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How do I train for a half-marathon and still lose weight?

Asked by Veronica Snyder, Clifton Park, New York

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I am training for a half-marathon in January 2010. I have lost 50 pounds and still need to lose 50 more. I don't know where to set my calorie allowance to lose weight but still fuel my body for my running schedule. I am running 3 short runs (3-4 miles) and 2 long runs (6-8 miles) per week, at a pace of 11 minutes per mile. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!!

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert Answer:

Hi Veronica -- First of all, congratulations on losing 50 pounds; that is a huge accomplishment. Even if you didn't lose another pound (which I hope does not happen), you are much healthier than when you began your weight-loss journey. Without knowing more about you (age, height, weight) I can't give you precise calorie recommendations but I can give you a few pointers. The most important aspect of fueling your body correctly and losing weight when training for a marathon is how you eat before, during, and after your workout. This is particularly important for ensuring that you lose fat, not muscle during your training.

Unless you've had a meal within the past two hours, try to eat a serving or two of carbohydrates (a piece of fruit, a slice of whole grain bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a serving of crackers with 2 tablespoons of hummus, ½-1 energy bar) about 45 minutes before your workout. This helps ensure that your energy level starts off high and can help improve fat burning during your workouts.

During your runs lasting less than 90 minutes (like the the 3-4 mile runs), just make sure that you drink plenty of water. You probably don't need any fancy sports drinks unless your energy levels are low or you did not eat enough before the workout (for example, if the run is very early in the morning and you did not have time to eat a good breakfast). This is a common mistake that I see my patients make. They burn lots of calories during long workouts but then they take in just as many calories through sports drinks, gels and bars during their workouts. Limit these products to runs lasting longer than 90 minutes and use them sparingly, alternating smaller amounts (½ bar, ½ cup sports drink, ½ gel packet) with plain water every 15-30 minutes.

After your long runs, it is important to consume both carbohydrates and protein for optimal recovery. Liquids work best during this time as they are very quickly absorbed and digested by the body. Aim for a ratio of carbohydrates:protein of 4:1. If you don't want to pay for a recovery sports drink, you can also eat whole food combinations like a banana and a cup of yogurt, ½ - 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread, or a smoothie made with 1-1 ½ cups of fresh or frozen fruit, fat free milk (optional), and a scoop of protein powder (whey or soy). For your shorter runs, you probably don't need a post-run snack unless you won't be eating a full meal for several hours.

Hope this helps and best of luck in January 2010!

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