The 10 expert-approved tips for half marathon nutrition, including what to eat on race morning, how to hydrate and how to fuel during long runs.
Fueling for a half marathon shouldn’t be complicated. Sure, there are some basic nutrition rules you need to know and race day nutrition definitely requires some planning, but mastering some simple techniques will set you on the path to a PR. Luckily, you don’t need to figure it all out on your own.
As a Registered Dietitian and marathon runner, I’m sharing my top 10 tips to help you ace your ½ marathon and perform at your best.
1. Fuel properly for training runs
Whether you’re an experienced marathoner or a first-timer, it’s important to go into every training run properly fueled. Although the amount of fuel you need varies based on mileage, a good rule of thumb is to eat some simple carbs (fruit, dried fruit, low-fiber grains, 100% juice), at least 90 minutes before a run.
For more specifics on pre-run fueling and examples, check out these helpful resources:
- The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
- What To Eat Before & After A Workout
- 10 Nutrition Tips For New Runners
2. Recover from training runs
Half marathon training runs differ from the non-training “fun run” because they often include speed and hill workouts. With that, recovery nutrition becomes essential for repairing and refueling tired muscles to make tomorrow’s workout easier.
Have a mixture of carbs and protein after every training run, such as a glass of chocolate milk or a piece of fruit with nut butter. For longer runs, a post-run Sunshine Smoothie or Turmeric Egg Sandwich are always good options.
3. Pay attention to macros
There are three macronutrients and each serve a different purpose. Carbohydrates provide energy for exercise, protein helps with muscle building, organ function and appetite control and fat is for storage and regulating hunger.
All three macros are essential during half marathon training. Carbs often come before and after a run, while protein and fat are necessary post-run for muscle repair and satisfying your runner’s hunger. [Read more about macros and macro tracking here.]
4. But don’t forget micros
It’s normal to focus solely on marcos and forget about micros, aka the micronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are vital for staying healthy during marathon training, especially these three:
- Vitamin C– increasing can put a strain on your immune system, so make sure you eat plenty of vitamin C rich fruits and veggies, like citrus, mango, berries and leafy greens.
- Vitamin D– most people are deficient in Vitamin D, especially in the winter. This nutrient is important for bone health, and the last thing you want is weak bones! Vitamin D is only found in a few foods, like eggs, mushrooms, Brazil nuts and fatty fish, so you may want to ask your doctor about a supplement.
- Calcium– this bone-building mineral is the best buddy of Vitamin D. Luckily, it’s found in plenty of foods, like dairy, soy products, nuts and leafy greens.
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“Hydration is the most important tool you’re not using” is the name of the hydration chapter in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
Hydrating properly takes some trial and error, but it’s guaranteed to increase your performance when done correctly. I could (and will) write an entire post about this, but for now remember this– you can tell if you’re properly hydrated by your urine color. If it’s pale yellow, you’re hydrated. If it’s dark yellow, you need to take in more water. Easy peasy!
6. Add fuel during long runs
Your body naturally stores fuel for exercise, but it has limited storage space (sounds like an NYC apartment). This stored fuel, called glycogen, lasts for about an hour. For runs lasting longer than an hour, it’s necessary to replenish carbs to have enough energy to finish the run.
If you’re new to this, start with a few swigs of a sports drink or half a sports gel or gummie packet right as you’re approaching with 1-hour mark. These products definitely help, but they may upset your stomach at first, so start slow until you learn what you can tolerate. [Read more about handling stomach issues while running here.]
7. Try out fuel on training runs
Because fueling while running can cause digestive issues, it’s important to try it out during training runs. In other words, don’t try to fuel during a run for the first time on race day.
A good way to practice is to simulate race day conditions on long run days. Figure out when it’s best for you to take in fuel during that practice run.
8. Research the course
Races vary drastically, based on the location and time of year. Some races, like those in NYC, have a hydration station at practically every mile marker and a fueling station at least once during a half marathon.
Others, in more remote locations, have less hydration and fueling stations, and you may want to carry your own fuel of choice during the race. Research this well ahead of time so you know when you’ll be able to drink and fuel during the race, and practice this during your training.
9. Practice race day morning
Waking up at the crack of dawn and trying to fill your belly with carbs is not exactly easy to do. You may not be hungry when you first wake up. That’s why you should practice race day morning a few weeks prior, preferably on a long run day. Wake up at the time you would for a race, eat the pre-race breakfast and start your run at race time.
See how your stomach reacts to the food and observe if your muscles have enough fuel to get you through the long run. And don’t forget to drink water before the race!
10. Learn more!
Each one of these tips could be an article in itself, but this is a good starting point to help you achieve all of your half marathon goals. For a more in-depth info, check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runners, which covers: