You are running your first half marathon in three months time and you need to know more about half marathon nutrition. The problem is not a lack of advice, in fact there is so much information about what to eat that you are probably in a complete head spin.
Hopefully this article will offer some simple advice that will help you navigate your way around the plethora of information available and enable you to make some choices based on your individual needs.
No one runner is identical to another, so it is important you use the tools at your disposal to make decisions about your half marathon nutrition that will allow you to complete your half marathon training to the best of your ability.
Here are some factors to take into consideration.
- You are training four to five times a week and your mileage is hitting 20-30 miles or more during that training. This is putting a big demand upon your energy levels and means you must look carefully at the food you eat and when you eat it.
- You probably started running as a means to lose weight and get fit. If you are running a high weekly mileage, you should not have to worry unduly about calorie counting. What you eat is your first priority, how many calories you eat is beginning to slip down that priority list.
- Staying hydrated will become more complicated. It is very important that you work hard to stay hydrated, but there is a danger you could drink too much water, which can lead to water intoxication (hyponatremia), a situation in which electrolytes within the body become unbalanced.
Many novice runners think that half marathon nutrition involves increasing your carbohydrate intake dramatically. This is not the case. You should increase your consumption of fruit, vegetables, protein and fat, in proportion to your carbohydrate intake. While the carbs – pasta, rice, bread and potatoes – are important for energy supply, it is important to remember the work of the other foodstuffs – protein (repair and re-growth), calcium (strong bones), fat (protection of vital organs) and vitamins and minerals (prevention of illness/promotion of good health).
As you embark on your half marathon nutrition program, keep a food and feelings diary. Write down everything that you eat and also note down how you feel before, during and after your running sessions. If you are struggling to even get out of bed in the mornings, or if you run out of energy during a run, then you are probably not getting enough energy.
If you are picking up illnesses, such as coughs or colds, or you feel sluggish and not quite alert, you might well be lacking vitamins and minerals. A common problem, particularly among female runners, is a lack of iron. Leafy, green vegetables, dried fruit, eggs, beans and lean meat will all address this problem although you might want to take iron supplements while you are in training.
There is plenty of advice on half marathon nutrition on the C25K website.
In the days running up to an actual half marathon, you will get lots of advice about what to eat. Again, this can be a bigger problem than no advice. During your preparation for a half marathon you may have taken energy gels on your training runs but it is more likely that you just had a light snack two hours before your run and then ate when you finished training. There is no reason to change that for a race. The only thing you really need for your half marathon nutrition is breakfast two hours before you run and enough fluid to ensure you are hydrated before the start of the race.
You might find you need water or a sports drink during the half marathon. Most half marathons have water stations but you can also carry your own.
Top tips for half marathon nutrition
- In the days before the half marathon eat healthily. You do not need to carbo-load.
- The night before the half marathon eat an easily-digestible meal. This should contain carbohydrates such as pasta but there is no need to eat to a point that makes you uncomfortable.
- Drink little and often. You don’t want to be paying constant visits to the toilet but you do need to ensure you are hydrated for the start of the run.
- Breakfast should be simple and food that you are used to. Porridge, toast, cereals are all good sources of slow-releasing energy.
- Make sure you have a snack ready for after the run – energy bars, cereal bars, fruit or biscuits will replenish those energy levels.
- Keep drinking after you have finished. Your recovery will be much more effective.