What To Eat for Your Next Half Marathon

By Carissa Liebowitz

Fueling your body for 13.1 miles is a training plan in its own right. The right combination can be the backbone of successful training runs. It is important to not only fuel yourself properly on race day, but throughout your training program.

Especially on the days leading up to long runs, you should be eating a well-balanced diet with a concentration on carbohydrates.

(MORE: 13 Essential Tips for Your First Half Marathon)

According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), athletes should consume at least 50 percent, but ideally 60 to 70 percent of their total calories from carbohydrates. When compared to protein and fat, carbohydrates are the most efficiently broken-down and metabolized form of energy for the body.

What to eat? Try complex carbs

Fill your diet whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Proteins and fats should take a secondary role in your diet. If you think of your plate as a peace sign, fill two-thirds with complex carbohydrates and leave the other one-third for the fats and proteins.

By providing your body with the right nutritional formula, you will ensure that you have the best performance possible during your training runs.

The USA Track & Field (USATF) reminds runners that their fueling strategy has an impact on their runners’ ability to train at a higher intensity, frequency, and duration. Additionally, it can have an effect on a runner’s adaptation to training and their chance for injury.

(MORE: 20-Week Half Marathon Training Plan)

Use your long runs to create a strategy for the week of the race. Many runners have a pre-race dinner ritual that is tried and true. Abby, an 8-time half marathoner from Delaware, enjoys a plate of pasta the night before the race.

Do not use the night before a race as a time to experiment on new foods, however. Christine, a five-time half marathoner from Connecticut, reminds runners if you’re thinking of indulging the night before, “Resist! Plan on eating that big bowl of spicy nachos after the race.”

Practice the same thing when it comes to breakfast before running. Stick to a few hundred calories of complex carbohydrates within a couple hours leading up to the run. Experiment with variations and time during your training period.

Take note on the long runs that you feel particularly energetic and try the combination over again for the next run. “Two pieces of whole wheat bread with peanut butter and honey, a cup of coffee, and a glass of water with an EmergenC packet,” is the breakfast of choice of Linnea, a 14-time half marathon finisher.

Sport gels, beans and energy drinks

As for the actual race, many half marathon runners use gels, bars, chomps, and sports drinks to stay fueled during their run. Nutrition while running is probably the hardest hurdle for most half marathoners.

Everyone is different when it comes to what is most effective for their stomach, pace, and preference. Many times it can take multiple runs to figure out what combination and brands work best.

Scott, a three-time half marathoner from Atlanta, prefers Hammer gels every five miles. A gel at mile 5 and at mile 9 works best for M.J. Allen, a four-time half marathoner from Virginia. Chris, a running coach and specialist from Nebraska, stresses about fuel strategy, “Do not make changes on race day!”

Nutrition for recovery is the final piece of the puzzle. According to the USATF, runners should eat or drink a minimum of 50 grams worth of carbohydrates and 7 to 15 grams of protein after a run of an hour or more within 30 minutes of finishing.

This narrow window allows glycogen to be replaced in as little as 12 to 16 hours as opposed to 24 to 36 hours.

When training, this is very important for runners to bounce back and be ready for the next workout. On the day of the race, follow the same strategy to minimize energy crashes and to return to running as quickly as possible.

4 comments… add one
  • Andrew January 12, 2016, 1:14 pm

    I want someone to make a calander that I can use a month before the half marathon, that tells me things i need to eat and how much of it.

    • Andi February 9, 2016, 5:20 pm

      Amen!!! That’s what I’ve been saying!! I don’t want to have to do math to figure out % of what I need to eat. Tell me what specific foods I can eat and when!

    • Jennifer Catron May 30, 2019, 10:17 am

      The reason you haven’t seen a plan like that is because food greatly depends on you. A man needs more than a woman. Men need more protein, women need more complex carbs. It also depends on your metabolism and how many miles you run per day. The best thing to do is record what you eat, how much you run, and whether you are maintaining or losing. Look at the calorie load. If you are maintaining at that calorie load, then that’s most likely where you should be. Plug that into google with marathon training meal prep and the number of calories that you need and there are tons of websites that will calculate what and when.

  • Claire November 22, 2015, 2:34 pm

    Gels work really good, try to not eat hard things while running like crunchy granola bars, it makes it hard to chew and you can choke while you are walking/running


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