Fueling a run is a big topic that can range from what you eat in general that fuels your body down to what you consume during exercise. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on how to fuel for long runs to help you run faster and longer.
When I started running, I did not know anything about fueling my longer runs or that those products even existed. I trained for my first half marathon without drinking any water during my training runs.
But come race day, I drank the water and sports drink on course. That was not my best idea! My goal here is to share what I have learned to help you fuel in a way that supports your training and race goals.
Why Fueling During Your Long Run Is Important
Fueling is important because over time, the body will run low on stored energy. Taking in carbohydrates during exercise helps us to supplement what we already have stored to sustain our energy levels.
If we do start to run low on carbohydrates, we experience the dreaded BONK where suddenly it feels like our legs have turned to cement. When we fuel well, our energy levels stay more even and we recover faster from the run afterwards too.
Running Fuel Options
There are a lot of different options to use during a run like sports drinks, sports gels or chews, or real food. If you are not used to drinking or eating during a run, starting with water would be the first step. Then progress to a sports drink. Once you are used to drinking during your run, you can try out other options.
If you do want to try real food, things that are more carbohydrate dense and easy to digest are best. Some runners will take pretzels, dried fruit, candy, bananas, plain potato pieces, or fruit squeeze packets like applesauce.
How much fuel you use will depend on two things. How long your run will take to complete. And how much your stomach can handle. Most of us have stored carbohydrates that will last 90-120 minutes running.
If we start taking in extra fuel before that point, we can maintain our energy levels. For your runs 75 minutes or longer, you will want to include fuel during the run. And if you are counting your calories or macros, those fueling carbs would be in addition to your macros for the day.
The rule of thumb with fueling is to start 30 minutes into your run. And continue to take in fuel every 30 minutes for the remainder of the run.
We have a chart pictured here that gives some guidelines on how many carbohydrates to intake per hour of your run.
For example, if you were going to run for 90 minutes, you would aim to take in 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour. 30g/hour x 1.5 hour = 45g total. If your gels contain 22g of carbohydrate, you’d consume 2 gels in that 90 minutes, starting 30 minutes into the run.
If your long run was going to take 3 hours, you could fuel up to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. 60g/hour x 3 hour = 180g total. In this case, you might want a mix of gels and sports drink, and maybe real food to match that intake.
If you find that your stomach only tolerates 40g/hour, then that is a more optimal intake rate for you than 60g/hour.
What You Should Know
Some people experience GI issues with running. That’s one of the reasons there are portable restrooms along the course in a race! If this is you, it may take some trial and error to find what works for you.
Like we discussed earlier, starting with water and then sports drink is a good way to get the gut used to having something in it while running. Then you can progress to more solid options and go from there.
The key with any fuel is to test it out during your training. ‘Nothing new on race day’ as the saying goes is especially true for fueling. If you are newer to fueling or haven’t tried the higher amounts on our chart, you can try slowly increasing the amount of carbohydrate you take in per hour over your next few long runs and see how that feels.
Different products work differently for people as well. So if one gel doesn’t agree with you, another one might. The same is true for solid food. Some people don’t tolerate it at all, and others find it much easier on their stomach than sport gels or chews.
We can train our gut to tolerate fuel during exercise just like we train our cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems to run. These guidelines will give you a great starting point to try different things and find what works best for you.
It may take some time and patience to slowly introduce things and figure out which fuel and in what amount works best for you. But it will be worth the effort. Fueling at your optimal point will help you feel your best and enhance your recovery as you chase your running goals!
testing different fuel options is essential for runners looking to maximize their endurance during runs. Every athlete’s body responds differently to various forms and amounts of carbohydrates, so it is important to experiment with different options to find what works best for each individual.
Hydration strategies can also play a role in fueling endurance, as drinking fluids with electrolytes can help maintain energy levels and prevent dehydration.
Additionally, timing of fuel intake can be critical, with some athletes needing to consume carbohydrates before, during, or after their runs to achieve optimal performance.
By testing and fine-tuning their fueling strategies, runners can improve their endurance, minimize the risk of hitting the wall or bonking, and ultimately achieve their goals with greater ease and success.
It is recommended to consult a qualified sports nutritionist or dietitian for personalized recommendations on fueling strategies tailored to each athlete’s unique needs and goals.