When and how do you fuel during long runs? How much do you eat? What are the best products to take?
The marathon is a special sort of race. Not only does it take physical fitness and mental strength, but it also takes lots of carbohydrates. Carbs are a source of glucose, the sugar that is stored in the muscles as glycogen and used to fuel your running.
Our bodies can only store a certain amount of glycogen. Once you deplete your stores (as you do during a long run), your muscles essentially run out of fuel, a condition commonly referred to as “hitting the wall.” Taking in carbs during your long run can help minimize the depletion and prevent the crash, but this must be carefully timed and practiced; too much will interfere with digestion and trigger a multitude of stomach issues.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to start thinking about extra calories until your runs exceed the 90 minute to two hour range – your body’s glycogen stores will carry you through anything shorter. After that, however, a good rule of thumb is to take in 100-200 calories (25-50g of carbs) per hour, after the first hour of running.
So where do these carbs come from? The easiest way is in the form of gels, or the gummy “blocks” that you often see alongside the gels in running stores. These items are easy to carry, easy to digest and come in so many flavors that you’re bound to find one you like! It is also very easy to monitor your intake with gels – one packet is always around 100 calories.
Sports drinks can also be used, but the quantity of liquid needed to provide enough sugar is sometimes too much for a sensitive long run stomach. Regardless, you are the only one who can decide what works for you. Use your long runs to start experimenting! Find out what brand your stomach cooperates with, which flavors you like, how much you need and how often you need to take them. Don’t wait until race day!
Once you have a handful of gels – Rogue Equipment has all you’ll ever need – you will start to wonder exactly how to carry them. Pockets are an obvious method, but you can also safety pin them to your shorts if you’re short on space. Decide what clothing you will race in, and practice in it. Likewise, practice taking gels on the run. Come race day, you won’t want to stop and pull over to the side of the road to enjoy your snack – you need to keep moving! Practice this during training runs. And time it so that you get water soon after – this helps the sugar move directly into your system for a quicker effect.
Remember that everyone has different intake needs – smaller runners won’t need nearly as many calories as a larger runner, nor will a very fit runner need as much as a newbie. You CAN overdo it with gels – this is not a magic bullet, it is a tool, and more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Take the above recommendations into consideration, and remember that nothing can ruin a race faster than an irritable stomach! An excessive amount of calories can of course lead to weight gain as well – yes, even when you are running 50+ miles per week! Find your balance, and plan for peak performance on race day.