Ask the Experts: Half-Marathon Nutrition Q+A with Ruth McKean

Hi everyone,

Sports dietician and ASICS PRO Team member Ruth McKean will be answering all your nutrition questions in the forum today between 1-2pm.

She'll help you to create a winning nutrition strategy and offer advice on how to refuel and hydrate to ensure you run at your best on race day. All you’ll need to do is login and join the forum debate below.

Ruth is a leading sports dietician and an advisor to the Scottish Institute of Sport. She is also a member of the British Dietetic Association and Health Professional Council, and a former Scottish National 5,000m champion, so she’ll be ready to answer all your fuelling and hydration questions.

We're opening the discussion now so Ruth will be able to get stuck in straight away at 1pm - so start posting your questions now!

Dominique RW

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Comments

  • Hi Ruth,

    I'm currently focusing on Low GI for fuelling my runs so have been experimenting with flapjacks. Do you have any recipe advice or other ideas for low GI foods that I can eat on the run?

  • Hi Ruth,

    I'm a complete beginner when it comes to knowing how to fuel longer runs and my half marathon. Do I go for simple carbs or complex ones? Do I need energy gels or sports drinks? I'm a confused mess! Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Sarah

  • imageHello Ruth, do you have any advice for older runners? I'm interested in the foods (anti-oxidants?) that will help me recover and avoid injuries. Aches and pains don't go away as quickly as they used to!

     

  • Hello Ruth,



    I have torn my calf muscle and was wondering if there are any foods to eat that can help me heal faster? I only have 5 weeks ish until the great north run!
  • Hi Ruth

    If I get up at silly o'clock to go for a run I tend to just get up, some light stretching, drink a pint of water then go - have run up to 13 miles without anything to eat. Am normally famished when get back - am I doing myself any harm/increasing risk of injury or is this a good way of getting my body to learn how to run on my fat reserves (visibly I don't have much!)?

    Thanks

    Skinny

  • Hi Ruth, I'm running the Bacchus half marathon in September.  They provide a range of sustinance as you go round the course including... Water, Wine, Jelly Babies, Gels, Bananas and Oranges, biscuits, dried fruit, crisps. What would you recommend going for?  What kind of impact would having a glass (plastic cup) of wine duing the race have? Thanks!

  • Hi Ruth



    I'm preparing for Stroud Half Marathon in October. I'm aiming for a time around 1.35 and am looking at nutrition to try to help me rediscover some form.



    I've cut out chocolate from my diet (replacing with fruit) and reduced alcohol to near zero. I was wondering whether this strategy will help my times come down (on top of training of course) or whether, at my level, it won't really make much difference. ??I'm a slim build weighing around 10.5 stone, so luckily losing weight isn't an issue for me.



    Thanks



    Tom
  • Hi Ruth,

    Towards the end of a Half or Full marathon I tend to completely tank (especially in the Full marathon) as i get to a point in a race where i can't keep any carbs down ... i usually manage 2-3 gel shots but then can't stomach any more. I've done cross-country ultra-marathons when i'm doing more walking/jogging i can eat protein (especially boiled eggs!) and that works but obviously can't do that on the run. Are there any protein shots available or something you'd suggest to get me to the end?

    thanks

    Meilssa

  • Hi Ruth

    I'd like some advice on how to fuel my half/marathon training. I'm finding it really hard to keep up with the calorie deficit running makes. Also should I be completely cutting out junk and processed food in order to improve my running or will it not make a difference? Thanks
  • Hi Ruth

    I am currently training for the Budapest Marathon in October. I am in the process of building up my long distance runs and therefore need to think about fuelling during my runs.

    I am all for going "natural" so my questions are:

    Do you have a recipe for a home made sports drink that can help you keep going during long runs?

    In your opinion, what are the best natural snacks during a long run (snacks that I can easily carry as well)?

    Thank you for your replies in advance image

  • Hi Ruth - are there any running 'super foods' that you would recommend introducing to a runner's diet? (I'm currently training for the GNR)

    Thanks, Matthew.

