The Rookie Runner: Running Nutrition, Hydration and Supplements

Follow Senior Editor Scott Brown as he trains for his first half marathon. Get caught up on the series here.

I'm not an idiot. I know in order to be a serious runner I need to eat a healthy, nutritious diet. I also know that I have no desire to be a serious runner. Once I get past this half marathon (EEK! It's almost here!) I'll probably just stick to 5Ks. 

Maybe I'll throw in the occasional 10K or 13.1 to spice things up—who knows, I might even get ambitious and go after a full marathon someday—but after December 13, I don't intend on running double-digit miles on a regular basis. 

Therefore, I'm not making any extreme changes to my diet in preparation for my first half marathon. I still ate my regular gluttonous amount of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving (see above, don't judge). In fact, because I ran a 10K at the Turkey Trot that morning I ate even more than usual. And it was glorious.

Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I eat like that every day (only when celebrating 'Murica), and I rarely eat fast food anymore, but I still enjoy a good fatty burger or greasy slice of pizza when the mood strikes me. But, just because I'm not completely changing my diet doesn't mean I haven't picked up some nutrition tips and tricks along the way.

For instance, I learned eating a hamburger and half a boudain sausage before a five-mile run is not an ideal way to fuel your workout. I learned that eating breakfast the night before can help fuel morning runs. And I learned that performance supplements can be a big help.

When the good folks at GU heard about my little adventure, they were kind enough to send over a care package of different products and flavors for me to try out. I got all sorts of energy gels and chews and hydration mixes and tabs. 

I was afraid I wouldn't be able to try any of it when I first dug into the box because a lot of the products have caffeine (I have what doctors have diagnosed as a "sensitive tum-tum" and too much caffeine puts me in the fetal position), but lucky for me they sent several caffeine-free options, too.

I'll usually pregame by eating some chews 5 to 10 minutes before a run. Of the GU Chews I've tried I like the watermelon flavor the best (the only other flavor was orange, and orange is #basic). I've also tried some Gatorade Prime Energy Chews. They're a little smaller than the GU Chews and I like the texture better, but I'm not aware of my body enough to notice any difference in performance between the two.

If I'm running for less than an hour, I only have the pre-run chews, but if I'm planning on running more than an hour I'll grab an energy gel (or two) to take during my run. The package says to take it every 45 minutes, so that's what I do. If I'm running less than an hour and a half I bring one gel, if I'm running an hour and a half or more I bring two. I've never needed to bring three on a single run because I'm not a psychopath.

The gels take a little getting used to if you've never had one before. Fortunately for me, I got to try them well ahead of race day so I don't have to surprise my stomach with something new during the actual half marathon. I'll be able to focus more on CRUSHING that race instead of my on-course nutrition plan.

Personal tip: Keep the gel as far away from your body as possible when you pack it (like on the other side of your phone)—the warmer it is, the grosser it feels in your mouth. So far my favorite gel flavor is strawberry banana, but there are some caffeinated flavors I wish I could try, like sea salt chocolate and maple bacon.

I feel like using these energy supplements makes a difference for me, but I'm no scientist so for all I know it's just a placebo effect. It could also be the psychological effect of breaking my runs up into 45-minute segments and rewarding myself with a "treat" after each one. Who knows? Either way, they seem to be working for me.

I've also been using GU's hydration drink mixes and tablets. Again, it could just be a placebo effect, but I feel like these help me stay energized and focused. I prefer the tabs to the mixes because they're more portable and cleaner than a packet of powder. These also come in a variety of caffeine-free options, so I didn't have to worry about getting stuck with one flavor that I didn't actually like (tri-berry and lemon-lime are both solid choices).

When race day rolls around I'll definitely be loaded up with some hydration tabs pre-dissolved in a water bottle, a pack of chews and a couple of gels to help power me to the finish line. It's hard to believe it, but the race is less than two weeks away, which means the next Rookie Runner will be the last Rookie Runner (The Veteran Runner doesn't exactly have the same ring to it). Be sure to check it out to see if I survived. See you on the next (final?) run!

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