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Nutrition advice for half marathon runners

by Editor
Wednesday 20th February 2013

Martin MacDonald, one of the UKs leading clinical performance nutritionists, makes some suggestions to help you get the most out of your body on race day

With just over a week to go until the annual Bath Half Marathon (BATHALF), many of the 15,000 runners set to take part will be starting to give their bodies a bit of a rest, and begin to contemplate what they should be eating both pre and post race to provide the best fuel for the big day.

Martin MacDonald is one of the UKs leading clinical performance nutritionists, who lectures in Nutrition, as well as working with a wide range of private clients. He is also the founder of the nutrition consultancy Mac-Nutrition.com.

He suggests the following key points to help you get the most out of your body on race day:

1) Don’t use old school carbo-loading
There has been a tradition for many years to restrict carbohydrate intake about a week before the race whilst continuing training, then to massively increase carbohydrate intake in the last few days before the race to get a ‘super compensation effect’. But this has been shown to be of limited benefit, and we would now recommend simply reducing or ‘tapering’ your training down in the last 1-2 weeks before the race accompanied by a modest increase in carbohydrate intake, whilst maintaining your protein and fat intake.

2) Eat the right thing at the right time
You should practice race day strategies in your regular training. This includes food types and timings on the morning of the race as well as any drinks, gels, tablets etc that you are going to use during your run. Don’t leave it until the night before to consume a huge meal and beware of high fibre foods the night before and morning of the race as these might lead to a ‘dodgy stomach’, and avoid alcoholic drinks for 48hrs before the race.

3) Race day breakfast
Stick to your practiced routine on race day. In general, breakfast should include a good sustainable source of carbohydrate, and fluids. My perfect pre-race breakfast is rolled porridge oats made with full fat milk plus a handful of cashew nuts and berries. The icing on the cake comes from adding some coconut oil, which contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) – an amazing source of easily available, but sustainable energy. Make sure you’re well hydrated, and aim to sip about 250ml of water about half an hour before the race.

4) Post race recovery
Running a half marathon is an amazing feat but it takes its toll on both your muscles and your immune system. Many people report serious fatigue in the days following and getting cold/flu symptoms. Therefore, after finishing the race, hold off eating chips and beer for a while and provide the body with the things it needs to replenish and repair itself. The necessary components of this are protein, carbohydrate, a salty snack, perhaps a little fat and micronutrients, and to sip water or soft drink to gradually replenish your fluid levels. There is a recipe on my website www.Mac-Nutrition.com for a recovery smoothie that contains all of these!

5) The icing on the cake
One of the benefits of endurance running is that you don’t need to worry too much about carbohydrate intake on race day. As a general rule of thumb you can consume 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour, ideally alongside fluids. Some runners also report improved performance through increased caffeine intake, caffeine is added to some commercial drinks and gels or can be used in tablet form. But caffeine affects individuals very differently and can cause dehydration, so it is important to test your tolerance during training sessions.

The BATHALF, which never fails to sell out well in advance of the event, is the biggest half marathon in the West Country and the largest one-day charity fundraising event in the region, supporting over 80 local and national charities each year. The 2012 event raised in excess of £1.5m for good causes and is expected to grow even further in the next few years.

Those who have missed out on a place for this year will be able to enter the 2014 Bath Half the day after race day, from Monday 4th March, when entries go live at www.bathhalf.co.uk.


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