Alison Patterson, Advanced Sports Dietitian
You’ve decided to take on the challenge of your first full or half marathon – how exciting! No doubt, you’re training hard but have you considered your nutrition plan for the big day? Come race day, it doesn’t matter how hard you’ve trained - if you run out of fuel and hit the wall at the half way mark, it’s a very unpleasant crawl to the finish line. Here are my answers to the top 5 most common questions I get asked by first time half marathon runners.
What should I eat the day before my half marathon?
Carbohydrates are the major fuel for your muscles during moderate and high intensity exercise. Without them, we usually run out of puff after around 90 minutes. The day before your half marathon, aim to eat plenty of carbohydrate rich foods over the day. Depending on your estimated finish time, you may also benefit from a targeted carb-loading plan to make sure you hit your carb targets. Don’t like pasta? That’s ok! There are various ways that you can meet your carb goals - bread, rice, noodles, potato, creamed rice, custard, juice and yoghurt are just some of the many carb rich foods you could consider.
How do I avoid runner’s gut and unwanted toilet stops?
Choosing foods lower in fibre will help to minimise risk of gut upset on race day. For the 1-2 days leading into the run, switch your higher fibre foods to ones lower in fibre – for example switch from grain to white bread or brown rice to white rice. Come race day, try liquids rather than solids as your main fuel – liquids empty more quickly from the stomach so can be less likely to cause tummy troubles.
How much should I drink the day before the race?
To optimise your body’s hydration levels leading up to your half marathon sip on water regularly over the day prior. Use the colour of your wee as a guide for how much you need – if it’s really dark, drink some more. But, if your wee is super light and barely visible in the toilet bowl you could be over-drinking. If this is the case, ease back on your fluid intake so that you’re not waking up several times the night before the run (ruining your race preparation) to go to the toilet.
What should I eat for energy during the run?
Fuelling targets for during the race depend on your estimated finish time. However, as a general guideline, don’t use calories as a guide but instead aim to eat or drink a set amount of carbohydrates per hour, as they’re the main fuel you need for the run. Aiming to get in ~30g of carbs per hour is a good starting point and can easily be achieved by having 1-2 gels per hour (depending on which brand of gel you choose), or by using a mixture of gels, sports drink and even solid food like bananas or bites of energy bar if you prefer.
Do I need to use salt tablets during the run?
Many people use salt (sodium) tablets during long distance runs to prevent cramps. However, research shows that the most common causes of cramps are fatigue and intensity (especially working at a higher intensity than you are used to). Over a half or full marathon distance, unless you are an exceptionally salty sweater, taking in sports drinks and gels will top up sodium levels sufficiently for most people without the need for salt tablets. But, given that fatigue is a big contributor to cramps, getting a fuelling plan for your individual needs (and sticking to it!!) during the run is essential.
If you’d like to know more about nutrition for your individual situation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Ali (http://www.alisonpatterson.com/). You can also like her Facebook page for regular tips and recipes https://www.facebook.com/alisonpatterson.sportsdietitian/