Half-marathon training and nutrition advice

How to train for a half-marathon run

Updated: May 08, 2024Veronika Larisova

Chief’s running guru, Vee, takes us through some of her best training, nutrition and hydration advice! Vee’s advice is perfect for those taking part in a half-marathon, but it’s also relevant for any running event or personal goal. Learn how to train and prepare for a half-marathon.

Running: how to train

With only five weeks to go until the Sydney Half Marathon, don’t expect to be breaking any records unless you’ve been following a good running program for the past three months. Typically, five weeks before a race should be your ‘peak week’, where you feel at your highest fitness level, not the time to be scrambling around to start a training program! At this stage, significantly increasing your mileage or speed, changing your shoes and switching running technique could actually hinder performance and result in injury. Why? While strength and cardiovascular fitness can improve in five weeks, it takes much longer for your ligaments and tendons to adapt to the mechanical load. Even if you feel stronger and fitter, you should avoid running too far, too fast, too soon – it takes months to get used to pounding the pavement! Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run the Sydney Half at all, but enjoy it as a ‘fun run’ instead, not a competitive race. Instead of pushing yourself beyond your current fitness level, know that it’s ok to jog, even walk! Leave your ego at home and soak up the atmosphere and supportive crowds on the day.

Top training tips:

  • Avoid running every day – have at least one full day off training each week.
  • Run on grass or a trail – when you can (or at least once a week) as it’s better for your joints.
  • Listen to your body and don’t push yourself – especially if you are experiencing any joint pain. Instead, increase the amount you rest, stretch, foam roll sore areas (or get a massage) and ask us for advice.
  • Do your strength work – neglecting strength work could result in injury.
  • Reduce your training volume – gradually decrease the frequency of runs in the last few weeks pre-race.
  • Invest in good running shoes – but avoid big changes so close to the race!

Running: how to eat

It can be very confusing if you’ve been trying hard to lose excess fat and all of a sudden you keep hearing that you should eat all of the things that you’ve probably been avoiding…pasta, rice, toast with jam, jelly beans, energy drinks/gels and other sugary or starchy foods. This leaves many of us with questions such as ‘should I carb-load? What’s the best diet? Are there running superfoods?’ There’s an easy answer to all of this confusion – a healthy, balanced diet full of nutrients and minerals to fuel the body.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common questions I get asked…

Do you need carbohydrates when training for half marathon?
Yes, you do… but you also need protein and fat! Although it’s important to have some carbohydrates, especially post-training, try to avoid high GI foods and sugary treats. Instead, choose moderate amounts of good quality carbohydrates such as sweet potato with plenty of fruit, veg, beans and quinoa. Each meal should also contain some protein to help your muscles repair and to prevent muscle wasting, such as fish, lean meat, poultry, cottage cheese, eggs, legumes and nuts. Good fats such as avocado, nuts and fatty fish (all in small amounts) should not be forgotten. I recommend eating more on the days you train and slightly less on the days you don’t.

What is ‘carb-loading’ and should I be doing it?
The answer is NO unless you are running a full marathon. Carbohydrate loading has no effect on performance in events lasting less than 90mins. Also while we’re on the topic, it’s important to note that ‘carb-loading’ does not mean binging on poor quality carbohydrate foods in excess amounts (like some advice might suggest)! The point of carb-loading is to increase the % of carbohydrates in your diet while maintaining the same energy intake. This means that athletes who carb load (i.e. marathon runners) often eat the same volume of calories but more of those calories come from carbohydrate sources and less from fat and protein. Even if you’re training for a full marathon, it doesn’t give you a free ticket to binge eating. It’s actually possible to gain fat while training for a marathon if you overeat on a daily basis, so be wary of what you’re piling on your plate!

What about gels and other supplements?
You don’t need these either if training for a half-marathon or less. Lots of advice in magazines and websites rely on scientific literature aimed at elite athletes. If you sit in an office all day and then go for an hour-long jog, you don’t need energy gels and an extra sandwich. Instead of becoming a super-athlete, you might end up gaining unwanted weight and even running more slowly. However, if you can’t stomach eating before your race, a good quality natural gel is a good option.

