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What to Eat Before Your Half Marathon

Fueling is a key to any successful race. What you choose to put in your body, even a week before the race, can help you run your best possible race and aid in recovery. If you have a race coming up–the Women’s Running Series event in St. Petersburg is only eight days away!–you should be thinking about what to eat before, during and after.

Don’t wait until the day before the big race to start thinking about fueling your body. Instead, start adding extra calories to your meals in the week leading up to the half marathon. A mix of both carbs and protein is important. Starting a race with a full store of carbs can improve performance and endurance so make sure to fill up on grains, starchy vegetables and fruits the week before the race. Also, as you consume more food during the week before the race, your protein levels should also increase as your portions become larger.

Many people make the mistake of waiting until the night before the race to eat their big meal. Try making lunch your big meal of the day before the race, instead. This gives your body more time to process nutrients, lowers the risk of stomach problems and can even help you sleep more soundly. Pasta is still often considered one of the best pre-race meals but instead of having it for dinner, eat it for lunch the day before the race and opt for a lighter dinner that evening, instead.

What you choose to eat the day of the race, however, is just as important as what you eat the week before. In the two to four hours before the race, eat protein and simple carbs and drink water or sports beverages. Avoid high fiber, fatty and new foods, which can cause digestion problems. Good choices for pre-race foods include bread, bagels, cereal, fruit, and small amounts of peanut or almond butter, low-fat cheese, low-fat milk or a fruit smoothie. The hour prior to the race should just include moderate consumption of water, sports beverages, energy gels or energy chews.

During the race, it is recommended that you consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. Suggested energy foods to eat during the race include bananas, orange slices, energy, granola or fig bars, dried fruit and even LifeSavers, Sweet Tarts and gummy bear candies. Make sure to rotate between drinking a cup of water and a cup of sports drink every fifteen minutes to restore fluids and electrolyte levels but to avoid too much sodium from just sports drinks and over-hydration from just water.

Following the race, make sure to get a mix of high-carb and moderate-protein into your body as quickly as possible. A 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein is recommended. Good food choices at the finish line should contain both simple carbohydrates for quick energy and complex carbohydrates to level out your insulin levels. Your body is nearly completely depleted in carbohydrates and you need to replace them as soon as possible. Suggested food choices following the race are bananas, fruit, yogurt, milk, muffins and bagels. Also, soon after the race, try to eat a full meal that contains lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and some fats. Your body is craving calories and nutrients. Replacing them as soon as possible will aid in your post-half marathon recovery and repair and rebuild any muscle damage.

Fluids are just as important as food, after a half marathon, so make sure to consume sports drinks or other beverages containing electrolytes and nutrients, along with water. Drinking just water could further dilute your blood and increase your risk of over-hydration. Some good post-race drinks are sports drinks, soft drinks, juices or chocolate milk.

Proper training, along with eating and drinking right before, during and after the race should help you run a successful half marathon and result in a speedy post-marathon recovery!

Best wishes for a great race on November 18th!