Ask The Expert

What To Eat Before Running A Half-Marathon (Experts Answer)

What are some of the things to bear in mind when fuelling for a half-marathon? We asked a group of nutrition and fitness experts for their thoughts

What To Eat Before Running A Half-Marathon
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

You don’t need us to tell you that good nutrition is incredibly important when it comes to performing at your best in a half-marathon.

Training in the right way to prepare your body for the race – which takes place over 13.1 miles or 21.09 kilometres – is clearly key, but making sure you’ve fulled yourself correctly is also important.

So, what are some of the important points to bear in mind when it comes to your nutrition before running a half-marathon?

We asked a selected group of nutrition and fitness experts for their top tips when it comes to preparing for race-day from a nutritional standpoint. Here is what they said.

Practice A Pre-Race Nutrition Routine – And Avoid Alcohol

Hillary Ake, Registered Dietician and Founder of sportsnutritionally.com

In my experience something that many people don’t think of, that is incredibly important, is to avoid alcohol at least 48 hours before the race. Not only does alcohol dehydrate you but it disrupts sleep, which is ultra-important prior to a race, and can negatively affect aerobic output.

I would go so far as to say to not drink alcohol immediately following a race either as it can lengthen your recovery time and I know celebratory drinks are common.

As far as recommendations for eating prior to a race, the most important thing is to practice a pre-race routine in the weeks leading up to the race to find the foods, beverages and timing that make you feel good while running.

Try out different gels, chews, bars, and sports drinks and powders ahead of time to see what you best tolerate. Aim for foods that are low in fiber, high in carbohydrate, and moderately high in sodium for the day before the race through the race.

Suggestions include pretzels, white rice, pasta, bagels, waffles, white bread or toast, cereal without added fiber, crackers, grits, cream of wheat, potatoes, uncrustables.

On the day of the race, eat breakfast two to three hours before race-time with a combination of these carbs and some protein to keep you full while limiting fat that can cause some GI distress.

Best Foods To Eat Before 10k Run

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Some people prefer liquid options on race day but again, try these out as other runners don’t like the feeling of too much liquid jostling in their stomach. Some suggestions would be a waffle with syrup, a cup of strawberries, and a small glass of orange juice (85 grams of carbs) or an English muffin with jelly, 1 cup cantaloupe, and 1 container low-fat yogurt (88 grams of carbs).

Breakfast should also include about 20 ounces of fluid. Then, a high-carb snack about 60 minutes before race time, which could be your gels, waffles, chews, bars, pureed fruit along with about 10 ounces of hydration.

Runners should then get 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates in each hour of the race, whether through sports drinks with carbohydrates or through gels, chews, bars, etc and should try to get 3 to 10 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes, depending on your hydration needs.

Fluid intake should increase and runners should monitor their urine color to ensure they are well-hydrated in the 24 hours leading up to a race. Urine color should be a light lemonade color, water intake should be increased if urine is darker and sodium or sport drink consumption should be increased if urine is clear.

Every person’s needs are widely different based on training status, body size, where they are in their training/competition phases. Someone who ran a race two weeks ago has different needs than someone who is running their first race of the season, and a person who has a full marathon in a month and is using the half as training has different needs than someone who has tapered their training the week leading up to a race.

Additionally, the temperature, humidity, and altitude of the race location affect race needs, as well as the race course. So I can’t stress how important it is for each person to trial what works best for them, their body, and their training rather than focusing on grams and ounces!

Man Running On Road

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Your Long-Term Diet Is Just As Important As Your Pre-Race Nutrition

Lisa Richards, Nutritionist, The Candida Diet

Training for a race in the short-term and long-term requires focus on both physical aspects as well as nutritional aspects.

Short term nutrition, as in immediately before a training session or competition, should be low fiber and high carbohydrate. Fiber can cause gastrointestinal upset while running and lead to slower times and poor performance.

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source for energy, and when you provide your body with a high-quality carbohydrate 30 to 60 minutes before start time it will have access to an adequate amount of glucose and stored carbs in the form of glycogen.

The long-term diet of a runner should look a lot like most healthy and balanced diets, with a focus on quality carbs, lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. Fuelling your body with quality nutrients is not something that should only be a priority during a race-week.

A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar can lead to gut dysbiosis, inflammation, and Candida overgrowth.

These side-effects from a low quality diet can cause issues during your race and result in a performance that is less than ideal.

Physical training must be met with nutritional training for the runner to get the most optimal results from their bodies.

Running Race

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Plan How (Or If) You Carb Load In Advance – And Keep Your Diet Consistent

Jack McNamara, Personal Trainer and Running Specialist, TRAINFITNESS

Loading carbohydrates, or carb loading, is a very popular and valuable component of pre-race dietary preparation if done correctly. However, done incorrectly, it can actually end up having a detrimental impact on your race-day performance.

As much as a pasta party or carb-loading dinner the night before can be a fun way to socialise with your fellow racegoers, it would be best if you didn’t fall into the trap of believing that you can do all of your carb-loading in a single sitting.

Always aim to spread it out over at least a few days before the event. By attempting to force-feed ourselves carbohydrates, as a way to increase our body’s glycogen stores (the converted fuel our muscles utilise during endurance exercise), we are trying to ameliorate the precipitous decline in performance some of us will experience when those glycogen stores run out – proverbially known as ‘hitting the wall’.

However, whilst our night before carb-fest is laced with good intentions, the reality is that short-term carb-loading often serves only to leave us feeling bloated and sluggish the morning after – not to mention the potential downsides associated with a fuller than usual digestive tract…

Whilst variety is the spice of life, the days (even weeks) before your race are not the time to get adventurous or experimental with your diet.

The best advice is to avoid new foods – this also includes energy bars, gels, and sports drinks – to ensure you minimise your risk of digestive problems. If you’re planning to consume sports drinks, gels, supplements, or bars right before or during the race, make sure you have tried and tested them well in advance during your training. Not everyone will tolerate these sorts of products well, especially those high in fructose or containing polyols, as they can often cause digestion problems.

Making sure your body is familiar with and well accustomed to your pre-and intra-race nutrition will minimise your risk of any unwanted race day surprises.

When it comes to water, just make sure you maintain the same levels of good hydration that you’d be aiming to keep on any other day. There’s very little evidence to suggest that pre-loading water has any discernible benefit for half-marathon performance.

As for the electrolyte, sport and energy drinks handed out at the race, you may want to avoid the temptation to chug them down too much on race day (even if they are free!).

If you haven’t been carb-loading leading up to the race, it doesn’t mean you have to exclude yourself from attending a social occasion or indulging your pasta of choice. It’s OK to eat a little, but be sure not to overeat or leave yourself feeling stuffed – too much loading the night before can lead to unloading on the day.

Running Shoes

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

It’s never advisable to just ‘get up and go’ on the day of the race, as your body won’t be ready to perform at its best. The general advice consensus usually centres on waking up three to four hours before the race so that you can hydrate adequately and (if you’ve practised it) have a light carbohydrate-based breakfast.

Typical pre-race meals and snacks include things like granola bars and bananas, but in general, it’s best to avoid fibre-rich foods to prevent bowel movements before (or during) the half-marathon.

As with every other type of activity or physical exertion, hydration should be in moderation only – if your stomach starts to slosh around like a bucket, you’ll prevent yourself from performing at your best.

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