What should runners be eating?
There are few foods that are especially beneficial for runners:

  • Bananas are one of the best natural foods for runners. Their high carbohydrate content makes them a good source of energy plus they are rich in potassium and magnesium (essential minerals that runners lose as they sweat). They have about the same nutrient content as energy gels…minus the nasty chemicals. Personally, I don’t take any sports gels as my banana and coffee combo usually does the trick!
  • Chia seeds are an ancient superfood packed with important nutrients such as omega-3 essential fatty acids, antioxidants, protein, calcium, iron, potassium, vitamins A, B, E, and D, as well as other minerals. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 10 grams of fibre, 6 grams of protein, more calcium than milk, more omega 3 than salmon, more iron than spinach, and more antioxidants than blueberries. Legendary Mexican running tribes have relied on this super-seed for many years to help them stay nourished and hydrated. Chia seeds do not contain carbohydrates so make sure you add a banana to your chia pudding to cover all bases.
  • Sweet potatoes contain vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant. They are also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, iron, manganese and copper and are easy to digest.
  • Green vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties. Low-grade inflammation resulting from exercise-induced muscle damage can result in overuse injury and other health issues if left unaddressed. If ever there was a time to ‘eat your greens’, it’s now!
  • Red meat in small amounts (80g raw, or one Chief bar) will replenish your iron stores in the most effective way. Have some greens with your meat and squeeze some lemon on it for a delicious citrus kick. We love to chop a Chief bar and chuck it in a salad when we don’t have time to cook ;-)

Running: how to hydrate

Don’t forget to hydrate! Nutrient-dense food, good sleep and consistent, adequate hydration are ALL necessary for good performance, post-exercise recovery, and optimal health. Drink at least 2 litres of water each day and on heavy training or humid days, drink some more! If you want to be more specific, you can weigh yourself before and after a long training run to see how much water you have lost. Ideally, if you have been drinking throughout the run, your weight will be about the same. The loss of fluid corresponding to 2.5% bodyweight has been proven to reduce exercise capacity by 45%!

Tips to help you stay hydrated:

  • Create good, consistent drinking habits – start your day with a big glass of warm water and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar to kick-start your digestion.
  • Get a big, BPA free bottle (800ml-1L) – it doesn’t have to be expensive, I like to re-use the 800ml VOSS water bottles I buy from the supermarket, because they’re made from glass (which is naturally BPA-free).
  • Aim to drink 2-3 full bottles each day – drinking from a big bottle makes your consumption easier to track – I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than count up the single glasses of water you drink each day!
  • Keep your bottle on your desk – or somewhere you can see it all the time, so you’re constantly reminded to take a sip.
  • Hydrate through food too – eat clear soups and lots of fresh and steamed veggies, as well as a piece of fruit or two each day (dark skinned is best). All these foods contain lots of water, plus other nutrients essential for radiant skin.
  • Drink organic herbal tea – such as ginger, mint, rooibos, or any other blend that takes your fancy, instead of black tea. Another option is to drink hot water with slices of lemon, fresh ginger and a tiny bit of honey or stevia. Besides being hot and delicious, it will give you a boost of vitamin C and anti-inflammatories, which act to boost your immune system and prevents colds and flu.
  • Make your own lemonade – squeeze a few fresh lemons, or limes into a glass jug, add filtered water and stevia. YUM!

Some final tips from the pro's...

    • Join a running group – it’s the best way to meet new friends, get some good advice and make sure you stick to your training program by keeping you motivated and accountable.
    • Be your own cheerleader – start your run with a positive affirmation such as “it feels great to be in the fresh air!” or “one step at a time.” This helps to shift control from your subconscious (where negative thoughts may exist) to the frontal lobe (which lifts your mood).
    • Focus on technique – shift your attention from how you’re feeling or how long you’ve got to go, to your technique (posture, stride, pace). Think about how you’re running and adjust your technique for each different terrain you cover. This makes you feel powerful, athletic and productive.
    • Pump up the tunes – music is proven to enhance running performance. It makes a big difference on the days you feel unmotivated. Download cool playlists and get good quality earphones.
    • Go on ‘weekend run adventures’ – literally drive to a new location and explore the new area with a good run. The time goes so much faster when your mind is occupied looking at beautiful new scenery.
    • Recover with collagen – Several studies have found that taking hydrolysed collagen decreases joint pain after exercise and increases the density of cartilage, making joints more flexible. Collagen is the main protein the body recruits to help build everything from the connective tissue in the skin to the tendons that attach muscles to bone.

Looking for a new running challenge? Check out Trail Running champions Nick Walker’s blog on top 3 trail runs in Australia here! Shop our collagen protein bars for runners here.

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