Fueling on the Run

Hi everyone! 

My name is Megan, I am Jules’ twin and also a Registered Dietitian at Spaulding Rehab in Boston!

Have you ever hit a wall? Not literally, but figuratively. That feeling where your body just can’t anymore? I have. Multiple times. Take my marathon for example. I was all giddy and chatty until about mile 17. And then I couldn’t talk because every breath was too much effort. I couldn’t chew my gummies because the act would take too much energy. And every step felt like I was moving in slow motion and hurt like hell. Because of that wall, and because I made my time goal oh-so-perfectly (thanks to Julie, or Jules as you know her), I likely won’t be running another marathon. It’s not for everyone and as I like to say “to each his/her own.”

No matter what race you’re running, you’ll want to do what you can to avoid that wall. That comes with training, but also with fueling your body appropriately. Previously we talked about what to eat before a run but that can only last you so long. For short to medium runs eating adequately beforehand will suffice, but any run that will last over an hour may require some extra fuel.

What I found to be key during my training is thinking of food as fuel. You want to eat before you hit the wall, just like you want to fill up your gas tank before you hit empty and have to pull over on the side of the road. Hitting empty slows you down no matter what, even if you have some fuel (gummies or gas) on hand, you’re still losing precious time. There are times to eat when you’re hungry, but there are also times to plan ahead and fuel up even if you aren’t hungry.

That being said, you should fuel every 1 to 1-½ hours. It depends on the person and what you ate prior to leaving the house. The first time you fuel up depends but then after that I would recommend every hour if not sooner if you’re feeling sluggish. The recommendation is to have 30-60 grams/hour. What does 30 grams of carbohydrate look like? 2 slices of bread. 1 english muffin. 2 pieces of fruit. That can be a lot to eat while running, therefore, many people choose concentrated sources of carbohydrates such as dried fruit, candy, or even maple syrup. Julie drinks maple syrup and I relied on fruit snacks. You do you. Looking back I would have switched to maple syrup or some kind of liquid carbohydrate since it’s easier to swallow in touch times. Live and learn.

Choosing a fuel.

Simple carbohydrates. Skip the whole grains and the fiber. Your stomach will thank you later.
Skip the fat and protein, it takes longer to digest. Although a little won’t hurt.
What do you like? Don’t choke down something just to be like the other runners out there.
What’s easy to carry? Do you have a belt that can hold 4 bags of fruit snacks?

Dried fruit. Skip prunes…google it if you don’t know why.
Chewy candies. Don’t choose hard candies, choking hazard.
Energy balls. Make your own or buy some, look in the granola bar aisle.
Pretzels or crackers. Maybe try unsalted unless you run with a water belt.
Sports drinks if, again, you have a water belt.
Liquid sugar! Aka maple syrup (Julie’s favorite!), a creation of the God’s or my favorite farmers in Vermont. Please choose real maple syrup, we can’t be friends if you use the fake stuff.

I’ll leave you with this advice. Try it and if it doesn’t work try something else. Or give it another shot. Our stomachs don’t react the same way day in and day out even if we eat the same foods. Don’t give up. Just like a long run can seem impossible one day and a walk in the park the next, fueling can be equally unpredictable.

Megan Morris, MSD, RD, LDN

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