Half Marathon Nutrition Strategy

When devising a training plan for any race, first thoughts are to base this around the number of miles per week you aim to run and any additional methods of training to compliment this i.e. strength work, cross-training, pilates or yoga. I most certainly took this approach when I first began running many years ago. Over time I have understood the real value of nutrition and how important it is to get to nurture my body to get the most out of my sessions and to constantly better my times.
I’ve tweaked and tailored my nutrition along my health and fitness journey with what works best for me and what my body responds well to. It’s been a very “trial and error” process, but I’ve also enjoyed doing my own research online and getting ideas and tips from other friends.
Strategy 1 – fuelling before a long run
Sunday is normally my long run day. To ensure I am fuelled correctly for the higher mileage runs I always eat a bowl of porridge with some added protein powder, mainly for flavour, topped with peanut butter or fruit. I set my alarm accordingly to leave myself approximately 60 – 90 minutes from eating to when I intend to start my run. This is to make sure the food has settled and I don’t run on a full stomach. Feeling nauseous on a run is never good.
Strategy 2 – fuelling for shorter runs
If I am heading out early during the week before work, I don’t tend to eat anything. My weekly morning runs vary between 3 and 5 miles and I find I am able to train in a fasted state for shorter distances. It also means I look forward to my breakfast once I get back.
On evening runs after work I tend not to have dinner beforehand. A banana around 1 hour before is perfect enough for me, provided that I’ve had a decent lunch. Dinner after will also be based around some form of protein and carbs. I eat a hell of a lot of chicken and sweet potato and has to be one of the easiest but also one of my favourite meals.
Strategy 3 – fuelling during my long runs
I used to head out for long runs with no extra fuel, hoping that what I had eaten beforehand would keep me going. However, I soon learnt that this was no longer enough, especially when getting up to around the 10 mile mark. When I began running with the club, I was introduced to ‘energy gels’. These are a small pouch of condensed carbohydrate to help give that ‘boost’ when your muscles begin to fatigue during long bouts of activity. I’ve experimented with a few different brands, found some too thick and others too watery.  My favourite to use now is the Science in Sport (SIS) blackcurrant flavour. Although, I must admit I’ve still not mastered the trick of opening the damn things whilst running and maintaining my pace!
You may not expect this to be the next thing I say I use during my longer runs, but it is indeed jelly babies. I have begun combining these with the gels, as I mentioned before I sometimes struggle to open them whilst running. I do prefer the red ones, so I usually buy a packet before a race and pick out a handful of the red ones to take with me. They also act as bit of an incentive, as I can ‘reward’ myself with a jelly baby or two the closer I get to the end of a race! The most depressing part is when you go to reach for one and realise you’ve run out!
Strategy 4 – fuelling after runs
Recovering after a hard workout is just as important as fuelling correctly before it and something which can be overlooked. In the past I didn’t use to think about what I was consuming directly after and could feel lethargic all day. Now I make sure I take on board a combination of both carbs and protein, to aid with recovery of the muscles and also restore the glycogen levels which have been depleted.
When I finish a run, I find I can’t stomach too much so usually have a protein shake and have recently began using flavoured BCAA’s (amino acids) which both help to repair muscle tissue. I’ve found that since using both of these, I ache less the next day.
My boyfriend Barry benefits from my Sunday runs as once I’ve showered and changed I am wanting to eat a substantial meal. This is usually in the form of scrambled eggs on toast, an omelette, baked eggs or pancakes! I love having the extra time and a second person to cook for at the weekends. During the week, I don’t get enough time to prepare food and choose convenience over a gourmet meal.

Yes, Barry is very lucky, I even let him watch the football!

Strategy 4 – building up to race day
There are a lot articles on the internet around the topic of ‘carb-loading’ which is essentially increasing the amount of carbohydrates in the lead up to a race. This isn’t an excuse to eat endless amounts of pasta, bread and pastries (although I wish it was)! A lot of carbs over a short period of time can leave you feeling sluggish and tired, completely the opposite to the desired effect they should have. Carbohydrates are also a lot higher in calories so I try to be mindful around what I’m putting in my body! I stick to similar foods a couple of days before a half marathon but increase the amount of carbohydrates I’m eating slightly for this. Hydration is also key. Many studies have shown that if your body is only slightly dehydrated then it won’t be able to perform to its optimum. I try to drink quite a lot of water anyway, so keep a bottle to hand in the days leading up to a race to constantly top up H2O levels.
Strategy 5 – post half marathon
When you’ve just raced a half marathon, surely that’s an excuse to eat whatever you like, right??
Just kidding! However, I do always treat myself after a race J the average person burns around 1,400 so it’s right to refuel properly!!!
Summary of Training
This week I have ran 4 times, 19.5 miles, 2 spin classes, a yoga class and 2 x strength work gym sessions. I did also fit a rest day in there somewhere! I’ve also been to Brighton twice and Birmingham with work… No wonder why I’m feeling pretty tired now once you look at it on paper.
I would also like to highlight that yesterday I achieved a new 5K PB. It was a small challenge I set myself a few weeks back. I attempted to make the start line of ParkRun yesterday but unfortunately could not get parked in time so decided to turn around and head out from home. My anger of missing it must have sparked me to run faster and I smashed round the estate in 22:48. It may only be a 12 second PB, but I haven’t come close to under 23 minutes in a long time so I’m super happy with that. Another high to add to the training journey. I’m hoping that this race won’t be as hot as today. Despite loving today’s run and seeing so many faces out today with the club, the heat made today very tough! We ended the run with a picnic and farewells to a close friend Gareth, who is off travelling in a week’s time. Another successful week to document in my Believe Journal (which I am still using).
p.s.. 5 weeks till St Albans half and counting!…