Fueling For Distance Runners

Types of Nutrition

Gels – These come in packets or economy size bottles that have a pudding like consistency.  They come in a variety of flavors and caffeine levels from no caffeine to double caffeine.  Easy to transport, quick to eat, must be chased with water to help absorption. 40mg of caffeine is equal to one cup of coffee. 20mg of caffeine is equal to half a cup of coffee.

  • Hammer Gel – lighter on the stomach because it’s a thinner consistency especially if you have a poor stomach
  • Gu – lots of flavors
  • Honey Stinger gel – organic
  • Huma gel - organic
  • Clif shots

Bars – These are like candy bars that require more chewing.  Sometimes it’s tough for people to use during the event but for pre event it’s a great energy boost or after an event for recovery. Many flavors and varieties.

  • Bonk breaker bars
  • Honey stinger bars
  • Honey stinger waffles
  • Amrita bars 

Liquid – Water is the obvious, but you need more than water during an endurance event to replace electrolytes, sodium and other nutrients, plus added sugar can help.  The electrolyte mixes many times are personal preference.

  • Bonk Breaker 
  • GU
  • Tailwind - high sodium. Great for runs in the heat and runs over 2 hours long. 
  • Nuun – full of essential electrolytes your body sweat out: sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. No sugar and slightly fizzy. Comes in great flavors
  • Skratch – same as Nuun
Chews: - Chews are similar to a gummy. Offer the same benefits at gels  but are in a chew form. You will have to chew these. The come is small packages that are easy to open and transport. These must be chased with water just like gels. 
  • Bonk Breaker
  • GU
  • Honey Stinger 
  • Sports Beans 
  • Skratch  

How to transport Nutrition

  • Bra – For women many times I’ll suggest sticking a gel in their bra.  Its easy access. But only use bras that offer a special area for carrying products.
  • Tights – I’ve recommended on some occasions if you wear compression shorts to put the gel under the short on the leg
  • Handheld Waterbottle – This is a handheld bottle that you can carry fluid in.
  • SPIbelt – expandable pocket that is worn around the waste
  • Nathan hipster - hip belt with pockets 
  • Nathan hydration vest - backpack vest to carry water, fuel, extra clothing and other essentials. 
  • Nathan hydration belt - 
  • Clothing - most run specific clothing has special pockets for carrying fuel items. 

As you prepare for you event

  • It is recommended to practice during training what you’ll do on race day.  This way you know what will work and what won’t.
  • Check the race site for the event you will be doing and practice with the nutrition they will provide.  This way you won’t have to carry it with you during the event.  If you don’t like what they are providing then of course you’ll have to carry it in which case the above transport methods would come into play during the race too.
  • During longer runs (say over 1 hour 15 minutes) start drinking about 20-30 minutes in to your run.  It could be water or a mixture water/electrolyte drink. 
  • During these longer runs start taking gel or bar about 45 minutes in.  Chase with water to help absorption.  It takes on average 20 minutes for the gel/bar to kick in.
  • Regularly take a sip of liquid and make sure you take electrolyte liquid too.  It is the way to replace the sodium.
  • Take gel about once an hour.  So after the first gel take another 45 – 60 minutes later. 
  • Keep in mind everyone is different in their absorption, metabolism and consumption rate so this is why it’s best to practice all these steps during training and before race day.
  • Post training run – try to take in protein like ½ whole wheat bagel and peanut butter or Recovery.  Basically something with protein to help restore the muscles in increase recovery.
  • For normal everyday breakfast, lunch & dinner – just eat.  Follow basic healthy eating principles and you’ll be fine.  Listen to your body.  If it craves something eat it in moderation.  Don’t deny yourself.

The weeks/days leading up to the event

  • About 3 weeks before the event you will start you’re taper.  This is a time when you reduce mileage.  Keeping that in mind you may have to reduce regular everyday consumption.  Many people fall in to a trap and gain a little weight during this time because they still ae the same, but worked out less.  Just be cautious.
  • About 3-4 days before the event start drinking more water and possibly eat pretzels with salt.  This will begin the hydration for pre event (especially if it will be hot on event day – so gauge the temperature too).  The pretzels do two things: add carbs which you burn as fuel and add salt so you have enough sodium.  Don’t gorge yourself on them but possibly add them as a mid afternoon snack.
  • Two days before – get good sleep the 48 hours before the event.  If you are going the marathon distance possible eat a lite carb meal that night to help add carbs. 
  • Night before – eat a carb meal, pasta, salt potatoes, pancakes etc… But don’t gorge yourself.
  • Keep drinking fluid from water to electrolyte.

The morning of and the event itself

  • The morning of don’t change from what you usually eat.  It is not the day to try eggs benedict the first time.  Sometimes you may even have to bring with you what you eat even down to bringing milk or cereal on your trip.  Don’t worry the majority of people bring what they like the morning of.  You may want to eat a granola bar or bonk breaker bar (if you’ve practice with it) about 40 minutes before and drink water and electrolyte drink that morning too.  Fuel is key.
  • During the event – for many it’s recommended to drink every water stop even if it’s a sip.  But gauge how you are.  It’s best to drink/eat early and forgo later stops than vice versa.  Take in the gels/bars as you did during training.
  • As the previous comment, if you drink at the 24 and beyond spot, it isn’t going to do much for you at this point, so get it in early. 
  • Basically here is the time to do everything you did in training.

Post Event

  • The biggest recommendation I could give is to eat fat.  After a long under taking the body has lost so much and fat can help prevent cravings or post race hang over.  Foods such as ice cream, pizza etc…  Plus heck you deserve at this point.
  • On a note other than nutrition – get a massage as soon as you can and have your guest be ready to give you fresh clothes and comfy shoes at the finish for when you are ready to change.

Overall – just be smart.  Practice in training and it usually works for the best.



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