3 Fueling Tips for Marathon & Half Marathon Training

It is finally here – a marathon and half marathon in the Corridor area! As an avid runner, I wish that I could participate in the RUN CRANDIC race this April, but becoming a mommy to our second daughter at the end of March, is well worth missing out on it this year.

I know that marathon and half marathon training takes a lot of time and commitment. Not only do you need to commit to your physical training, but you need to commit to your nutrition. Putting your body through this intense training requires fueling your body properly. Without proper fuel, your training will not be as effective and you won’t have as good of results during your race. With the right nutrition and training plan you can be successful!

I have experienced firsthand the impact that nutrition has on a race, especially one of this length. I completed many road races, including half-marathons and marathons. My first marathon – the Des Moines Marathon – did not go as well as planned, because I did not have a solid nutrition strategy in place for the race, nor did I fuel properly during training. The only change I made for my second marathon – Chicago Marathon – is that I focused on my nutrition strategy and fueled my body the right way throughout my entire training, which allowed me to qualifying for and completing the Boston Marathon.

Through these experiences, I have learned a lot about proper fueling and nutrition strategies to be successful, and I want to pass that information along to you, so that you can have the best race you possibly can!

Here are three tips to consider when training for a marathon or half marathon:

1: Increase your fuel
It is important to have a nutrition strategy for the race itself, but even more important is your commitment to nutrition throughout training. Poor fueling will lead to poor recovery, muscle breakdown, and ineffective training sessions. Make sure you are covering for the calories you are burning during training, not just while you are running, but at all meals and snacks during the day.

Many runners do not eat enough to cover for their intense training, which can lead to injuries or illness.

Carbohydrates are your main fuel source, and should account for a majority of your total calories for the day. Including grains, fruits and vegetables throughout your day will help you get the carbohydrates you need to fuel your high intensity exercise.

Protein-rich foods are also important to include at every meal and snack to help build and repair muscles – like lean meats, beans, nuts/nut butter, eggs, and dairy.

Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals that help to strengthen your immune system, and can help fight inflammation post-run. Consuming tart-cherry juice after high-intensity exercise has been shown in many studies to reduce inflammation.

In general you burn around 100 kcal per mile you run, and intakes should be adjusted accordingly.

  • Pre-run- focus on optimizing hydration and maximizing fuel. Eat a high carbohydrate meal 3-4 hours prior to a run, or a smaller carbohydrate containing snack 1-2 hours prior. Drink water throughout the day, and continue to drink adequate fluids up until your training run.
  • During run (>60 minutes) – optimize performance and prevent fatigue with carbohydrate and electrolyte intakes. This can be accomplished with consumption of sports drinks and/or gels or chews.
  • Post-run – refueling and recovery are the main focus of post-run nutrition. Intakes of carbohydrate and protein help to replenish glycogen stores lost, and aid in muscle repair.

2: Increase your fluids
Poor hydration is the most common cause of GI issues both during and after activity. Your body pulls water to your muscles during exercise. When this happens the gut is left with whatever water is leftover, which is usually not much. It is important to be hydrated prior to a run, and continue to stay hydrated throughout to avoid muscle fatigue or cramps, and GI issues.

Dehydration can be debilitating for marathon and half marathon runners. To hydrate prior to a run aim to drink 2 cups of fluid within 2 hours before you begin. To maintain hydration during a run, drink 8-12 ounces of fluid per hour. If you currently aren’t hydrating enough while running, make small increases towards a goal of 8-12oz per hour. The goal is to lose no more than 2% of your body weight during an exercise session.

Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink, thirst is the first sign of dehydration. Water is adequate for shorter runs, but runs lasting more than 60 minutes, a sports drink is beneficial for hydration and fuel. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates to fuel your muscles, and electrolytes help the body hold on to water and stay better hydrated overall.

Not sure if you are drinking enough? Use this urine color hydration chart as a guide.

Urine Color Hydration Chart

3: Train your gut
Once your runs are longer than 60 minutes, start adding in quick sources of carbohydrate such as sports drinks and/or gels into your training routine. You should be consuming 30-60g of carbohydrates per hour of training.

Gels typically contain between 20-25g of carbohydrates, and sports drinks have around 15g of carbohydrates per 8oz. Use a combination of gels with water and sports drinks to get 30-60g carbohydrates per hour during your training runs.

Experiment with different products so you know what you prefer and can tolerate before your race. If you don’t like gels or chews, other options for quick fuel are: pretzels or dried fruit. Create a race nutrition plan and start practicing during your training to avoid issues during the race.

Check online to see where the aid stations are and what they will be handing out at each station (water, sports drink, gels). This will help you plan your fueling strategy along with the course. Also, find out what products will be handed out during the race. If Gatorade is being used on the course, train with it, not another type of sports drink, so that you know you can tolerate it. You shouldn’t use new products on race day. Check out this list of different energy gels available to find which one is best for you.

REMEMBER, everything is individual, so practice, practice, practice!

This is the first post in a series of race training nutrition tips and information.

If nutrition planning is overwhelming to you, or you would like help in creating a specific nutrition plan for your training or race day, schedule an appointment with our registered dietitian, Ashley Pearson, or find a dietitian near you. 


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