The Ultimate Half-Marathon Nutrition Plan

Everything you need to fuel up for the race

Jan 27, 2012
Outside Magazine
Horizon organic chocolate milk

Horizon organic chocolate milk    Photo: Courtesy of Horizon

You can put in the physical and mental training, but if you don’t train your stomach, you could end up spilling your guts instead of sprinting for glory. We spoke with Denver-based Registered Dietician, Beth Jauquet, to create a nutritional guide that’ll take you the distance.

Continue to eat the same as you did when you were in the full swing of training and your body will store the glycogen you need to fuel your race. Jauquet recommends that you eat balanced meals, meaning they contain about 50 to 65 percent complex carbs, like brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, corn, squash, and fruits and vegetables, and 30 percent fat. The rest of your calories should come from lean protein, like chicken, pork tenderloin, shellfish, or tofu.

“Pasta isn’t bad,” Jauquet says. “But have what your body is used to, and make it a balanced meal.” If you want pasta, think pasta with marinara sauce, a lean protein, and some sautéed or roasted vegetables. Stay away from high-fiber foods the night before, as well as dairy if you know you have a hard time digesting it.

“The general rule of thumb is to eat breakfast two to four hours before the race starts,” Jauquet says. Eat something familiar and easy to digest. For some people, that may be oatmeal with fruit and milk. For others, that may be cereal with yogurt and fruit, or a bagel with peanut butter and fruit. And don’t forget to hydrate. Jauquet recommends drinking 16 to 24 ounces of water two hours before the race, and an additional 8 ounces of water about 15 to 30 minutes before.

“Find out ahead of time what food will be provided at your race,” Jauquet says. That way, if you trained with Gatorade and the aid stations have Cytomax, you won’t be thrown for a loop. If your event provides liquids or foods you can’t stand, consider wearing your own hydration belt.

Once you figure out what you’ll use for fuel, follow this plan: Drink something every 15 minutes, starting 15 minutes into your race. Most people need between 30 and 60 grams of carbs per hour, Jauquet says. That’s 120 to 240 calories. Figure out how many carbs you need to sustain your running during long training runs by taking in 30 grams per hour (spread throughout the hour, not all at once) then adjusting the amount by how you feel. If you bonk on 30 grams, you need to take in more. Try alternating between a sports drink and water, taking in other food, like gels, blocks, or bites of banana, with the water as needed. That said, if you’re running hard and not too much longer than an hour, you might not need any calories. Hall says he only took in a couple ounces of water on his record-breaking run. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Jauquet also recommends you determine your sweat rate, so you can aim to replace the fluids you’re losing as you run. Figure it out by weighing yourself naked, running for a half hour without drinking, then stepping on the scale again. For every pound lost, figure you’ve lost 16 ounces of fluid. Multiply that number by two to get your sweat rate per hour, then aim to drink that much as you run. Don’t worry if that seems difficult, as most people have a hard time making up for their sweat rate during their run, Jauquet says. If you can take in 80 percent of what you’re losing, you’ll be in good shape. You can replace the rest after you cross the finish line.

Example sweat rate calculation: You lost one pound during your half hour test run. One pound = 16 ounces x 2 = 32 ounces per hour. 32 / 4 = 8 ounces every 15 minutes.

Want a simpler rule of thumb? Tim Noakes, a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, has recommended drinking according to your thirst.

“Your muscles are most susceptible to recovery immediately after you finish exercising,” Jauquet says. Protein is particularly important right now, as it will help repair damaged muscle fibers. Replace protein and carbs all at once by drinking lowfat chocolate milk as soon as possible. If you can’t digest dairy, chocolate soy milk will also work. Single-serve cartons of Horizon chocolate milk and Silk soy milk don’t need to be refrigerated, so you can toss one into a bag to drink at the finish. Once your stomach is settled, eat a balanced meal, just like you have all week.