I’ve been *literally* running around the block long enough that I know I need to fuel any long runs lasting over an hour. Some experts recommend taking in 30 to 60 grams of carbs each hour of your workout on runs lasting longer than 60 minutes. Others say 100 calories every 45 minutes. Yet others recommend 200 to 300 calories per hour. It’s important to not start with a deficit as well, so on long runs, you should eat something before you head out as well as make sure you are hydrated. This pre-run fueling needs to begin the night before with your dinner and maybe a snack.
Confused yet? If you are, I don’t doubt why. Fueling for the long run is a challenge for many runners and what works for your Best Running Friend may not work for you. Add in any dietary changes you (I mean ME) have recently made and the complication factor jumps exponentially. Since switching to a Paleo-ish lifestyle, I’ve really struggled with how to fuel for my long runs. Gone are my days of chicken parmesan and garlic bread for dinner. Gone is fueling before the run with a granola bar (although I’ve continued to have a small bowl of oatmeal on long-run days). Finding gluten-free and “clean” sources of fuel for during the run has been tough. I won’t try to explain the role of glycogen in running but this is a good article if you want some technical reading.
When choosing long run nutrition, it’s important to keep the following factors in mind.
- Nothing new on race day! This is one of the main reasons you have all those long runs before the race – try out different types of fuel to find what works for you. Make notes in your log or on DailyMile or wherever as to how that day’s fuel affected your energy level and your tummy.
- If you are gluten free, many experts recommend pre-long run fuel containing protein plus a low glycemic food about 2-3 hours before you go out. Options include fruit (bananas, peaches, cataloupe, watermelon) with eggs, unsweetened applesauce with protein powder, or baby food. What to consume DURING the run seems to be up for some debate as several “Paleo” books recommended sports drinks and gels – two items that are most definitely NOT Paleo. Check labels – some are gluten free and vegan, others are not.
- Watch out for “sugar belly”. Mixing a sports drink with a gu pack might be too much sugar for your stomach to tolerate. Play around with different combinations to find what works.
- Depending on what you are using, you may need to take some carbs every mile or two into your run (this is me with Honey Stingers – they just don’t last) or at 60 minutes (most gu packs seem to last longer for me but they upset my stomach). 100 to 250 calories of carbohydrates (in the form of gu, sports beans, shot blocks, jelly beans, twizzlers, fig newtons, etc) every hour-ish after the first hour of exercise seems to be the general consensus.
- Aim to stay hydrated and replace electrolytes. Some do fine with just water while other runners may need electrolyte tabs such as Nuun or salt tabs.
Carrying all that fuel poses other problems. I’ve used a fuel belt, spibelt, and pinned things to my clothing. I love Honey Stingers because they don’t upset my stomach, but I have to eat a lot more of them to stay fueled. The packets are also very large. Makes transporting enough for a 26.2 mile long run a big PITA. I did run across a video while researching for my post which suggested pinning fuel in ziplock baggies and then tucking them back inside your shorts. I’m not sure I’d like the bags hitting my skin (OMG can you imagine the chafing???) but pinning ziplocks to myself might actually work. I’ve done this for gels/gu but never chews of any kind.
What’s your biggest tip for long run fueling or how to carry all those goodies with you? What’s your favorite flavor of gu? Mine is Salted Caramel and I’m thrilled to find out it’s gluten free!
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