Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Half Marathon Nutrition & Hydration

Now we know that we will be running 13.1 miles it is important to give your body the right fuel to achieve this. If you get the right combination of foods then the task of running the race will be made a great deal easier.

Unfortunately many people don't give this important matter the attention it deserves. If you try to drive a car without the proper oil in its engine, and enough fuel in the tank,  then it will break down eventually. Your body is exactly the same and you need to give it the right fuel at the right time to make it function properly.

The good news is that you can start this during your training program and carry it all the way through to race day. The key to doing this is having a well balanced diet with the focus on carbohydrates. The reason for this is pretty simple. Proteins and fat are difficult for the body to break down whereas carbohydrates are not. We will need a mix of all three but our prime focus will be a good balanced diet and carbohydrates as the main driver.

The USA Track and Field (USATF) offer some brilliant advice on this matter. It states that your fuelling strategy has a direct impact on a runner's ability to train at a higher intensity, frequency and duration. That pretty much says it all and is good advice to follow.

The best carbohydrates to take are foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit. The simple way to remember your daily consumption is this. Picture your food intake for a day all sitting on a single plate. Two thirds of that should be carbohydrates and the other third protein and fat.

half marathon hydration
Staying Hydrated During A Half Marathon


I found an interesting fact when I was writing this article. 60 percent of the human body is water. I do remember learning that at school but had forgotten about it. The important thing to take from that is that as train for the half marathon then we need to keep our body fluids up and stay hydrated.

The symptoms of dehydration are that the body can quickly lose energy, tire quickly, lose its co-ordination and result in headaches and cramps. A good way of recognising whether you are dehydrated or not is to look at the colour of your urine. If it is a dark yellow then you need more fluid. The ideal colour of urine should be a light lemonade colour.

Each person also will have a slightly different body metabolism and as such there is no "one rule fits all" rule for staying hydrated.

Many people associate hydration with drinking water. For short runs and most of the training runs that is all that will be required. However, even the best athletes in the world, will supplement water with some form of isotonic drink on longer training runs. We do this for any run longer than 5 miles. You may be slightly different but we believe that is good guidance.

In longer runs the body will start to lose water, mainly through the natural process of sweating. The body also loses what are called electrolytes and isotonic drinks which contain both salt and sugar can help replenish those and keep your properly hydrated.

These types or isotonic drink are available from a whole variety of brands such as Powerade, Lucozade and all we would say is that the one you chose will come down to your own personal taste. They all achieve the same end result so just pick the one you like the best in terms of taste.

Hydration though is not a single action. It is an ongoing process before your run, during your run and after your run. The training plan we have included increases distance over time so that will give you enough time to build up your fluids over that period.

People have asked us for average intakes of water and what we would recommend. Again each person will be different but for the purposes of guidance 2-3 litres of water a day is about the average. You should also avoid alcohol in the 48 hours before any long run. Around an hour before any long run then you should try and drink a half litre of water.

We use a runner's bottle for any run over 5 miles. Typically these bottles hold a half litre of water and we take that with us on the run itself. if the run is going to be over 10 miles then we would also take another bottle of isotonic water with us.

When the long run is finished we would then recommend drinking another half litre of water or an isotonic drink to replenish the fluids that you will have lost.


In a half marathon as you can now understand hydration is very important. Feeding your body is also important and the secret to getting that right is really all about timing. You never want to eat too close to a run as that will make you feel bloated and may even lead to being sick.

In the perfect scenario you should eat a meal 2 hours before the run and then have a quick snack an hour before your run. Ideally they should contain both protein and carbohydrates. We like to eat pasta though some other runners avoid this as it can make them sleepy. If you train in the morning porridge is a great slow release breakfast to take.

Marathon nutrition

Knowing how your body works when it comes to storing energy is important. Energy is stored as glycogen in our muscles. The average body can store enough of this glycogen that will allow us to exercise for up to 90 minutes. As our runs start to get longer we will probably start to move towards that sort of time.

That means it is important to eat properly before our longer training runs and also before the actual race day. By taking on board energy bars or gel packs, these will top up our glycogen levels and avoid hitting what is called "the wall."

Like the isotonic drinks, these types of energy packs come in a variety of flavours and different levels of carbohydrate content. They come in some basic chewy bars, some have chocolate, and other have fruit and oats mixed in. Trying to eat these when running is a bit of a task in itself and to be honest we find both the taste and the texture pretty unappetising. You could be different though and they will help, so again give them a try and you will soon know if they are for you or not.

We prefer gel packs which are simply small tubes of a paste filled with carbohydrates that you can quickly get into your body and replenish your energy. They are quick and easy to take and digest and get into your body very quickly. Yet again, these are available from many different brands and come in a variety of flavours. The best way to find out which you like the best is to try a few out and then pick your own favourite.

After any long run it is important to have a meal that will replenish your energy levels. Pasta and chicken works great in this situation.

Carb Loading Leading Up To The Race

For the longer training runs and the race itself there is a process that is termed "carb loading." In simple terms all this means is that in the days before a big run you take on board some extra carbohydrates. This is simply bout boosting the energy in your body. A good guide is to try and double the amount of carbohydrates you will east in the few days before your longer runs.

The easiest way to do this is to avid eating huge meals and try eating around 5-6 smaller meals over the period of a full day. A lot of runners tend to focus only on pasta as their main method of carbohydrate but that can become boring and dull. There are other options like wholemeal bread, peanut butter, grilled chicken, brown rice, porridge etc.