Half marathon nutrition planning can make or break your race day. You need a proactive fueling strategy to feel and perform your best.
You can fuel properly, nourish your body, and sustain your fastest pace to cross the finish line with a new personal record, or you can fail to follow time-tested fueling guidelines and hit the wall miles before the finish line. If you haven’t hit the wall before let me tell you—it isn’t fun.
Training for a half marathon and putting in the miles is imperative, but these race day fueling tips can make the difference between feeling great through the finish, or crashing and burning halfway into the race.
I’m going to answer your most commonly asked questions about half marathon fueling, and walk you through designing your race day fueling strategy.
What should I eat the morning of a half marathon?
On the morning of your race, design your breakfast around one of the 5 best pre-race breakfast foods. I typically design mine around 2 of those foods. Before I race, I prefer to eat oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter, Nutella, and a sliced banana.
Your race morning nutrition timeline should look like this:
- 2-3 Hours Before Start: Eat breakfast. 1-4 g of carbs per kilogram of body weight
- 1-3 Hours Before Start: Hydrate. Drink 12-16 ounces of water, sports drink, or juice.
- 1 Hour Before Start: Stop drinking. This will allow you to “empty out” your bladder before the race begins.
- 1-2 Minutes Before Start: Consume 1 gel and 4 ounces of sports drink.
Energy Gel Recommendations:
Consuming a gel and some sports drink minutes before the start is a cheat every runner—even those with a sensitive stomach—can easily employ because your body is still at rest.
Half Marathon Race Fueling Strategy
Fueling during a half marathon is comprised of two major components: carbohydrate and water. Carbohydrate is necessary to restore the glycogen in your muscles and water is necessary to prevent the decline in performance that comes with dehydration.
How much water should you drink during a half marathon?
The most common advice for fluid and water consumption during races is to drink by thirst.
“Research has shown that runners typically consume 13 to 27 ounces per hour when they drink by thirst.”The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald
However, I would caution you to not wait until you are really thirsty to start drinking. When I ran my first half marathon, I skipped the first several aid stations because I felt great. By mile 10, I was so thirsty that all I wanted to do was drink water.
Start drinking early in your race and be consistent.
How much carbohydrate should you consume during a half marathon?
Runners should consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour during a half marathon.
Training coach and certified sports nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald suggests that runners should consume at least 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour to see benefits. He also notes that as much as 60 grams and up to 90 grams are more beneficial in longer races.
“Many runners cannot stomach 60 grams of carbs per hour.”The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald
Basically, consume as much as your stomach can handle without causing GI issues.
The average amount of drink given out at aid stations is 4 ounces. You can use this number against the number of aid stations at your race to calculate how many grams of carbohydrates you are likely to consume via sports drink, and how much you should supplement with a gel or other carbohydrate source.
The average gel contains around 25 grams of carbohydrate.
Putting together your race day fueling strategy
With the above guidelines, you can piece together a nutrition plan that works for you. Everyone will be different in what their stomach will tolerate, so you need to test different options and see which one works best for your body.
Race Nutrition Options:
#1 Sports Drink + Gels + Water
This is the most preferable option.
Using the average of 4 ounces of sports drink per aid station, you can calculate how many grams of carbs you are likely to consume if you drink at each aid station.
To determine this, you need to know how many grams of carbs are provided in one ounce of the official race drink and how many aid stations on the course will be distributing it.
After you figure out how many of carbs you will consume through sports drink, you can supplement those carbs with gels and drink water to thirst.
#2 Gels + Water
When you don’t have the luxury of choosing which sports drink is provided at the aid stations (aka pretty much every non-elite runner), and your stomach doesn’t agree with the sports drink provided by the race, you can rely on carrying gels that work for you, and hydrate with water at the aid stations.
Simply use the figure of how many grams of carbs your type of gel contains (the average gel contains 25 grams), and figure out how often you need to consume a gel during your race.
#3 Sports Drink Only
This is the easiest option if the official race drink is acceptable to you and you don’t tolerate gels well. Also, it would remove the need for you to carry anything with you on the race course.
Practice your half marathon nutrition plan on your long runs
Never try anything new on race day.
DON’T try ANYTHING new on race day.
NEVER TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!
Ok…I hope you got the message.
If you notice the theme of the above nutrition discussion, your half marathon nutrition strategy will largely be determined by what your stomach can tolerate. The great majority of runners experience some kind of increased GI stress from running. Trying to eat while running just makes things less tolerable than if you were eating at rest.
However, the energy demands of a half marathon or marathon require most of us to consume carbs while we run.
Trying something new on race day, without practicing beforehand to know if your stomach can handle it or not, is just asking for your race to be ruined by unwanted stomach pains and worse—runner’s trots.
At least if you try it during one of your long runs, you aren’t jeopardizing your race if it goes south. By practicing your nutrition routine and fueling strategy BEFORE race day, you can be confident knowing that your chosen nutrition won’t upset your stomach at an inconvenient time.
If you’d like to dive deeper into fueling your body beyond the wall during your next race, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald covers the topic in depth.
Download your copy of my Half Marathon Fueling Strategy Cheat Sheet:
Recommended Fueling Products:
When you’re new to the fueling game, it can be overwhelming. There are SO MANY different products out there. It can be tough to know where to start (not to mention expensive if you get it wrong and have to throw something out).
Here are the products that I personally use, and recommend for you.
With 60 calories, 15 grams of carbs per serving, and great taste, Nuun Endurance is the perfect mix for powering through your long runs!
One of my favorite gels for fueling long runs are Honey Stinger Gels. They have some great flavors, are gentle on my stomach, and east-to-use. One caveat: you must love honey to use these gels. Click Here
Another gel I’ve tried recently is Huma Chia Energy Gels. The packages are a bit bigger, but they pack the same amount of calories. Huma gels don’t have the strong honey flavor of the Honey Stinger gels, and I have to say the Huma gels are slightly easier on my stomach. Click Here
Herbalife24 Rebuild Strength is perfect for post-run recovery. Drink it within 30 minutes of finishing your run. It helps me fend off the crazy hunger that most runners experience right after finishing a run, plus it helps get the nutrition my muscles need to jump-start the repair and recovery process. Click here
Low Calorie Hydration
When you need to replenish your electrolytes without all the calories of a sports drink, Nuun Sport is the perfect thing for the task. They come in several different delicious flavors, but Strawberry Lemonade and Tropical are my favorites. The tubes are convenient to carry, the flavor is great, and the calories are low so you can drink as many as you need/want! Click here
What is your preferred fueling strategy?
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About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>