathon unless you’ve developed something that works better for you through trial and error already.
Breakfast on Half Marathon Day
A light, nutritional breakfast with plenty of carbs will put enough fuel in the tank to complete a marathon.
Most people eat porridge, toast, or cereals. The basic math here is that our bodies absorb around 60 grams of carbs per hour.
So, if you eat two hours before running you can load up on 120 grams, or if just an hour before then 60 grams. Any more than this is a waste, and can even cause an upset stomach.
If you don’t like the feeling of being full of food for your carbs, you can drink energy drinks. Some people like to sip drinks leading up to race time, it’s great for keeping you hydrated and the best choice if it’s hot.
30 Minutes Before Start Time
In the 30 minutes before you start your marathon make sure you take on plenty of fluids. About 200ml of fresh water in the last 30 minutes and some energy drink with electrolytes will have you well prepared.
During the Half Marathon
The main key here is to keep hydrated and not wait until your body is telling you it needs fluids. Your body reacts better and can digest and absorb the sugars and electrolytes when it’s not under stress.
The minimum I recommend is 5-10 oz of fluid per 2-3 miles in average conditions. Increase this a little in hot weather.
If you’re taking gels or solid fuels then wait at least 45 minutes so your body is in a comfortable rhythm and can process and digest the sugars.
The first water station should be around the 5k mark, you can pick up an energy drink here which should be around 45 minutes or less into the race.
Even on your first race, if you keep calm and keep on top of your fluids as outlined here you’ll be fine. It’s difficult to balance the first time, but you should have a good idea of how fast you’re running from your training.
After the Half Marathon
As important as it is to celebrate and start letting people know how you got on, it’s important to fully hydrate as soon as you finish your race.
You should be drinking between 16-24 oz of sports drink for every lb you lost during the race. While there is a bit of guesswork there, as long as you’re taking in more fluids than you lost you’ll be fine.
Sports drinks typically contain sodium, which helps your body retain the fluids your drinking which is why they are better than water after a long race.
As with any athletic competition, the race is largely won or lost in the preparation building up to the big day.
There are some useful phone apps to help you monitor your nutritional intake. See how different foods and changing the balance of carbs and protein affects your times and make adjustments based on the results.
Remember the old saying ‘you are what you eat’. The stricter your diet, the better the results will be.