Fueling Suggestions for a Half or Full Marathon By Steve Born

Success in your race starts a lot earlier than you think!

The first bit of fueling strategy for completing a half or full marathon successfully and strongly is something you actually do weeks before the race, and that is "refilling the tank" ASAP after all of your workouts leading up to the race. I am zealous about the importance of consistent, proper, immediate post-workout refueling; in fact, I am convinced that it is equally as important as anything you do in the actual workout.

Post-workout refueling is discussed in greater detail in the article "Recovery - A crucial component for success" in The Endurance Athlete's GUIDE to SUCCESS, and I encourage you to read and apply the principles outlined in that article. In cutting to the chase, however, the main thing you must do is to replenish your body with adequate amounts of carbohydrates and protein ASAP after all of your workouts. The oft-used phrase, "striking while the iron is hot" absolutely applies to many aspects of recovery, especially in regard to muscle glycogen synthesis and storage, as well as the rebuilding of lean muscle tissue. So before you get out of your sweaty running clothes, before you hit the shower, and before you get horizontal and relax for a few hours, put some fuel back into your body. Recoverite takes care of this important aspect of athletic performance easily and ideally.

By doing this, you take advantage of the glycogen synthase enzyme when it's most active, and you will enjoy a HUGE advantage over those athletes who either waited too long or blew off post-workout refueling. The combination of your training and consistent post-workout fuel replenishment will increase muscle glycogen stores, muscle glycogen being the first fuel used by the body when exercise begins. Train wisely and refuel consistently after all of your workouts, and you can accrue up to 90 minutes of this premium, ready-to-use fuel. Wait too long to replenish your body with ample amounts of carbohydrates and protein, or neglect to do so entirely, and you'll gain little-to-nothing in the way of increased amounts of muscle glycogen. Which would you rather have when the gun goes off, only a few minutes of on-board fuel or up to 90 minutes? The answer should be a no-brainer!

What to do in the days leading up to the race

1) Avoid the temptation to train too much and/or too close to race day. You will not be able to positively influence your fitness level in the days leading up to the race; however, you can negatively impact your race by training during that time (training meaning anything of significant duration or intensity). Highly respected athlete and coach Nate Llerandi suggests a two-week taper for a half marathon and up to a month for a full marathon. Coach Llerandi states, "The longer your race, the longer you taper. The shorter your race, the shorter you taper. The best thing you can do for yourself in the final weeks leading up to a major competition is to rest and relax. This doesn't mean 'kick back in a chair,' but rather significantly cut your volume and slightly increase the intensity of your hard workouts (as they get shorter as well). If you've put the work in and have been honest with your efforts, you'll hit the starting line ready to turn in your best performance to date."

Best results in long-duration events such as half or full marathons are achieved by getting to the starting line well rested rather than razor sharp. In doing so, you may find yourself not hitting on all cylinders during those first few minutes. In fact, you might even struggle a bit at the beginning of the race. However, your body will not forget all the training you've done, and it will absolutely reward you for giving it the time it needed to "soak up" all of that training.

2) In the days leading up to your race, don't let your diet deviate too much from what got you there in the first place.

What about the night before the race?

Very simple: Eat clean, eat until you're satisfied, and then call it a night. You can't positively affect muscle glycogen storage capabilities the night before the race, a time when the glycogen synthase enzyme is inactive. Consume complex carbohydrates, some high-quality protein, and low-to-no saturated fat. Make sure your meal is low in sodium, and be sure to drink sufficient amounts of water (but not too much). Skip the alcohol, fatty foods, and dessert . . . save those "rewards" for after the race.

What to do the morning of the race

If your race is going to take you more than 60 minutes, do not consume any calories three hours prior to the race. Remember, the first fuel your body will use when the race begins is muscle glycogenagain, this is why consistent post-workout refueling is so vital. Eating a pre-race meal at the wrong time will create an internal "environment" in which your body will burn through its finite stores of glycogen at a much more rapid rate, negatively impacting your performance.

Also, don't sacrifice sleep to eat; it's neither beneficial nor necessary. Instead of eating 1-2 hours prior to your race, a better strategy is to consume 1-2 servings of Hammer Gel approximately 5 minutes prior to the start. That will top off liver glycogen stores nicely (the goal of the pre-race meal) and provide some calories to augment muscle glycogen stores, but without negatively affecting how muscle glycogen is utilized.

What about pre-race hydration?

Either of the following sensible suggestions will satisfy hydration needs without putting you at the risk for overhydration. Keep in mind that these are our recommendations; you need to determine what works best for your system and the particular logistics of the race ahead.

30-45 minutes prior to the race is Endurolytes time!

I suggest taking a "pre-emptive strike" dose of Endurolytes (with water) about 30 minutes prior to the race. Endurolytes prior to the start will provide electrolytic mineral support for at least the first hour of the race, which will allow you to get into a nice, smooth rhythm during the initial part of the race (which is usually quite hectic), and without having to think about consuming pills.

If you are taking additional supplements such as Endurance Amino or Anti- Fatigue Caps, this is also the time to take your initial dose of those two products.

Fueling for your race: variables that affect fuel selection

When exercise goes beyond two hours, I generally recommend that athletes use a "carb + protein" fuel (Sustained Energy or Perpetuem), either as their sole fuel from beginning to end, or as their primary fuel (roughly 2/3- 3/4 of the time). The reason for this recommendation is that once you hit that second hour and beyond, a small percentage (roughly 5-15%) of your energy requirements will be fulfilled from protein. If you don't provide some in the fuel mix, at least part of the time, your body has to cannibalize lean muscle tissue to obtain the amino acids it needs to fulfill that small percentage of its energy requirements.

The last thing you want is to have your body literally digest its own muscle tissue to make fuel, primarily because this increases fatigue-causing ammonia; there is no doubt that excess ammonia is a primary culprit - perhaps THE primary culprit - in premature fatigue during endurance events. In addition, you'll have broken down a greater volume of muscle tissue, which will prolong recovery time.

Things may (key word "may") be a little different come race day. I believe that a race in the 2-3 hour range such as a half marathon, and races just slightly longer (perhaps in the 3.5-hour range, a finish time typical for many marathoners), are in a "gray area," so to speak. This means you have more fueling options available. You can use:

1) A "carb + protein" fuel (Sustained Energy or Perpetuem) as your primaryto- sole fuel
2) A "carb only" fuel (Hammer Gel or HEED) as your sole fuel
3) A combination of a "carb only" fuel (Hammer Gel or HEED) and Perpetuem Solids

Note: Refer to Hammer Nutrition's Product Usage Manual for hourly dosage suggestions.

What you choose to use as your fuel needs to be based on the following:


As you can see, you have a lot of options available to you, with a number of variables that need to be factored in to determine what works best for you. Testing a variety of these fueling options in your training, under a variety of conditions, will allow you the greatest potential for success come race day. Don't forget Hammer Nutrition's two fantastic knowledge resources: The Endurance Athlete's GUIDE to SUCCESS and The Hammer Nutrition Fuels & Supplements - Everything You Need to Know. You can also purchase hard copies or download both booklets free of charge from the Hammer Nutrition website (that's right, FREE!). Lastly, please remember that we have a skilled team of client advisors who are ready to help you get your fuel and supplement program dialed in; we're but a phone call or email away! HN