How to Find What Running Fuel Works Best

In response to my article Fueling Better For Top Performance, I got lots of questions about how to find what works best while running. Here are just some of the strategies I’ve seen athletes try, jumbled in with some thoughts of my own. Let me know what works for you!

Foods:

Granola/trail mixes: Making your own mix of grains, dried fruits, and seeds might be something to try. Throw together a mix of cranberries, chia seeds, almond slivers, cinnamon, and instant oats. Creativity is the only limit. 

Muffin recipes– You may not necessarily be vegan, but, this is an awesome list of easy to make muffins using clean ingredients that won’t spoil in the heat. High packability!

Chia gels- Huma Gel (kindof like Gu, but made with chia and fruit) can be found at most running stores, and definitely online. Otherwise, if you blend chia seeds into powder, the ratio is roughly 2 tablespoons of chia to one cup of liquid. Coconut water, apple juice, mango juice, or a combination mixed in with a fruit puree makes for a more natural alternative to Gu. Put it in a small bottle, and water down a bit if needed for preferred density.

Salt and electrolytes will play a big factor on longer runs. If you are a V8 kind of person, the little cans are packable and make for good aid station items. Lots of nutrients, and a good bit of sodium. Pretzels and saltine crackers are easily packable. Make a nut-butter sandwich with them if you want! If it helps, crush them (just the pretzels/crackers) up first, and eat with a swish of liquid. It helps with the digestion, and, as you hit that “i don’t feel like eating” phase of the run, makes it a lot easier to ingest.

Honey Stinger or Gu waffles- I’m biased to the chocolate and caramel flavors.

Protein balls– Savory and filling, packed with protein, but could potentially be “heavy”.

Chocolate covered espresso beans- a delicious treat and a new flavor for the palate, especially when going into the night.

Tortillas- Eat them plain, salted, PBJ, honey, seeds… whatever. I find they are easier to eat since the are denser than bread, and more packable. Less saliva is needed to break them down, so they tend to be a better one middle/late in the race.

Strategies:

While it is possible to run without carrying nutrition at all, I’ve found 1 hour to be about my maximum comfort zone before I notice I’m bonking and needing some fuel. It is best to start fueling about 20-30 minutes before you begin running. From there, getting something every 45 minutes at the longest is best, but, as needed if you are hungry. 200-300 calories per hour is a good goal to shoot for.

If your stomach gets sloshy or you feel bloated, I’ve found that going to straight water for 45 minutes to an hour, or nothing at all, can alleviate discomfort. The trick is making sure to get back on the food train before it is too late though. Eat little nibbles here and there until the discomfort passes.

Set an interval timer on your watch. Every 30-45 minutes, take a moment to chow and drink something. 

Every 2nd or 3rd hill depending on your terrain. Eating while going uphill/hike mode may be easier based on breathing effort and not having to pay as much attention to footing vs. downhill, but to each their own.

Find a loop and eat at the lap mark

Each third/fourth mile

Action plan:

Where do we start for now? I’ve seen lots of success with the interval timer strategy. Find a food that sounds like it might work, and stick with that one for two to three weeks. If it works, great. Keep it in mind, but, start to implement other foods that might be found at a race aid station. i.e. can you combine tortillas with watermelon or swedish fish? Also, try for about 500ml of liquid per hour, especially on long runs. Of course, this can be more if needed or in hot temperatures.

Are you looking for a running coach? I am a USATF certified run coach and look forward to helping you reach the finish line. Let me know how I can get you to your goals!

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