Every Thursday, Svveat Stories tackles your most pressing fitness questions—this week, Naturopathic Dr. Elizabeth Mingay shares her top tips for half-marathon fuelling.
After years of thinking about it, I finally bit the bullet and registered for my first half-marathon. I’m confident I can handle the actual running, but my nutrition could definitely use some work. How do should I be eating to ensure I’m performing at my best?
Hey, Fast Feet.
Some people use running as an excuse to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. And while it’s totally reasonable to indulge in your guilty pleasures every now and then, treating yourself to unhealthy foods too often could be sabotaging your running goals. If you want to perform at your best, you need to be mindful of what you’re consuming—and when.
- Foods to eat and foods to avoid
At least two weeks prior to race day, and in the days surrounding your long training runs, reduce your intake of inflammatory food and drinks. These include: alcohol, gluten, dairy, added sugars, caffeine, pop, and acidic foods like peppers and tomatoes. This will help with recovery, as well as performance outcome. Within the same time period, increase your intake of low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as: brown rice and quinoa; lean protein, such as chicken, fish and game meats; healthy fats, like avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and beans; dark, leafy greens; and carbohydrate-rich vegetables, like sweet potato and squash.
- Carbs, carbs, carbs
Carb-loading should begin about three days prior to race day, to avoid fatigue and heavy legs from increasing glycogen stores too quickly.
- Pre-race prep
The day before your race, your biggest meal should be eaten in the middle of the day to allow for adequate digestion and nutrient absorption. Dinner the night before a race should be on the lighter side, the majority comprised of protein and veggies. Breakfast on the morning of the race should include carbohydrates that are low in fibre and therefore easy to digest, and protein; for example, a piece of whole wheat or gluten-free toast with natural peanut butter and sliced banana. Consume foods on race day and the day before that you have enjoyed and tolerated well many times before.
- Race fuelling 101
What is most important when it comes to half-marathon training is to practise fuelling before race day. The biggest mistake runners make is trying out new gels or pre-race meals for the first time on race weekend. Our gastrointestinal systems already tend to be hyperactive on race days due to nerves, so save the trial and error for a long training run. In training and racing alike, you need to fuel your body with 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates no later than the 60-minute mark. If you choose to take a gel, be sure to drink about three ounces of water at the same time so the high-glycemic sugars do not upset your gut. Prior to that, you should not need anything other than water approximately every 20 minutes. If it’s a hot day, take two waters at every station—one to pour on yourself and one to consume. It is also wise to sip on coconut water or an electrolyte drink just before getting to the start line to keep blood sugars up, as you should have consumed breakfast approximately 90 minutes prior to the gun going off.
- Post-race replenishment
Following training and racing, you should consume a balanced snack comprised of carbohydrates and protein within approximately 15-30 minutes of completion to maximize the replenishment of the liver and muscles’ glycogen stores. Hydrate with water containing electrolytes.
- Upping your distance?
Fuelling for a full marathon doesn’t look drastically different from a half-marathon, except that you want to be carb-loading a few days prior to your long training runs in the months leading up to your race to maximize glycogen stores for race day. The tips above apply to all marathon training runs, as they will all be over an hour in duration.
Have a fitness question you’d like us to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask us in the comments below.