Now that you know what to eat before your long run (and have hopefully been practicing), it’s important to figure out your fueling plan for during the race. When exercising for more than 60-90 minutes, it’s important to consume quickly absorbing carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout your run. Here are some recommendations on what and when to consume during long runs and race day.
How much to consume?
The amount of carbohydrates needed will vary from person to person (body size, speed, intensity, and training will all effect this), but aim for between 150-250 calories of carbohydrates per hour. This can be from a mix of sports drinks like Gatorade and food like Gu, candy, or dried fruit.
What to consume?
The goal is to consume food that is primarily made up of carbohydrates. When running for many hours, such as during the marathon, you will want to vary your food choices to keep you from getting tired of eating the same thing for 4+ hours. It’s easy to get through a half marathon relying only on Gu, candy, or dried fruit, but it’s difficult to keep that up for twice the time. You’re likely to get “sugared out,” meaning your taste buds or stomach may not tolerate the same food for that many hours. Varying both flavor and texture can help you get through the race without feeling like you can’t eat as much as your body needs. So, try out a few different options during your longer training runs to see what your stomach and GI tract tolerate and what gives your body the most energy.
Engineered vs. Real Food
The big advantage to engineered food such as Gu, Chomps, Sport Beans, and the like, is convenience. Most come in pre-packaged 100-calorie servings, and they are easy to carry with you. However, real food can work just as well, particularly for slower marathoners who will be pounding the pavement for more than four hours. Here are some common choices among runners:
- Raisins,dates, dried cranberries—or any dried fruit
- Swedishfish, jelly beans, gummy bears, or other chewy candy
- Minipeanut butter and jelly (or honey) sandwiches*
- Banana(with peanut butter or other nut butter)*
* If you choose foods that aren’t convenient to carry inyour pocket, ask friends or family to stand along your race-day route at pointswhen you know you will need fuel.
If you drink Gatorade or other sports drinks, remember that this contributes to your carbohydrate intake. Just pay attention to how much you are consuming so you can adjust your food intake. Diluted fruit juice can work well for some too.
When to consume?
Your breakfast will likely get you through the first hour to hour and a half of the race. So, most runners like to start consuming carbohydrates whether it’s from a sports drink or food beginning at 45 minutes to an hour into the race. But, pay attention to how you feel during your long training runs to figure out when is a good time for you to start fueling. Some runners choose to start slightly earlier or later. Earlier signs of hunger (or fuel needs) include thinking about food, reduced energy, or tired legs.
As noted above, plan to consumer 150-250 calories per hour.You can spread this out over 15-30 minute intervals, and mix it up between drinks and food.
Remember that it’s important to test this out during your long training runs to avoid any race-day surprises!