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How to Fuel for a Half Marathon | When and What to Eat During a Half Marathon

Fueling a half marathon requires so much more than carb loading the night before and stopping at aid stations along the course. The right half marathon fueling strategy begins well before race week, and is carefully tailored to each individual runner.

Do you need to fuel during a half marathon?

In most cases, yes. Just about every runner can benefit from fueling during a half marathon – regardless of your pace, experience, body type, etc.

However, runners who plan to finish a half marathon in 90 minutes or faster may have less of a need for fuel during a half marathon than those who take 90+ minutes to finish. With that being said, most runners find themselves running for long enough to benefit from fueling during a half marathon.

Why should I fuel for a half marathon?

How you fuel a half marathon plays an important role in your performance on race day. Without adequate fuel, most runners will experience greater fatigue midway through their run, and notice their performance plateau or suffer.

The body requires energy for physical activity – specifically ATP, which is created by burning fuel from nutrients consumed. The body utilizes fat and carbohydrates to create ATP during physical exercise. Fat is the primary source of energy for low intensity activities, such as walking or yoga.

However, the body turns to carbohydrates as its main source of energy for high intensity activities. In general, most people have about 90 minutes worth of glycogen (carbohydrate) stores at any given time. This means that after about 90 minutes of high intensity exercise, the body has depleted its energy stores.

Successfully fueling a half marathon will help lengthen the amount of time you can run before glycogen is depleted. Each bit of fuel consumed during a half marathon helps build those stores and replace lost carbohydrates.

How to fuel for a half marathon?

Understanding how fuel is used on the run will help runners prioritize fuel during a half marathon. In order to avoid a depletion of glycogen stores, it’s important to start fueling early and frequently during a half marathon.

The body typically responds best to smaller amounts of carbohydrates, consumed frequently – as opposed to large amounts taken in after long stretches of time. To avoid bonking, begin taking in fuel about 30-45 minutes into your half marathon.

In addition, runners can benefit from “topping off” the tank the night before the half marathon (commonly known as carb loading). A successful half marathon fueling strategy starts the night before the race.

Fueling a half marathon requires planning and practice. This half marathon fueling strategy will help you avoid bonking and feel your best on race day!

Half Marathon Fueling Strategy

The right half marathon fueling strategy has the potential to really improve your performance. Every runner is different, so the type of fuel, frequency of fueling and amount you consume will vary slightly. Here are some basic guidelines that can be helpful when formulating your strategy.

The night before a half marathon

Fueling a half marathon begins the day before the race, with a focus on your dinner. Carb loading is a beneficial strategy for runners to help top off their glycogen stores. Consuming a dinner that is heavy in simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, white bread, etc., is a great way to do so.

Try to avoid excessive oils, fiber, fats and salt in your carb loading meal. Simple meals such as spaghetti or pizza are choices that usually digest easily and sit well with the stomach.

The morning of a half marathon

Another step in fueling a half marathon that begins before the run is your race day breakfast. Aim to consume another meal packed with simple carbohydrates about 2-3 hours prior to the race start.

Foods such as bagels, pancakes, oatmeal and toast are all great options to top off your tank while avoiding digestive distress.

45 minutes into a half marathon

The first fuel during a half marathon is best consumed about 30-45 minutes into the race. At this point, most runners are still feeling good and usually are not in dire need of fuel. However, it’s important to begin refilling our glycogen “tank” well before it is depleted.

About 45 minutes into the half marathon, runners should take in their first bit of fuel. This typically occurs around mile 3-4, and only requires a bit of fuel. A few shot bloks, part of a gel or some bites of fruit are enough to get started.

Every 30 minutes during a half marathon, until the finish

Once the race gets going, you’ll want to stay consistent and diligent with your half marathon fuel. Aim to consume about 30-60 grams of carbs per hour, split up into 2-3 different fuel stops. Continue fueling every 20-30 minutes as the race progresses to avoid bonking or experiencing fatigue.

The key to success when fueling a half marathon is practice during training. Use those long runs as a time to experiment with different types of fuel, different fueling frequencies and amounts.

Once you find a strategy that works, stay consistent. By race day, your body and mind will naturally revert to this plan without much conscious thought.

Half Marathon Fuel Options: What to Eat During a Half Marathon

Finding the right type of half marathon fuel is usually more important than how and when you consume fuel during the race. Choose the wrong type of fuel and you’ll likely find yourself in a state of digestive distress – every runner’s worst nightmare.

There are so many choices for fueling a half marathon that it can often be overwhelming. One of my favorite choices for half marathon fuel are Energy Bytes. These gummies are Amazon’s choice for “energy” in the UK, and for good reason – each serving is packed with 80 mg of caffeine, along with vitamin B, A, and D, which provides an instant boost of energy. These gummies ship internationally and have quickly become my favorite way to boost my performance and energy during a long run. Try them out here!

Here are some other half marathon fuel options, broken down into different categories.

Quick Energy Options for Half Marathons

Natural Gels for Half Marathon

Whole Food Fuel for Half Marathon

  • Squeeze packet of fruit puree
  • Bananas
  • Nut butter packets
  • Dates
  • Homemade energy balls
  • Raisins
  • Dried apricots
  • Applesauce pouches

Sports Drinks for Half Marathon Fuel

Taking the time to learn how to fuel a half marathon will pay of greatly on race day. Not only will you avoid “bonking” or hitting the wall, but you improve your performance and result. Try this half marathon fueling strategy for your next race!

More half marathon fueling tips: