Along with your pacing strategy, your half marathon fueling strategy should be decided before stepping up to that starting line. Don’t be afraid of fuel (calories) mid-race and don’t just wing it, either. Let’s talk half marathon fueling strategy.
This is the last week in May’s Don’t Know the Half of It: Half Marathon series.
Don’t Know the Half of It: Half Marathon Fueling Strategy
Your body may have energy stores to complete a 2 hour run, however it will sacrifice speed to hoard and ration the energy you have available. By fueling during a half marathon race, you’ll encourage your body to burn fuel freely, allowing you to run at peak performance. Fuel (carbs, calories) is recommended for anyone who runs 90+ minutes for their half marathon.
Leading up to the race
Carb-loading can be good for a long-distance race like the half marathon by making sure your glycogen stores are full come race day. This doesn’t have to mean a giant plate of spaghetti the night before or even extra calories. It can mean choosing carbs over protein- or fat-heavy meals over the course of 2-3 days before the race.
Full stores and lots of carbs can leave you feeling heavy and tight. Through experience of several races, you may decide 2 days or no conscious carb-loading is best for you for the half marathon distance. Experiment is key!
Choose a dinner that isn’t going to come back to bite you in the morning. Something simple and bland. There’s a reason why pasta is the go-to. You may also decide to eat your heaviest meal for lunch the day before, instead of for dinner. Dinner could then be a turkey or PBJ sandwich.
How early you’ll be awake before the race will determine the size of your breakfast. If you wake up 2-3 hours before the race, a large breakfast of 500 calories like a bagel with peanut butter and honey is fantastic. If you’re waking up closer to race start, a small breakfast of a banana or some toast will work better.
Before starting line
If it’s been an hour or two since breakfast, eat a gel with water 15 minutes before the starting line. This will start to prime your systems, perk you up, and get your body processing fuel BEFORE it needs it. You don’t have to finish the gel if you’re a little queasy with nerves — even a few sips will help.
During the race
You need 25-60 grams of carbs or 100-250 calories per hour. That’s a big range that you should narrow down during your practice runs. Practically, that typically means 1 gel for half marathoner running under 90 minutes. 1 or 2 gels for a 2-hour half marathoner and so on.
Remember to fuel at regular intervals and start before you need it. Consume fuel like gels and chews with water.
I finish just under 2 hours for a half marathon. I like to eat a gel before the race and one at the 45 minute mark. Then, throughout the race, I sip sports drink for added fueling. These two types of fuel give me several types of sugars for my body to process, so no one ‘route’ gets held up.
For someone with a 3 hour half marathon, I’d recommend fueling every 45 minutes-1 hour.
For those with strong stomachs, two or three practice runs might be all you need to test out the volume and digestibility of mid-run fuel. If you have a more finicky stomach, more practice and experimenting may be involved.
I won’t go too far in depth on fueling options in this post, since it’s mostly about timing. However, there are a variety of fuel choices.
- Gels like Gu, Honey Stinger, and Hammer
- Chews like Cliff ShotBlocks or Jelly Belly Sports Beans
- Candy like Skittles, Swedish Fish, or gummy bears
- Sports drinks like Powerade or Gatorade
- Endurance drinks like UCAN or Tailwind
- Pretzels, crackers
- Dried fruits like raisins or bananas
After the finish
The bananas, bagels, and granola bars are there for a reason. Get in a snack so your body can start the refueling and begin your recovery phase. Continue drinking water or another fluid of your choice.
After you enjoy the festivities, make sure to get a good meal with proteins, fats, and carbs.