Everyone knows that nutrition is a huge part of running a fast marathon, that you can’t really make it through a marathon without some kind of fueling, but what about those of us who are running a half marathon?
That is still 1-3 hours of running, surely that needs some nutritional attention?
Yes, I definitely believe it does,
Half Marathon Fuel Strategy
One of the most important half marathon tips I can give you is to make sure you know what to eat during a half marathon that will work for you.
Half Marathon Fuel Before Running
This is one of the most critical parts of getting the half marathon meal plan right is that in the days leading up to the race, you are only eating those foods you know your body handles well.
I would recommend practicing your pre half marathon dinner at least 3-4 times before the race. If you are not able to practice, it should be something you know your stomach will be happy with as it is used to running hard after you eat it.
Sometimes that means keeping it incredibly boring (hello, plain pasta!). I would recommend doing it the night before every long run in the few months before your race.
You have to ask yourself:
Would you rather eat a boring meal or have to go to the toilet mid run (and feel horrible!).
I know what I would choose.
What to eat the night before a half marathon and what to eat for breakfast
When it comes to what to eat, it really is personal preference, but the night before a half marathon, I like to have a few baked potatoes with butter. I told you it was boring!
Before the Indy Monumental Half I had a McAllister’s Giant Spud with cheese and chicken.
The morning of the race, I will eat a large sweet potato with almond butter three hours before the race. You will need to test out the timing that works best for you. I like three hours, but you may need more or less time depending on how you feel.
If you are planning on taking on fuel during your race, you can probably get away with around 300-500 calories before the race, if you run 1:20 or under so will not be needing fuel, try to have 500-800 calories.
All runners need to start practicing pre race meal for the morning of the race. Before race day, you should have tried this out 5-6 times minimum, including the 2 tune up races. If you notice a stomach upset, considering trying it with more time before the workout (yes, even if that means getting up earlier). If a product upsets your stomach more than twice, consider switching.
What to Eat During a Marathon Race
Half marathons are a little more tricky than marathons. Although there are less miles for something to go wrong. Many half marathoners sit right on the borderline of whether they can get away without eating.
That being said, I would recommend if your half marathon time is 1 hour 20 or slower, you should definitely be consuming fuel during the race. if you are under that time, it might be a case of personal preference.
At least a month before your race, I would recommend looking at the race website, do they have a fuel along the course? That might be an easy option for you to not have to carry anything. Purchase that product and start to practice with it for every long run and every hard workout.
If you find your stomach gets upset, consider a different brand. You won’t need as many or as much as you would in a marathon, so it should be easier to carry with you.
If you do not like that brand, or you find your stomach gets upset more than three times with that product, try something different. Once you find one you like, stick with it!
A note for anyone with stomach upsets:
I have NEVER heard of anyone having an issue with stomach upset when using Generation UCAN. If you have had gastrointestinal issues in the past, I would strongly recommend it. You can also make it into “gels” by mixing it into either these Hammer bottles or just mixing a scoop/packet into 3-4oz water in one of these ziplock bags and squeeze the air out. You can easily rip off the corner, and consume it.
Using the code RUNNING4REAL will give you 10% off.
Whether you use Generation UCAN, the fuel available on the race course, or something else, you must start practicing from the beginning.
That means you get the practice of taking it when you are fatigued, and ideally, you should take as many as you intend to in the race, at the intervals you intend to for the race.
How many energy gels for a half marathon?
If you are going to be using gels in your half marathon, once again, you will have to decide what works best for you and your body.
If you are going to take fuel every 40 minutes in the race, fuel every 40 minutes in your long runs and workouts. If you intend to walk through the water stations, take the fuel in between your repeats.
In workouts, you want to practice taking them at speed. During your long runs, you will mostly be going slow enough to take it comfortably, but it is a LOT harder to take it moving fast, so practice that too.
With gels, you must make sure to practice drinking too. Gels must be consumed with water.
