Food is the fuel of life…and of running! Training for an event like the half-marathon is demanding. Therefore what you eat and drink needs to provide you with the energy you need for training, and all the micronutrients you need to have a healthy, robust body which can handle the training you’re doing.
Nutrition for training
My nutrition advice for periods of training (for racing see below) is not rocket science, and you may have heard it before – for good reason as they are golden rules!
- Fruit & vegetables: eat plenty of, and a variety of fruit and vegetables – many are full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and potassium, which are critical for the body to function normally
- Breakfast: always eat breakfast. After a night asleep, your body will need energy. Eating a good breakfast sets you up for the day and helps to avoid cravings for sugar or caffeine later in the day.
- Variety: this is fundamental in nutrition ie eating a wide variety of foods consistently. For example, have different things for breakfast each day, and try to eat a wide variety of food stuffs at each meal. Also do not restrict your diet (eg cutting out meat/dairy etc) unless you have a good reason to do so, but if you must, then make special effort to get the nutrients you are missing by restricting your diet from other sources.
- A balanced diet: make sure you eat a balanced diet and everything in moderation. ‘Balanced’ means a variety of foods but also not too much of one particular food. It is easy to find your diet lacking balance if you have a restricted diet or allergies/intolerances, so ensure you target a variety of the foods which you can eat.
- Nutritious foods: highly nutritious foods should be top of your list! These include oily fish, green leafy vegetables, colourful vegetables, nuts and seeds, berries, whole-grains and shellfish. These provide high nutritional value compared to other foods, and a lack of them could lead to deficiencies in important vitamins or minerals.
- After training: always eat or drink something within 20 minutes of training – this is when your body is hungry for nutrients and absorbs them quickly. If it is not practical to eat a proper meal within 20 minutes, then eat a snack (eg banana, sandwich) or drink a protein-carbohydrate drink, followed later by a proper meal.
What to eat on race day?
When race day arrives, what should you eat? A carbohydrate-rich breakfast is the best option, eaten well (eg two hours) before the start of your warm-up. Examples include toast with honey, bananas, porridge and rice, with a little added protein such as almonds, eggs or yoghurt. What you eat should not be a surprise, nor something new – chose things that you have eaten before and know that you can run well on. Avoid foods which might upset your stomach, such as high-fibre, oily or very spicy foods. Apart from that, my advice is to come up with a race day breakfast plan, and then test it out before race day during a long run.
Hydration is also very important for runners, because we need to replace the water and electrolytes lost while sweating, and because dehydration over a certain level will impair your performance.
- Staying hydrated: always drink after exercise and try to drink regularly throughout the day – drinking just before training will be too late as the body takes time to absorb fluids.
- Electrolytes: drinking fluids with electrolytes is usually better than plain water because that will replace the salts lost in sweat as well as the fluid. Some sports drinks are high in sugar but there are some low-sugar drinks available. After heavy training, drinks which include some protein will help rapid recovery.
- How much? you can easily find out how much you sweat by weighing yourself (without clothes on) before and after training. You should aim to drink 1.5 times the amount of sweat lost over the 2-3 hours after training, to ensure full rehydration.
- Avoiding dehydration: some drinks eg coffee have a diuretic effect, so can be dehydrating. These should be drunk in moderation.
- Hydration for race day: on race day, topping up your energy tank with drinks or gels during the race is a good idea, but don’t go overboard – too much water can be dangerous and you can afford to dehydrate a little during the course of the race. A few sips every 20 minutes or so should be enough, but be prepared to adjust this depending on the weather and how much you are sweating. Whatever you plan to use in the race, make sure you practice taking it in training beforehand, to ensure it agrees with you.
Copyright Mara Yamauchi 2017