What to Eat the Night Before a Half Marathon

Curious about what to eat the night before a half marathon? Read the full article to learn what to eat before a race - and what foods to avoid.

You spend months training for a half marathon – the last thing you want on race day is to slow down from fatigue or needing to stop for the bathroom. Your pre-race meal can impact both fatigue and GI issues during the race; if you eat the wrong thing, you could struggle. However, if you eat a smart pre-race dinner, you will feel great during your race. This article guides you through what to eat the night before a half marathon – and what to avoid. 

An Overview of Pre-Race Nutrition

What you eat in the 24 hours before a race directly impacts your performance. If you undereat, you will experience low energy on race day. Conversely, if you eat enough of the foods that support running performance, you will feel strong and energized. 

Out of all the macronutrients, carbohydrates have the most direct impact on endurance performance. The half marathon is an endurance race. Because of the combination of relatively high intensity and duration, you will burn a large amount of carbohydrates to run 13.1 miles as fast as you can. 

Eating enough carbohydrates in the 24 hours before your half marathon will optimize your race performance. You will feel more energized and less likely to slow down later in the race. To ensure you have enough glycogen (stored carbohydrates) for the race, you will prioritize eating carbohydrates in the day before the race. 

Should You Do a Carb Load Before a Half Marathon?

Sometimes, a one to two day carb load is recommended before a half marathon. Whether or not you do a carb load before a half marathon depends on your anticipated finish time.

Generally, runners finishing in less than 1:40 (100 minutes) do not need to carb load before a half. Instead, these runners will prioritize “glycogen normalization” – eating enough carbs to support the race demands, but often not drastically more than they eat in training. Glycogen normalization typically is 5-8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight. A 143-lb runner (65-kg) would aim to eat 325 to 520 grams of carbohydrates.

Those anticipating a finish time of 1:40 to 2:00 hours can decide if they want to carb load based on personal preference. If you respond poorly to a carb load, you may want to follow the glycogen normalization strategy instead. If you typically respond positively to a carb load, then you can carb load for one day before the half marathon. (This approach involves 8-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight, or 520-650 grams of carbs for the 65-kg runner.)

For runners finishing a half marathon in two hours or longer, a one to two day carb load may be beneficial. Curious about how exactly to carb load? Read this full article on carb loading!

The Best Dinner Before a Half Marathon

The best pre-race dinner before a half marathon will contain mostly carbohydrates. Additionally, these carbohydrates should be low in fiber. Fiber moves more slowly through the digestive tract, which could increase the risk of gastrointestinal upset during the race. So, you want to pick low-fiber carbs: white potatoes, white rice, white pasta, etc. 

The dinner you eat the day before a half marathon can contain some protein and fat. Protein will help you feel satisfied. However, the overall quantity of fat and protein will be lower than usual, since you will be eating more carbohydrates than usual. 

Too much fat can increase the risk of GI upset during the race. (Think of how your stomach may not feel good after a greasy meal!) Lean proteins such as chicken, salmon, or lean beef tend to sit easier on the stomach the night before a race. 

Sample pre-race dinners include:  

  • Lean protein and a baked potato
  • Spaghetti with ground turkey marinara
  • Lean protein and white rice
  • Turkey or salmon burger with oven-roasted potatoes
  • Pancakes and eggs (breakfast for dinner!)
  • Turkey or chicken sandwich with side of pretzels

If you need more carbohydrates to hit your goals, you can always add a white roll or some white bread to each of these meals. 

Foods to Avoid Before a Half Marathon

The foods you want to avoid before a half marathon are any that can cause gastrointestinal upset the next day. Everyone will be slightly different on what they can and cannot tolerate before a race. There are common irritants, such as those listed below. Additionally, you want to avoid anything that irritates you individually. 

Foods to avoid before a half marathon include:

  • Spicy foods
  • High-fat or greasy foods
  • High-fiber foods, such as beans
  • Vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables (those produce more gas)
  • Dairy (if sensitive)

These foods should be avoided both in the pre-race dinner and in your pre-race breakfast the morning of the race. Read this article for more details on what to eat the morning of your half marathon.

Additional Things To Do the Day Before a Half Marathon

The day before a half marathon involves more than just your pre-race dinner. What you do throughout the whole day before your race can impact your race. For your best race, consider resting more, hydrating well, and avoiding alcohol.

Stay Off Your Feet

Muscular fatigue is a performance limiter in a half marathon. Ideally, you want to start the race as fresh as possible to delay muscle fatigue. The half marathon taper will remove training fatigue. However, if you spend all day on your feet before the race, you may still notice more fatigue during the race. 

You will feel freshest – and therefore fastest – during if your half marathon if you minimize time on your feet the day before a race. You will likely go to the race expo, but you want to avoid walking around too much there. Stay off your feet and rest up before the race – your legs will thank you.  

Related: Should You Do a Shakeout Run Before a Race? 

Hydrate Well

What you eat the night before the half marathon is only part of pre-race nutrition. Hydration is vital before a race. If you start a race dehydrated, you cannot rehydrate during the race – and dehydration will negatively impact performance. 

In the day before the race, you want to drink enough water and other fluids. You do not need to chug large amounts of water, but you do want to be hydrated. Electrolyte drinks or sports drinks are helpful as part of your pre-race hydration. The sodium is beneficial for fluid absorption and retention, especially if you plan on racing in hot weather.  

Spend 8-9 Hours in Bed

Eight to nine hours of sleep will prime you for peak performance. However, some runners do struggle with sleep due to pre-race nerves. Even if you do not sleep well the night before a race, you still want to relax as much as possible the night before the race. Aim to spend at least 8-9 hours in bed the night before the race, whether that time is sleeping or simply resting. 

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol can affect hydration and sleep, which is why you want to avoid it the day before a half marathon. There are no performance benefits to drinking the night before a race. For some runners, alcohol can also irritate the gut.  

Some runners do enjoy a drink to help them relax before a race – if this is you, pick a low-alcohol beverage. Or, alternatively, you can enjoy a non-alcoholic beer such as Athletic Brewing Company. There are other ways to relax, such as meditation, reading a book, etc. If you do drink alcohol the day before a race, be sure to drink more water to mitigate the diuretic effect of alcohol.

Other Ways to Improve Your Half Marathon Time

What you eat the night before a half marathon is only part of your race strategy. Pacing, intra-race fueling, and training will all help improve your half marathon time.

Fuel Early and Often During the Race

No matter how much you eat the night before a half marathon, you will still need to take in carbohydrates during the race. Whether you use gels, chews, or sports drink, 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour will help you race your best. A simple approach is to take a gel every 30 minutes during the race and drink a sports drink throughout. 

Have a Pacing Strategy

No matter how robust your nutrition strategy is, if you start out too fast in a half marathon, you will fatigue and slow down. A half marathon nutrition strategy is most effective when coupled with a half marathon pacing strategy. Most runners will benefit from either even pacing or a slight negative split (starting the first couple of miles slightly slower than your goal pace). Read this article for more how to pace your fastest half marathon

Train Appropriately for Your Half Marathon Goal

Similarly, a good nutrition strategy cannot overcompensate for poor training. Whether you are training for your first half marathon or a PR, follow a training plan that is appropriate for your fitness and your goals. If you are unsure of how to train, work with a running coach or download a half marathon training plan. 

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