When you are exercising for more than 60-90 minutes, you want to consume quickly absorbed carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout your run. Many marathoners are confused about what to eat during long runs. The following tips can help you fuel wisely and avoid from hitting the wall. (Remember that it’s important to experiment with fueling during long training runs to avoid any race-day surprises!)
-- How can you tell when you should eat during long runs? Pay attention to your body’s requests for fuel: mood-change, thoughts about food, reduced energy, tired legs, slower running…
--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 150-300 calories of carbohydrates per hour. This can be from a mix of sports drinks like Gatorade to foods like Gu, candy, or dried fruit.
--Most runners start consuming carbohydrates (sports drink) beginning at 45 minutes to an hour into the race. Breakfast fuels the start of the run.
--If you are a slow runner, vary your food choices to reduce "flavor fatigue" for 4+ hours. It’s easy to get through a half marathon relying only on gels, 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. Experiment with a few different options during longer training runs to see what your stomach and GI tract tolerate and what gives your body the most energy.
--Convenience is the big advantage to engineered sports foods such as Gu, Chomps, Sport Beans, and the like. 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
- Swedish fish, jelly beans, gummy bears, or other chewy candy
- Pretzels, fig cookies
- Dried cereal
- Mini peanut butter and jelly (or honey) sandwiches*
- *If you prefer snacks that aren’t convenient to carry in your pocket, ask friends or family to stand along your race-day route at points when you know you will need fuel.
--Gatorade or other sports drinks contribute 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.
For more information:
Co-written with student, blogger and runner Sarah Gold.