  • Hi everyone,

    Thanks for all your questions, I will try my best to answer them as fully as possible. Ruth
  • HI Emma

    Low GI (glycaemia Index) can be useful athletes and non athletes as it is thought to help with blood glucose control. This index is used to rank foods according to the immediate effect on blood glucose concentration and the food that it is often ranked against is white bread which is a very high GI food. High GI foods are classed as ones that are broken down quickly and therefore glucose enters the blood rapidly whereas low GI ones release more slowly and stop a rapid increase in GI. However I should also mention if you eat large portions of a low GI food it will still raise your blood sugar levels as the glycaemia load is also important. So you must also control portions and it may be better to eat smaller meals then some snacks and also bear in mind if you train twice per day (certainly if only 8 hours between session) then a higher GI recovery snack may be a good idea.

    It is interesting to note also that if a low GI breakfast and low GI lunch then this does appear to have helpful affect for the rest of the day, so focus on these meals. Low GI food at breakfast is oats so porridge, granary bread (seed type bread) with peanut butter or other nut spreads such as almond, cashew spread, a pot of yoghurt

    Other Low GI foods
    • apples, unripe bananas, pears, mangoes and grapes, baked beans
    • multigrain bread,  porridge,  untoasted muesli
    • crumpets,  pasta,  milk,  low fat fruit yoghurt

    Blood glucose control is usually better when a consistent eating pattern is adopted with regular meals and snacks. Also when you add fat and protein to a meal this can change the GI of a food/slow the response so for example if you have jacket potato (which is very good for you but it is a high GI food but if you have it with tuna, cottage cheese, beans it will reduce it from a high to a lower GI food.

    The flapjacks are a good idea but they can be so calorie dense because of butter, nuts, honey/syrup) so may be Low GI but don’t be eating large or frequently. I have no recipes to hand but look for fruit with some seeds or nuts which you do not usually eat to increase the vitamin and mineral variety in your diet and put as little butter and sugar as you can get away with. I tend to adapt recipes’ and just see how they turn out but I look out for lower fat version. The internet has loads of ideas on this.

    I hope you find this useful

    Ruth

                           

  • Hi Kate

    Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (cramps that only occur during exercise) and most commonly occur in the in calf for runner and can just twinge to being very very painful. This occurs when the muscle involuntary contracts and does not relax.  It is though this is due to unusual stimulation of the muscle but really the exact cause is not known. However cramp occurs more readily in tired muscles and therefore if only occurring in races only it in my experiment will be lack if your muscles able to cope with the exercise at this stage of the race and often something has to change in training for example at end of very long runs putting in race pace efforts when muscles tired. If you are coached then speak to your coach about this.  I don’t think this is nutrition related as although hydration (dehydration) has been associated as a possible cause of these cramps but in fact the evidence is not that strong to support this although those are an exceptionally sweaty individual with other factors are perhaps more likely to cramp. You may also have heard that cramp is linked to the loss of potassium, calcium and magnesium but this has very little support as there is little of these lost in sweat. I would say that if you do not fuel well before these races that might also increase chance as under fuelling will mean muscles will fatigue earlier than they might so make sure coming up to a half you eat as if you are still training hard for the last 2 days before the race and if take more than 90mins to complete race perhaps sufficient  some fluid /fuel along the way.

    Some suggestions to reduce risk of cramp are as follows:

    • Stronger & fitter muscles are more resilient to fatigue and hence cramp so may need to work on strength and fitness
      • Be very careful when changing speed/ intensity particularly during the later stages of a race.  Fatigued muscles take longer to adapt to increased intensity.
    • Wear comfortable, unrestrictive clothing and footwear.
      Practice good hydration practices both before and during exercise so perhaps you could try using a electrolyte drink (sip on this the morning before a race so nuun, high five zero, SIS Super hydro  and even 500ml in the evening before race but I think the training is the issue .

    I really hope this helps.

