Picture this. It’s 7am and you’re already 8 miles into a 12 mile training run. You didn’t have time to eat breakfast before you ran but the only gummies and sport beans you’ve tried upset your tummy. Thus, you came out empty handed. Despite being well hydrated, you’ve got a lot less pep in your step than when you started. You have hit the dreaded wall. Chances are, you need fuel.
Fueling properly for long runs (over an hour) is essential to ensure you have enough energy to get through the run without crashing. Eating a full meal 2-3 hours before your run is the ideal way to fuel – but come on. Who’s got time for that?! Most of us run early in the morning, making a meal 2-3 hours before your run not feasible. Good news! There are still effective ways to provide your body with sufficient energy to last through all those miles.
Tips to help you fuel for your long run
Focus on eating a carbohydrate-rich meal the night before your long run. This will help top up your glycogen stores and provide sustained energy during your run. Foods like pasta, rice, quinoa, or potatoes are great choices.
Have a light snack before your run. Ideally, this is 30-45 min before, but 15 min is okay, too. Choose easily digestible carbohydrates to give you a quick energy boost. Good options include a banana (even if it’s just half), graham crackers, an energy bar or a small bowl of oatmeal. Stay away from high-fiber foods and dairy before a run if you want to avoid gut issues. It helps to down a cup of coffee and eliminate before you head out.
Start your day by hydrating well, even before your run. Dehydration can impact your performance and your ability to access energy. Aim to drink at least 16-20 ounces of water before you head out. During the run, find a strategy that works for you and sip regularly. Without water, your nutrition (and therefore, energy) can’t get to where it needs to go.
Chews, energy gels and dry food
During your long run, consume 20-60g of carbohydrates at regular intervals (i.e. every 30-45 min or so). This is especially important if your run exceeds an hour. Go for products like chews, gels and real food that contain easily digestible carbohydrates to help maintain your energy levels. Most chews and gels are easy to pack, easy to carry, and have tolerable flavors. A few things to consider when choosing which ones are for you is total carbs, serving size (read labels!) and packaging- how easy will it be to consume on the run? My favorite is currently ucan’s Pineapple Edge. It’s slim, fits in my pockets, tastes great without being overwhelmingly sweet, and packs a mean punch. Other foods like pretzels and dried fruit can be easier on your stomach, but are sometimes difficult to pack and access during a race. Consider testing different methods of carrying your fuel during training runs.
Sports drinks/ mix-ins
While I don’t love the idea of drinks like Gatorade during long runs, if that’s all you’ve got access to or all you want to carry, it’s better than taking nothing. These drinks can help replenish lost electrolytes and provide an additional source of energy during your run, though not as efficiently as if you were to take them separately. Mix-ins like Tailwind Endurance and Scratch labs are easy to add right to your water bottle or hydration vest for easy access. You can sip these throughout your run.
After your long run, don’t forget to refuel within 30 minutes of finishing a workout. A balanced meal (or snack) containing carbohydrates and at least 20g of protein to aid in glycogen restoration and muscle recovery, respectively, does the trick.
Practice During Training
The #1 complaint I hear when talking fuel is “it bothers my stomach.” However, it is a NECESSARY part of endurance training. The majority of runners need to be able to take in carbs and process them in order to perform at your best. You can train your gut similarly to the same way you train your muscles, which requires time and consistency (shocker) albeit a little trial and error. Use your long runs as an opportunity to test different fueling strategies and products. This way, you’ll learn what works best for your body, give it practice, and you can avoid any potential digestive or logistical issues during the actual race.
How Do I Hold My Fuel?
Just as there are SO MANY fueling products for you to choose from, there are so many ways to carry them. Almost every apparel company has items with pockets built in for various purposes- shorts, pants, sports bras, shirts. Heck, I even have a headband w/ pockets in it. Check out Janji, Oiselle, Brooks, Lululemon, Tracksmith trail stuff. The list can go on and on. Lots of companies also carry or are specifically built around accessories to carry your stuff while running- FlipBelt, SpiBelt, Nathan. Just do a simple search on Google or look at tags on Instagram and you’re sure to find something worth trying.
Race Day Fueling
Stick with what has worked during training. Write your plan down, pack with a checklist, visualize how your race will unfold. If you plan to use the on-course fuel provided on race day, be sure to read through the details on your race’s website so you can practice with the right products and timing based on where their fueling stations will be. Regardless of how you fuel, ALWAYS obey the Nothing New on Race Day rule!
Every person is different, so what works for someone else may not be the best approach for you. Experiment during your training to find the right combination of fueling strategies that keep you energized and avoid crashing during your long runs. The right fuel combination can make a huge difference in your performance. Additionally, consider consulting a registered dietitian or certified running coach who can provide personalized advice based on your specific needs and goals.
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Disclaimer: As an affiliate for some of the brands listed on this page, I may get a small commission from your purchase, so thank you for helping support my small business! Come back here anytime you want discounts on more goodies and feel free to share with friends!