Half marathon drinking strategy
I have definitely converted to liquid fuel during races, and is easier in every way than gels. I find I don’t have the sugar highs and crashes, and I as I mentioned, I have never heard of anyone having an upset stomach with the product I use.
Another good thing is that you don’t have to worry about taking water separately, as it’s mixed in with the UCAN.
Practice the liquid fuel the same as I mentioned with the gels above. Take it at the intervals you intend to use during the race, and in your workouts at race pace or even faster than race pace.
You want to practice with the volume you intend to use during the race. Around 5-7oz at a time is good for most people taking it every 20-40 minutes.
Practice by placing bottles along your running route, on walls, benches, or even on the floor. It is worth the few seconds you lose in your workout to bend down and pick it up. I have done some runs where I just do loops, or go back and forth, so I can practice my fuel.
When I practice, I usually mix up my own solution in smaller bottles, and carry them in my Saucony Bullet Shorts and Capris for long runs and workouts. Those hammer bottles I mentioned above are ideal for this. These shorts/capris are wonderful too, you won’t notice the bottle at all, really! It doesn’t bounce or move, and I cannot recommend them enough.
How do you eat and drink during a half marathon?
I mentioned I use Generation UCAN CranRaz Superstarch for my marathons, but as my half marathon PR is 1:13, I am just about okay to run without fueling.
However, if I could go back, I probably would have added fuel in there, as it was definitely long enough to need it, and I wonder if I would have run better with it.
Oh, and Meb uses UCAN, just thought you should know 😉
Other Half Marathon Products
Those are the main things you need to nail down, but I would just like to suggest a few other products for you to consider.
I have talked a lot about EnduroPacks in the past. For half and full marathons their Electrolyte Spray is ideal, and I put it in my Saucony Bullet Shorts during my races to spray into my mouth. You can also spray it into any water of your choice, I just find it easier to go right to the source!
If you struggle with electrolyte imbalance cramps, this will be a lifesaver.
You can use coupon code TINAMUIR for 15% off.
I only started using this about half a year ago, but it is a life changer if you find that you need a mental pick me up in the final few miles of your race.
It feels like you have had a shot of caffeine injected into your veins, and you will notice a sudden ZING when it works its magic, you will feel wide awake!
It can be a little tough to chew, and I found that out when I was racing the Indy Monumental Half, but it was well worth it for the energy buzz.
Run Gum also has Taurine and B12 vitamins, which are great for energy.
What other products do I use during a half marathon?
I like to carry the EnduroPacks bottle in my shorts, and spray 10 times into my mouth around the half way point, and take it with some water. You might want to take it more if you struggle with cramps.
I like to use RunGum around 10 miles to give me a wake up for those final few miles.
I don’t have coffee every day, but I do drink it for workouts and long runs. I like to have a cup of coffee 2 hours before my run, and on race day I drink it 2 hours before my race. It is important to practice this part too!
How to Prepare for a Half Marathon
This is the king of rookie errors, but definitely worth reminding you!
It is VERY important to decide which shoes you want to wear for your race at least a month before the race day, as you will need to wear them for at least 50 miles to get your feet used to them. I love wearing the Saucony Fastwitch for half marathons, and I will do my warmups in my Saucony Kinvara or Saucony Ride.
I recommend using your racing shoes at least one long run and your tune up races or a few workouts.
The remainder of your long runs, you can probably just use your training shoes. It would be even better to wear your racing shoes for all your hard days, but only if you have a second pair you can transition in with a few weeks to go. Just make sure you get at least 3 workouts in the new pair before you race.
You should also wear your race day outfit (all of it, from sports bra to socks) at least two times during your workouts to make sure nothing chafes. I would recommend you do this on your longest run of the training segment, to make sure it feels good.
If anything rubs, be sure to put vaseline in that area every time you wear that in the future.
The more you can control and practice on race day, the less things there are to go wrong. Then you really know you have prepared as best you can.
What do you practice before race day?
Marathon Nutrition Cheatsheet
Don't leave race day to chance! Nail your marathon nutrition using this plan