Why you definitely need to fuel during a long run + suggestions for gummies, gus, gels, sports drinks & using whole foods as fuel.
Anyone who has ever run a half marathon or marathon can tell you that consuming some sort of fuel mid-run is crucial to overall performance. It seems counterintuitive to eat while exercising, but the body needs fuel to carry itself through intense endurance exercise for a long period of time.
And if you think you need to eat only sports nutrition products, think again. This list of 20 foods includes the traditional gummies, gus and gels and natural fueling alternatives.
When should you eat during a long run?
The body naturally stores carbs in the muscle and liver (this is called glycogen), which are the primary fuel source for exercise. Glycogen stores last for about 30 minutes, and then the body relies on dietary carbs (or the ones you eat).
All in all, the amount of carbs already in your system will provide energy for about 60 minutes. During any run lasting longer than 60-minutes, consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate every hour.
If that seems like more than you can handle at one time, break it down into 15 to 20-minute intervals. Think about refueling in terms of small pit stops on your way to the finish line, just enough to keep you going without taking you out of the race.
To learn more about fueling and recovery for a long-run, check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
Easy to carry fuel sources
Now that you know you need to be fueling during a long run, what should you eat? First, think of things that fit in your pack and are easy to eat.
No one fueling strategy is perfect for everyone, so it’s best to try out a few different foods and fluids during training to see what works for you. Here are some suggestions:
- Sports drinks can do double duty, providing fluids and carbohydrates in one easy to carry product.
- Other supplements, like gels and gummies, are portable, pre-portioned and easy to eat and digest.
- Some runners can tolerate fruit juice or small pieces of fruit, like bananas, while others may find that fructose (fruit sugar) causes gastrointestinal distress.
- On longer runs, it can be helpful to carry both sweet and savory foods, like candy and pretzels, to keep your tastebuds interested and not overload them with sweet.
- Avoid high-fiber foods, like whole wheat bread, since fiber remains undigested in the intestine and can cause stomach issues while running. This is the time when you want to eat white starches!
Let’s dive into each of these options.
Sports drinks can help replace carbs and electrolytes during a long run. But depending on the length of your run, they may provide too much liquid to rely on sports drinks alone. I recommend pairing a sports drink with some of the options below. And read more about sports drinks and electrolytes here:
Gus and Sports Gels
Sports gus and gels are some of the most portable and runner-friendly sports products. Most brands yield about 100 calories and 22 g of carbohydrate per package, which will supply about 30-45 minutes of energy. Like anything in the world of sports nutrition, there are some potential pitfalls with taking in too much of this stuff; namely GI distress. PLEASE please please drink at least 6-8 ounces of water with each gu or gel.
Here are some sports gus and gels recommendations:
GU Energy Gels come in a variety of tasty flavors, such as Salted Watermelon or S’mores. For those who don’t love sucking down a jelly liquid, the wide variety of flavors can definitely help!
Honey Stinger Organic Gel is one of the only organic and gluten-free options. Made with just seven ingredients, including honey, this 100 calorie gel is great for those who are picky about ingredients lists.
Huma PLUS gel has double the electrolytes (240 mg sodium, 50 to 75 mg potassium, 15 mg magnesium) compared to the brand’s regular version, which is great for heavy sweaters. Huma uses all-natural ingredients so your electrolytes are coming from coconut water and sea salt.
Gummies and chews
These colorful bears, worms, blocks and other familiar shapes are MY favorite sports nutrition product. They’re small, lightweight and provide excellent and immediate carbohydrate and electrolyte replenishment. Most supply about 20-30 grams of carbohydrate, which will give you energy for 30-45 minutes. As with the gels, it’s imperative that you eat gummies with some sort of fluid.
Here are some recommendations:
CLIF BLOKS– These gummies are so easy to carry and come in tasty flavors, like Salted Watermelon, Gingerale and Margarita. Each one is 100 calories, has 24 grams of carbs and some even have extra sodium or caffeine.
GU Energy Chews are also easy to carry in your pack and have a similar nutrient and flavor profile.
Haribo gummie bears (yes, the candy), use two types of carbohydrates: sugar (aka sucrose) and dextrose (aka glucose). This candy is a cheaper alternative to the formulated sports products. The only problem is that they don’t contain any electrolytes, so you may still need a sports drink or a salt shaker.
What are some natural foods?
By now you know that all carbs are sugar and all runners need sugar for energy. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that sugar has a really bad reputation as being the cause of weight gain, inflammation and other more serious ailments.
That said, foods with added sugar can be beneficial to runners. Why? Well, all the good-for-you nutrients that are in foods with natural sugar, like fiber and protein, are difficult for your stomach to digest while running.
That’s why many runners opt for foods that are primarily made up of sugar, like jelly beans, so they can easily digest them during a run. I’m not saying that you should sit in your office and eat jelly beans and hope it will help tomorrow morning’s run. Everything in moderation!
These natural foods are rich in sugar and low in fiber. That means they are easy to digest while running, so they will quickly deliver sugar to working muscles. The only caveat is that they are missing electrolytes, so add a dash of salt to these options:
- Dates and other dried fruits, like raisins
- A small glass of 100% fruit juice
- Maple syrup or honey packet
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Fruit, like a banana
- Crunchy Chickpeas
- White crackers, like saltine
- Unsweetened cereal, like Corn Flakes or Cheerios
- Homemade sports drink
- White bread with jam
- Gummie bears of jelly beans