    Ruth

     

     

  • Thanks, Ruth! That was more information than I was hoping for! Thanks for the advice

  • Hi Sarah

    My advice is always keep it simple! During endurance running simple carbs are  recommended as you body is only wanting the sugar, you have enough fat and protein in reserve (although no matter how well fueled you are you will still use some fat & protein but primarily carbs). This message has not changed in sports nutrition but you may read about fats and protein forming some of the foods in distances above the marathon but distances under this simple sugars and drinking to thirst is the key messages. However you should aim to get away with as little sugar as you need without compromising performance as too much may cause stitches, stomach discomfort and feeling sick and too little you run out of energy. If you are running anything under an hour steady no fluid or fuel is generally needed unless you start dehydrated, very hot etc. If you run for over an hour but still under 90minutes and it is steady I would still suggest no fluid/food but  but if running above 90minutes I would start carrying fluid and fuel. Start with 20g of carbs per hour so this would be around 330ml of an isotonic sports drink or fresh orange diluted with water by half (so 50% water, 50% fruit juice) but often water is enough and you may struggle to drink 330ml in an hour so instead you could have 4-5 jelly babies/other jelly sweets and drip feeding over the hour so one every 15minutes or have a gel at 45minuts (these are usually around 25g). People will have different levels of stomach comfort with different foods & need different amount of carbs per hour but I suggest you will find your balance at around the 20-40g mark some may need as much as 50g only a few will need more than that. A race is always going to have bad patches but nutrition can help!

    I hope this gives you a guideline to start. Good luck.

    Ruth

  • Hi Hilary

    This is a good question. Antioxidants is a very interesting area and these are found naturally in brightly colored fruit and veg (berries, oranges, peppers etc) as well as tea’s and some other foods so first I would suggest you have at least 5 different brightly colored fruit & veg in diet. A commercial food you could try is “cherry active” (concentrated form of cherry juice) a lot of this research is subjective feeling of less soreness etc but more recently there is more objective information that this may reduce soreness due to the anti inflammatory effect the antioxidants are having. If decide to try this cherry juice do not then add any further supplementation of antioxidants, other than by natural foods, as it is shown that too much antioxidants through supplements may start causing more stress to your body.

    Best

    Ruth

  • Mike Rutland wrote (see)
    Hello Ruth,

    I have torn my calf muscle and was wondering if there are any foods to eat that can help me heal faster? I only have 5 weeks ish until the great north run!

    No! Do exactly what a physio has told you to you! At this point and time nothing with any evidence other than a good diet with sufficent range of vitaims and minerals will help. Best of luck and really hope you have a speedy recovery.


     

  • Hi i am always wondering whats best after a long run, and when is the best timing. Read in the asap after and/or within an hour. Suggestions welcomed. thanks
  • Hi Ruth

    I am preparing the New Forest Marathon brochure for our event on Sunday 23rd September and would welcome a cut down Q&A from you to feature in it?  Would that be possible?

    thanks

    Martina (martina@rocketfuelsports.co.uk)

     

  • Hi Ruth!

     I’m currently trying a low carb diet as I’m trying to shift some weight before my next half marathon in an attempt to improve my time, obviously I need carbs for long runs but what would you say are the top 3 sources to get good carbs from and continue the weight loss?

     Also is mackerel good for a diet, i've been eating ir more but it seems to be very high in fat but I keep reading it’s good? I was hoping you could put it into English for me!

     Thanks,

     Jonathan 

  • Hi There Skinny!

    There is a lot of interest at the moment of training in a fasted state to help oxidative pathways and hence you should make physiologic adaptations which help your running 9ad part of that is using more fat) so I actually thinking doing 13 miles before  breakfast is fine if it is a steady run but if are after a intense/ quality session and the pace drops for the last few miles then I argue you are losing out HOWEVER it depends if you are doing this for all your session, if this is only 1-2 sessions per week then I think there could be some benefit to this, even if doing this for a  few weeks on lots of your runs to help gain make these  adaptations then this may be useful but you need to consider if  you knackered for the rest of the day because recovery will be longer, you will feel more tired and immunity may be compromised and injuries (running fatigued stresses muscles) so I guess to sum up: do it for a couple of runs but you should have a few quality well fuelled runs also because if you are not putting in the pace because of lack of fuel then quality decreases and this shows in races.  One other point if you are very lean I suspect you are breaking down protein and hence may be losing some strength in certain aspects of your running.

    Ruth

  • Temp Tom,

    Thanks for this email but I really don’t have enough information to help. Is your training right? Is your recovery over the 24 hours picture enough I mean running and nutrition? Are you getting sufficient sleep? If you can become leaner without injury risk and compromising on getting what you need from diet (alcohol not needed at this stage although some amount is a good think but I would cut it out before the half) you may well run faster. It would be interesting if you could get a good coach to look at your training as well.

