Different Ways to Fuel Your Long Run

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The long run is the cornerstone of any endurance training program. It’s not only prep for your legs and lungs for race day, but the testing ground for your nutritional strategy. Using your long run to determine what your tummy likes and – more importantly – doesn’t like, is key to having a smooth race.

In very general terms, your body relies on two main sources to fuel your muscles during a run; fat and carbohydrates. As Jeff Gaudette explains to Competitor.com:

Fat is a largely abundant resource, but is broken down into usable energy slowly, making it an ineffective fuel source when running anything faster than about 60-70% of your VO2max (roughly equivalent to your aerobic threshold or marathon pace).

Therefore, your body relies on carbohydrate as its primary fuel source when racing. The problem with carbohydrate is that we can only store a limited amount in our muscles — even when you load up. Typically, we can store about 90 minutes of muscle glycogen when running at half marathon pace and about 2 hours worth when running at marathon pace.  – Jeff Gaudette, Competitor

It truly is trial and error as every runner is different; what works for your friend may send you to the nearest porta-potty.

In this post I have two categories of fueling sources; endurance branded products (items created and marketed for endurance athletes and their training needs) and real food (everyday items you can find at any grocery). If you haven’t landed on a nutritional strategy that works for you, or want alternatives, here is a list of ideas:

Endurance Branded Products

Gels

Gels are portable, easy to stash in a pocket or hydration belt, and can be squeezed from their packet right into your mouth. There’s no chewing which can help when you’re running. You’ll want to take these with water, but not a sports drink as this can overload your body with sugar, making you cramp up. To make them easier to digest, I recommend eating half, storing the remainder in a pocket or holding in your hand, and finishing a mile or two later. Or, you can slowly eat one packet over the course of a mile or so.

Brands to try:

Clif Shot Energy Gel
Gu Energy Gel
Honey Stinger Gel
Hammer Gel
Hüma Energy Gel
Powerbar Powergel

Chews

Similar to gels, these need a water chaser, but deliver electrolytes in a similar fashion. If you don’t like the texture of gels or want something new, chews may be for you. They take up a little more room in their package, but since it takes a few chews to make up a full dose, it’s easier to split them up on your run.

Brands to try:

Sports Beans
Honey Stinger Energy Chews
Gu Energy Chews
Clif Bloks Energy Chews
Powerbar Energy Blasts
Gatorade Carb Energy Chews

Drinks

When you run, you’re losing electrolytes (salt and minerals that keep your body in balance), through sweat and urine so it’s important to keep these levels in check for optimal performance and recovery. Many sports drinks replenish your electrolytes, but recently there have been products that contain electrolytes AND fast absorbing carbohydrates, to not only rehydrate, but fuel your run. They are probably the easiest when it comes to portability, but do pay attention to the serving “dose”.

Brands to try:

Plus for Nuun (tabs to dissolve in your water)
Gatorade Endurance (powder to mix in your water)
Hammer Heed Sports Drink (powder to mix in your water)

Real Food

Endurance products are perfectly fine to use, but can get a little pricey if you’re constantly training and some people have trouble digesting fuel in the forms listed above, or simply don’t enjoy the taste/texture. There’s also those times you’re away from a store that carries such items. For those situations, you may want to experiment with real food.

As Chrissy Carroll tells Women’s Running:

Look for foods that are rich in easily digestible carbohydrates and that contain little fat or fiber, since these slow digestion and can cause stomach upset. – Chrissy Carroll, Women’s Running

Here are some ideas:

Dates – Pop them in a baggie, easy to chop up or eat whole
Honey – Take packets from restaurants and use just like a gel packet
Pretzels – Sticks, twists, squares, whatever is easiest to eat
Fig cookies/bars – Cut up for smaller bites and toss in a baggie
Fruit pouches – Like Happy Tot Organics
Dried fruit or raisins – Buy single serving packets or divvy up a bulk bag
Fruit leather strips – Very portable and easy to determine servings
Banana – Yes, these are awkward to run with; mash or cut them up in a baggie
Potatoes (regular or sweet) – Bake or boil and mash or cut up flesh in a baggie

Fueling properly is as crucial as getting in time on your feet. Experiment during your training and find all the things that work best for you. Happy fueling!

What’s your go-to when it comes to race day nutrition

Sources:

[1] http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/nutrition/everything-you-need-to-know-about-energy-gels_44642/2

[2]http://womensrunning.competitor.com/2015/10/nutrition/how-to-fuel-long-runs-with-real-food_48166#pOUIVYZQrhRmmr2E.97

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