6 Simple Rules To Fuel Your Half Marathon
Do you need to fuel during a half marathon? It’s an excellent question!
As you cover the 13.1-mile course, you will most likely find yourself struggling for adequate energy if you do not take in some calories. Most half marathoners consider fueling to be an essential component of their race day strategy.
Should You Eat or Drink During a Half Marathon?
The simple answer is YES. You absolutely should fuel during a half marathon or when running long distances. The complicated part is figuring out how much, how often, and what you should be eating.
Having said that, if you ask enough runners, you will certainly find some who do not take in any calories at all during a half marathon. Please, please, please trust me when I say that they are an anomaly. Most of us require some type of calories in order to keep moving for that long.
If you are not intentional in your fueling during a half marathon (or other, longer races), you may find yourself hitting The Wall.
What Happens If You Don’t Fuel Properly?
Runners who do not take in an adequate amount of calories during a race often hit the proverbial wall. In the world of endurance sports, hitting the wall is also known as “boinking.” It is where you are going along feeling great when all of the sudden, it’s like someone throws a brick wall right in front of you and you smacked right into it.
While it is not a real, physical wall, the reality is that the physical impacts are very real. What has happened is you have depleted your body’s glycogen stores.
How do you prevent this? By taking in fuel!
Translation: eating or drinking calories, typically in the form of carbohydrates.
How Do You Fuel A Half Marathon?
Most runners agree that any run over 60 minutes needs fuel. How fueling needs to be spaced out does vary by runner, as does the amount of fuel you need to take in, in regards to calories.
A good rule of thumb is to start fueling about 45 minutes into your run. Fueling typically occurs every 30-45 minutes thereafter. The amount of fuel you take in depends on you since every person’s body is different. Anywhere from 100 – 150 calories per “dose” of fuel is the norm.
This is also assuming that you took in a decent pre-race meal to adequately prepare your body for the race or run you are about to do. More on that later.
I recommend those without a fueling plan to have a small breakfast somewhere between 2-2 1/2 hours before their race. Some runners also want something very small like an energy bar right before the race starts. After that, taking in fuel every 45 minutes is a great starting point.
This gives you something to aim for, and you can see if you seem to need fuel earlier or more frequently than that.
Staying properly fueled is super important. It is also important to be adequately hydrated.
Do You Need To Hydrate During A Half Marathon?
Yes, you should hydrate during a half marathon. You need somewhere between a liter and 2 liters of liquid during your race. Of course, it does depend on external factors.
If it is particularly hot and sunny, you may find yourself needing more water. This is also true if it is humid. During a winter half marathon, you may find yourself needing less fluids. It is okay to adjust your hydration based on temperature.
At most races, there are water stations every 1 1/2 – 2 miles throughout the course. If it is especially hot, this may not be enough for you. This is why I prefer to carry my own fluids. I like a hydration belt because it allows me to carry one bottle of water and one filled with an endurance drink. Often, these belts also have a place to carry your fuel.
For me, this is important because I try not to eat the on-course fuel unless it is something I have had before. This helps me to avoid an upset stomach and gastro disasters while running.
My Garmin beeps every mile. I make myself take some tiny sips of water each time my Garmin beeps. I also make sure to drink when I fuel, in addition to that.
What Is The Best Way To Fuel A Half Marathon
There are many options for fueling during your longer runs or half marathon race. These fall into different categories.
Energy Gels: There are a plethora of sports nutrition options that come in a handy gel format. These gels are small, compact, easy to open and carry, and the perfect dose of carbohydrates.
Chews: Some people do not care for the consistency of the gels and prefer a chew of some kind. Similar to a fruit snack, they come in small packages and are also easy to transport.
Energy Bars: Although they are a bit bigger and often not as easy to digest, energy bars are another energy source option. My favorite is the Cliff bar!
Waffles: This is my fuel of choice, the Honey Stinger Waffle. They are like a soft waffle ice cream cone with some type of filling in the middle.
Real Food Options: The last category involves real food options. This deserves its own category!
Real Food To Fuel Your Half Marathon!
Have you seen those applesauce pouches that little kids love? These are equally as popular with runners! Baby food also comes in handy pouches and makes great fuel for a long run.
If fruit chews don’t agree with your stomach, consider eating plain old dried fruit snacks. Perhaps sugar foods are not your thing. Raisins or dates might make a good option if you prefer to get your energy boost from nature’s glucose sources. Honey can also be purchased in small pouches or “honey straws” for the quick blast of energy.
Believe it or not, some runners and endurance athletes carry small sandwiches with spreads such as honey or jam on them, and others snack on bits of potatoes to get their quick energy fix.
The fact is, there is no wrong answer. If your fueling strategy works for you and allows you to perform well, that is all that matters!
Pre-Race Fueling Strategy
It bears mention that you should set the stage for a successful run by having a good breakfast, whether you are about to do a long run or race. This can be anything from oatmeal to toast or bagel with peanut butter.
Getting something into your body a couple of hours before you race helps get you ready to perform. Just give yourself enough time to digest that food before hitting the start line. A mid-race poop never helped anyone to PR!
The 6 Rules Every Half Marathon and Marathon Runner Should Follow:
Just to recap what we learned are important components:
1. Eat a decent breakfast: something your body is accustomed to on the long run days.
2. Hydrate with sports drinks/water the day before, and also the morning of.
3. Carry your fuel. Make sure it is something you have practiced with.
4. Have a fueling strategy. We recommend every 45 minutes if you don’t have a plan.
5. Remember to drink while you run. Water and/or your electrolyte drink of choice.
6. After the race, be sure to take in carbs and protein to refuel your body.
Race happy, friends!
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