    Feel I have been little help here but best of luck.

  • Hi Ruth,

    Sports drinks and protein drinks have been in the news recently as to their effectiveness and whether average people actually gain any help or advantage from using them. I wondered what your take on them was.

    Thanks

    Adam

  • HI Emily, Stick to the sweets and gels! No wine and even fruit may not agree. During a half often people will not take anything if running under 90 minutes. If you are using food (gels, sweets) you must practice this and even drinking out of plastic cups if that is what they will be handing out!

     Good luck and have the wine after you have hydrated and eaten something post race!

  •  

    Melissa Butcher wrote (see)

     

    Hi Ruth,

    Towards the end of a Half or Full marathon I tend to completely tank (especially in the Full marathon) as i get to a point in a race where i can't keep any carbs down ... i usually manage 2-3 gel shots but then can't stomach any more. I've done cross-country ultra-marathons when i'm doing more walking/jogging i can eat protein (especially boiled eggs!) and that works but obviously can't do that on the run. Are there any protein shots available or something you'd suggest to get me to the end? thanks Meilssa

     

    Melissa Butcher wrote (see)

     

    Hi Ruth,

    Towards the end of a Half or Full marathon I tend to completely tank (especially in the Full marathon) as i get to a point in a race where i can't keep any carbs down ... i usually manage 2-3 gel shots but then can't stomach any more. I've done cross-country ultra-marathons when i'm doing more walking/jogging i can eat protein (especially boiled eggs!) and that works but obviously can't do that on the run. Are there any protein shots available or something you'd suggest to get me to the end? thanks Meilssa

    Meilssa

    Are you eating soon enough and are you starting sufficently hydarted? If you have little fluid in your stomach,digestion becomes harder and if you wait to eat until too late this also can cause problems. Have you tried a gel shot (do you mean like a shot blok jelly cube?) and have one sweet every 15minutes starting at 15minutes, 30 minutes, 45minutes etc I really don't think protein will help in distances less than 26miles. I think little and often may work for you and a very planned approach and sip little and often on some water and start well hydarted.

    I really hope this will help.

    Ruth

  • Hi Ruth,

    I'm reasonably new to long-distance running: I'm currently working towards a half-marathon in October and hoping for a full marathon after that. So far the furthest I've run is 11 miles.

    I find I often start to get stomach cramps around 10k, sometimes they remain in the background and I keep running the full distance, sometimes they get really bad and I have to walk or even stop. I've tailored what and when I eat on the days of my long run - usually a bagel with jam and fruit in the morning, pasta at lunch, I avoid dairy altogether, and stop eating altogether at 2.30 for a 7pm run - and while it's helped a bit, I do still get them. Do you have any other thoughts on how I can stop this from happening? Especially as I'm trying to build up my distances...

    Thanks very much!

     

  • Anna Williams 13 wrote (see)
    Hi Ruth
    I'd like some advice on how to fuel my half/marathon training. I'm finding it really hard to keep up with the calorie deficit running makes. Also should I be completely cutting out junk and processed food in order to improve my running or will it not make a difference? Thanks

    This is a actually a hard question ot answer because if you are not getting the calories you need then running will suffer but if you then eat too much processed food high in fat or even protein this could displace where the carbs should be going and you fatigue early. Have you tried specfic recovery stategies like a 500ml fruit milkshake post every run this is around 350calories or more but has lots of carbs and protein, calcium then eat again in 2 hours and then again in 2 hours so you are eating 3 meals and 3-4 snacks per day and use useful calories such as a snack size pasta pot as a snack (left over form night before/lunch/), have high calorie cereal such as museli and add nuts and dried fruit (nuts have lots of calories and dried fruit more calories than fresh as you eat more as smalle although you can still eat fresh as well) so organise your food and eat little ad often and this should help. You may also get away with some dark chocolate each day, don't be afraid of this but look at you diet as a whole and make sure you eat lots of good foods: fatty oily fish twice a week (at least once), small amounts of oil in cooking, eating often & enough and with some carbs in all meals and snacks but you need to be organised.

    Good luck

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