No matter if you walk or run, a half marathon burns hundreds of calories. On average, people burn 89 calories per mile while walking, according to the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” in 2012. That translates to approximately 1,165 calories burned during the race. That doesn’t even take into account all of the training done beforehand. Having a proper diet, throughout your training and on race day, can help ensure you make it to the finish line in your best form.
To complete a half marathon, you have to put in some miles on the asphalt. All that training adds up to some major calories burned. Ensuring you are eating enough helps you reach peak performance just in time for the race. How much you need to eat depends on how far you walk. Wearing a heart-rate monitor can help you keep track of your caloric burn. Be aware that you need to eat more on days where you walk 10 miles compared to four-mile days. When it comes to your diet, you want 65 percent of your calories to come from complex carbohydrates, 10 percent from protein and 20 to 25 percent from unsaturated fats. Examples of healthy carbs include potatoes, wheat bread, brown rice, fruits and vegetables. Examples of healthy protein choices are low-fat milk, beans, chicken, fish, eggs, yogurt, peanut butter and cottage cheese.
While you may want to shed a few pounds while you're training, you still need to properly fuel your body. All those long workouts are hard on your body; you need to give it enough fuel to repair any muscular damage. As you start your training, focus on building miles and intensity instead of weight loss. Make sure your diet has enough carbohydrates and protein to avoid injury and fatigue. As you settle into training, shoot for a deficit of 400 to 700 calories per day to promote a gradual weight loss of about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per week. This rate should not negatively affect your overall training.
Leading Up to the Race
You may have heard about carb loading before a race, but be careful -- you can quickly hit excess. Instead, eat moderate quantities of foods, such as oatmeal, potatoes and pasta, a few days before the race. Stick with what you know; now isn’t the time to try something new. Keep drinking fluids as you normal would to stay hydrated. On race day, what you put into your body continues to have a direct impact on your performance. Skimping on food can have just as disastrous results as overdoing it. Begin the day with a light meal, such as a banana, bagel or smoothie.
There is more to your half marathon training than just what you eat. Aim to drink 17 to 20 ounces of fluids prior to each workout and then another seven to 10 ounces for every 20 minutes of exercise. If your workout lasts longer than 60 minutes, take along a sports drink to help replace any sodium or carbohydrates you lose by sweating. It’s best to train with the same drink you plan to consume on race day.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Energy Expenditure Comparison Between Walking and Running In Average Fitness Individuals
- Runner’s World: The Right Stuff?
- Runner’s World: Recover Right with Whole Foods
- Runner’s World: How To Lose Weight and Maintain Performance
- The American Council on Exercise: How to Train for a Half-Marathon
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.