Now that I’m actually going to run a marathon, I think it’s important to learn about fueling while running. The other day I was trying to research online about a few of the guidelines for fueling during races, and it was kind of difficult. There is no perfect formula for fueling during exercise – only estimates.
This is because we are all different and so are our bodies. Some people might have no problem eating a slice of pizza a few minutes before their run, while others might have serious stomach problems. Some people might need to fuel every 25 minutes of a long run while others might not have to for 45 minutes. The bottom line is that what works for one person might not work for another. With that being said, here are a few general guidelines I found for fueling during exercise.
A Few General Guidelines
- Fuel during exercise that lasts longer than 1 hour. There is no proven benefit for people to fuel for exercise that is shorter than this.
- Ingest 30-60g carbohydrates for every hour of exercise.
- Ingest sodium for exercise lasting longer than 2 hours.
Why to Fuel During Exercise?
Our bodies are pretty awesome at using stored energy and converting it into usable energy. However, our bodies can only do so much. Therefore, we need to do everything possible to make it easier on our bodies and therefore improve our performance.
When we ingest fuel during exercise, it’s kind of like giving our body a break. Our glycogen stores are easily converted to usable energy, but fat can be harder to convert. The fuel we ingest is easily accessible and it also helps to spare our glycogen stores for when we really need them (the end of the race).
Fueling during exercise also helps to maintain our blood glucose levels or “blood sugar”. That way we don’t “bonk” or get that awful dizzy/weak feeling. Our bodies can stay strong and keep our motor skills sharp, which is crucial in a race.
My Experience with Fueling
I think the farthest I’ve run before was about 15 miles (roughly 2 hours of running). For me, I don’t really fuel for runs that are shorter than 10 miles and for my 15-mile run I only fueled once. Therefore, I don’t have much experience with it.
I’ve run a couple half marathons where I’ve ate along the way, but I’ve also run some that I haven’t fueled for (not including water) and I haven’t noticed much of a difference. My personal experience is that I don’t necessarily need to eat during half marathons. However, I know that for a full marathon almost everyone needs to fuel so that they don’t hit the wall. Here’s the link to my previous post about the importance of carbohydrates in avoiding the wall.
I’ve tried out eating GU’s, crackers, power bars, and blocks. I now prefer GU’s as they are really easy to eat while exercising. Chewing and breathing hard just don’t go well together in my experience. It normally ends with me semi-choking.
Last weekend I went to a local running store that I had a gift card to and spent it all on GU’s.
I got a mixture of lemon-sublime, salted caramel, vanilla bean, and peanut butter. I wish the store had the chocolate-mint type as I remember REALLY liking that flavor. I didn’t want to get ones with that much caffeine in them just because there isn’t much caffeine in my diet. Since my body isn’t used to it, I don’t really want to test something new out right now.
I tried some GU’s on my long run and found that they worked well. They were pretty easy to eat and tasted fine. My only complaint is that they were a little messy since there weren’t any trashcans for me to get rid of the wrappers in, so I had to stuff them back in my coat pocket. EW! I’ll be able to have a better idea of how well they work for me once I get closer to race day and my long runs get longer.
How to Find What Works Best for You
Experiment. You’ll never find out what works best until you try it out. You shouldn’t expect that it would be fine to eat and drink during a race if you haven’t practiced it before. Our bodies need time to adapt! If you start experimenting long before your race then you will probably find something that works well and will therefore work well during your race.
Since I’m pretty inexperienced with fueling during exercise, I would love some advice. I’ve taken nutrition classes where I’ve learned about fueling, but nothing is better than real-life experience.
What works best for you? What doesn’t work well? Thoughts?