How to Fuel Your Run

WORKOUT

Monday: 4 miles @ 8:26 pace on treadmill

Just an easy recovery run. Everything felt pretty good, except for a little blister I had on the top of my toe.

Tuesday: 6 miles @ 8:20 pace on treadmill/ Pilates

Easy Peasy recovery run.

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I have a number of friends that have caught the running bug and are training for their first half and full marathons. You don’t know how much this excites me! Like REALLY excites me. My long lost partner in crime Erica (she moved to Georgia) text me the other day asking about when to start using fuel during runs and what options are out there other than gels, as they don’t sit right in her tummy. So… here’s my 411 on when and what to do about fueling during a run!

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, my go-to fuel source is a gel. I like the PowerBar PowerGels, preferably with caffeine. They are liquidy, so they go down easy and taste pretty good, too. There are several brands out there. Most of them contain some sort of sugar/carb, electrolyte, potassium combo. Gels are probably the most common form of fuel.

But what do you do if gels upset your stomach? Luckily there are SO many options out there these days. The first thing that comes to mind are other endurance specific products. These include a lot of the same ingredients as the gels, just in another form, so they might not sit well either, but are worth a try. Here’s a good image of a few options (source: anytimefitness)

I find the blocks/chomps/beans to be too difficult to chew during a race. Too much wasted effort. Others love them and say it’s something to look forward to, like candy. Which brings me to my next option. Candy! A lot of people prefer straight up glucose, i.e. sugar… candy corn, jelly beans, Swedish fish, gummie bears, etc. These can obviously be harder to carry during a run, but if you wear a water or fuel belt, it’s probably not that bad. They don’t have electrolytes or potassium, but hey, those might be the things that are making your tummy rumble in the first place!

A new comer to the lineup is the fruit pouches, similar to the mushed fruit you give toddlers. They can be a bit bulkier, but are a more “clean” option and might not upset your stomach. Another more “raw” option is honey. You can get the little packets from restaurants or find these awesome honey sticks…

Kristin and I got these all the time in North Carolina when we vacationed there in the summer. Good memories! Speaking of Kristin, she starts her marathon plan this week and I am over the moon excited for her. She just knocked out a 12 miler at a 9:21 pace like it was nothing. Boom. That’s my sister!

OK, back on topic… I think the easiest way to find what works for you is to try a bunch of different options- duh, haha- but not on long or hard runs. Instead of eating your pre-run meal or snack, have a few shot blocks or handful of gummy bears or couple packets of honey, and go for an easy 3-4 miler. You’ll know by then if your stomach can handle the food. Once you’ve tried a few things you like, try using them on a longer run, say 10 miles. If your tummy still holds up, you’ve got a keeper!

When should you use them during training? I like to alternate runs I take gels on. On longer, “easier” runs I won’t take one, but the next week when I have speedwork I will. You want to train your body NOT to rely on them, but be used to them. Does that make sense? You want your body and mind to know what it feels like to run on super low glycogen. That being said, you also want to know you are able to run hard with fuel in your stomach.

What about during a race? A lot of this has to do with what your stomach can handle and what you’ve learned from your training. I’m used to training at a highish mileage (50-70 miles per week) and am a pretty good carb/glycogen burner, so I don’t take anything during a half. For those who feel more comfortable taking something, between miles 8-10 is the perfect time. For a marathon, I usually take one starting at mile 8 and then every 4 miles after that. Again, so much of this is personal preference from trial and error in your training.

I did another post that touched on fueling and what I like to call The Winchell Method, that you can read HERE 🙂

Any questions for me regarding racing fuel?

This article has 9 comments

  1. Such a good post! Fueling is soo important yet has been a huge struggle for me to find what works best. My stomach can’t handle a lot when running. I’ve found that Hammer gels work the best for me because there is no sugar in them. (They are sweetened with stevia) thanks for the great post!!

  2. WHHOOO I need to branch out and try some new stuff. I LOVE SHOT BLOKS, but I agree they are difficult to chew while running and I find myself holding my breath, and then gasping for air hahaha. I hate GU gels, they are like tar and the one I tried tasted like ass. I once tried candy, but don’t think it was strong enough cause it didn’t give me much energy..hmmm..so we should run together. JUST SAYIN HA!

  3. My stomach will handle about anything. I once ran a marathon with just two super sized Snickers bars. Plenty of sugar there!
    For my marathon this weekend I will take 6 fig bars and probably 4-6 GU or similar products. I like to start fueling around mile 4, before my glycogen levels drop too low. Once you get depleted during a race you cannot restore the glycogen in your muscles.
    I’m also bringing a bottle of Hammer HEED sports drink with me. That should help me avoid the first few crowded water stops and it is loaded with electrolytes.
    Everyone is different and training runs are the place to experiment.

  4. When I train I actually don’t use any fuel types at all, and I rarely eat before the run. I do this with a training purpose, but not a lot of people train like that with the low sugars pre race. But in a race, I will take things along the way, but my stomach doesn’t handle the race gels well. I do enjoy eating a few pretzels and sucking on an orange in the later miles of a marathon. My tummy doesn’t handle the gels and stuff, so I am one of those odd people that avoid most of that stuff.
    Great post!

    • I am always so tempted to grab the orange slices but as silly as it is, I’m worried they’ll make me too sticky, haha. I don’t know how you do it with nothing! I guess its just something your body has adapted to since you are super sensitive. Maybe try a few of the new products out there and see if it helps your racing at all 🙂

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