Don’t care about running, glycogen stores, or electrolyte replenishing? Feel free to bail now, and drop by next week when we return to our regularly scheduled theme-recipe programming.
But if you’re one of the many people who reach my blog searching for information on “what to eat before a half marathon” and “how to eat during a half marathon,” this post may interest you. Consider this a pre-cap of a half marathon, because I’m going to talk about what I plan to do, nutrition-wise, to prepare for an upcoming race (Amica Newport, Oct. 16).
Big caveat: I am not an RD (nor an MD, or PhD, etc), and I am certainly not an RD specializing in sports nutrition. I have run a grand total of 1 half marathon, so I’m not even an expert in that. The plan I’m describing is for my own personal requirements, and is derived from the wisdom of more-experienced people. Two highly recommended resources that I’ve found invaluable are Matt Frazier’s No Meat Athlete (including his half marathon roadmap) and RD Nancy Clark’s book “The Sports Nutrition Guidebook.”
To put all this into context (and maybe help you try or modify things for yourself), some data: I’m a 34-year-old female, roughly 130 pounds, eating a net 1,650 kcals daily for weight maintenance. I don’t have any food allergies or significant dietary restrictions (aside from hating the taste of cilantro). I’m not a fast runner; I did my first halfathon in 1:56:26 and am hoping to shave up to 5 minutes off that in Newport.
Pre-pre-race fueling (training runs)
Last time, I copped to being woefully unknowledgeable about nutritional and hydration needs for training runs. This time around, any run lasting more than 1 hour requires food and water planning. I carry my water bottle and drink up to 20 ounces as I run. Thirty to sixty minutes before starting, I drink a small cup of black tea for the caffeine, and eat 100-150 kcals of carb-rich, low-fiber food with a little protein (Cream of Wheat made with soy milk, typically). While running, I eat energy gels (90-120 kcals, depending on the product) at 45 minutes, and every 30 minutes thereafter.
I’ve also been paying attention to post-run refueling, because I’ve read expert after expert extolling the importance of respecting the 30-minute window. During that period after strenuous exercise, the body needs carbs to replenish glycogen stores, and it is especially receptive to using dietary protein to repair and build muscle. So after most of my harder runs (speed intervals, hill work, and the long ones), I’ve been downing kale protein smoothies.
Pre-race fueling (the week prior to the race)
Here, the plan is very similar to what I did the last time around: stockpile carbs for at least three days prior to the race. Both Matt and Nancy advise this, rather than the stereotypical enormous pasta dinner the night before the race. My usual diet puts my daily carb intake at roughly 50% of kcals, but I will bump that to 60-65% of kcals Thursday through Saturday heading into the Sunday morning race.
The day before race day, I’m going to front-load my kcals into breakfast, lunch and snacks, and eat a moderately sized dinner. That way, I don’t have a huge dinner bogging down my gut when I wake up Sunday morning.
Race day – before
I’ll be following the same guidelines I used last time: 100 kcals of food (3:1 carb to protein) for each hour between when I wake up and race start; 10-15 ounces of water 2 hours before the race start, and another 6-8 ounces 15-20 minutes before; and a little caffeine. That will probably mean Cream of Wheat with soy milk (6 oz), black tea (8 oz), some water to make up the difference, and an energy gel, all between 5:00 and 6:00 am (race start is 8:00).
My planned pre-race water intake is a little lower than what most experts recommend, but I have a hamster bladder that doesn’t accommodate much more than that.
Race day – during
Based on my weight & likely running time, I figure I need to consume the following while running: 270 kcals of carbs; 25-30 ounces of water; 530 mg sodium; 130 mg potassium. To accomplish all that, I’ll eat at least two energy gels, and drink a full water bottle with table salt added plus a few cups from water stations. That’s more water intake than I had during the previous halfathon, which is probably why I felt insanely thirsty several times.
I’ve strayed during my training and tried some of the commercial energy gels, but quickly learned I’d rather eat my Sauconys than those things. Blegh. So like I did in the Providence run, I’ll be carrying homemade chia-seed and fruit energy gel, from the recipe (via No Meat Athlete) by Midpack Runner.
Race day – after
Last time, I made up a recovery drink recipe pretty last-minute, but I think it did the job. I used rough body-weight-based guidelines – 100g carbs, 25g protein, some added sodium – and made up a 600-kcal batch. I included the recipe in this post, and I’ll be making it again the day before Newport.
That’s the whole plan, so we’ll have to see how this all carries me through another 13.1 miles. I’ll have another non sequitur post in a few weeks with the recap!