There are a lot of great sports nutrition options that have been created to help athlete’s fuel and perform at an optimal level; however, for those who are looking for a more whole-food approach, here are some tried and true suggestions.
Important factors to consider while preparing to fuel for a long run:
Distance / time you will be running:
Basically, you don’t need fuel if running a 5-6 miler, but going on a training run longer than that warrants the need to have some carbohydrates to fuel your muscles.
Less than 1:15 = no fuel needed
1:15 to 3 hours = 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour
3+ hours = 30 to 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour
Remember to practice your fueling on training runs and don’t try any new fueling options on race day!
Water on its own is good, but when running, we lose a lot of the minerals and electrolytes with sweat.
Try these options to replenish liquids and salts.
Coconut water: contains the “big 5” electrolytes: calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.
Water and salt: simply add one teaspoon of salt to your water bottle to replenish liquids and salt that are being secreted during runs.
Real food options:
Banana: one banana = ~30 grams of carbohydrate
Potato: one small or ½ large cooked potato = ~35 grams of carbohydrate
Raisins: ¼ cup raisins = ~30 grams of carbohydrate
Dates: 2 medjool dates = 35 grams of carbohydrate
Applesauce squeeze packets: 1 packet = 20 to 25 grams of carbohydrate
Pretzels: 25 mini pretzels = 30 grams of carbohydrate
Gummi bears: 17 pieces = 33 grams of carbohydrate. They contain virtually no fat or fiber to slow absorption and are full of sugar.
Homemade energy bars: try combining several foods on this list-while avoiding too much fat. Keep the servings small so that fat is not an issue. Try combinations of dates, figs, honey, and nuts, coconut, and seeds. You can add salt to get the much-needed sodium for replenishing stores.
Jam / honey sandwich: Simple sandwich with jam/honey and keep the bread white, or if you are gluten-free try sourdough. Remember NOT to add fatty peanut butter that will just slow digestion.
How do I transport all of this on my run?
Hydration packs with pockets, around the waist belts, and the pocket of hand-held water bottles are all good options for training runs or even races. I like to have friends/family members at a place in the racecourse with a sandwich, which is a little harder to carry on race day. Another idea is to mash up items like potatoes or bananas in a plastic bag and then tear the bag corner like a gel to eat it on the go.
A few things to remember:
Fueling starts the day(s) leading up to your long run. If you are running a 20 miler on a Saturday, slowly increase your carbs over the day on Friday and increase your hydration. It is important that your glycogen stores are at an optimal level prior to your run. Coconut water is a good tool to use the day before your long run or race.
Start fueling before you reach 75 minutes into your run, by that time, your tank will start to hit empty and it is harder to recover from that point.
Once you’ve completed your long run or race, make sure to continue to take good care of your body; hydrate and re-fuel your muscles.
Try a variety of options. If something doesn’t work for you one time, try another option or try it again on another training run.
Have fun and get creative!
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