Runners Tell All: Fueling? What’s That?

Notice the fuel belt with gels carefully selected for max nutritional value? Me neither...

I’ll be honest. Despite the fact that I’ve run competitively (sort of?) for 14 years, most of the time I still feel like I know jack about the technical aspects of the sport.

So really, don’t listen to anything I say or follow my example when it comes to fueling. Because…I don’t, really. I hardly ever take water or anything on most training runs, unless I’m know I’m going significantly farther than 10 miles or 90 minutes or so. And then, I might take a handheld water bottle and I *might* either fill it half-and-half with water and a sports drink, or toss in a Nuun tablet or some kind of electrolyte powder or something. If I’m going really long, I’ll bring along a Gu gel or some chews and take that after 60-90 minutes.

When racing, though, I pay more attention. I don’t carry anything in races, so I’m at the mercy of aid stations and whatever they’re offering. In 5Ks, I don’t bother with aid stations period — except maybe if it’s boiling hot. For 10Ks, I’ll usually skip the first station, but take water at most of the rest of them (again, it largely depends on how hot it is and how crowded the aid stations are — if I’m feeling good and there’s a big back-up, I’ll cruise through). For half-marathons, I usually get something at every station — water at the first one, water or sports drink at the next, Gu or whatever they have sometime around mile 8.

I’ve only run one full marathon and I honestly don’t remember what else I had, besides water/sports drink whenever I could. I did take a little cup of pretzels (because salt) sometime around mile 18-19 and it was awful. My mouth got so dry and I couldn’t swallow them. Lesson learned. On the rare times I take in fuel on training runs, I try not to “stick” to one kind (though I prefer chews or gummy candy-like options), because I want my system to be comfortable with whatever the race is giving out. The only thing I really don’t like is full-concentrated sports drinks, but I can handle them in the small amounts that fit in the little cups.

As far as “fueling” before or after runs…in the mornings, if I’m doing more than 5 miles first thing, I’ll usually grab a granola bar or a piece of toast or half a bagel with peanut butter. And those are my typical options post-run, too. If I’m at bad about fueling in general, I’m the worst at re-fueling post-run. I’m usually done either before breakfast or shortly before dinner, so I just eat my next meal as usual.

This is where I should say that I actually purchase sports drinks, energy bars, gels, etc. approximately never. I hoard all the free samples and stuff from races and keep them in a container on my fridge.

I’m pretty sure my marathon and half-marathon times would go way down if I could figure this out, because I think I don’t take in nearly enough calories or nutrients on long runs. And since I’m looking at starting my second marathon-training cycle…um, sometime this fall? (I should probably check on that…) I’d like to commit to being a little more purposeful in how I fuel my runs — before, during, and after. I’m not saying I’m going to do anything crazy like keep a detailed food journal or count every calorie, but I’ll make more of an effort to experiment — and actually pay attention to the results — with fueling during long runs (varying what/how much I take in and when).

So…help? Any tips on how you figured out fueling?

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc edited with Canva

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8 thoughts on “Runners Tell All: Fueling? What’s That?

  1. I’m glad to learn that I am not the only one who avoids purchasing sports drinks, energy bars, and gels. I have a jar of GU samples I picked up at a past race, and 1 gallon of condensed gatorade (leftover from when I recently volunteered at an aide station). The condensed gatorade makes something ridiculous, like 21 gallons of real gatorade when water is added. I have no idea when I will ever use it. Maybe I will start using it as my practice fuel for runs… 🙂

    • It’s good for hangovers too 🙂
      Race samples are the best — when we first started dating, my husband volunteered at a triathlon and came back with two boxes full of energy bars. They lasted us all summer.

  2. Well, for not paying too much attention to your fuel I’d say you are doing pretty darn good!

    I’d experiment – see if you do better with carbs or protein. I’d try out a variety of sport drinks and see which ones work for you. I do think after race nutrition is really important so I’d try and focus a bit on that. A good post race meal will help recovery tremendously.

    Thanks for linking up with us!

    • Haha, I think part of why I haven’t bothered to “figure out” fueling is because I’ve done well enough without having to — but I’m starting to think that it could push me to the next level in training/racing.

  3. Figuring out fueling and nutrition seems like it’s such a guessing game. And of course what works perfectly for one person may be disastrous for you. I like your idea of never sticking to one type of fuel, so that your body will be able to handle whatever they’re handing out on the course. I typically carry my own fuel for races, because I know what works for me. But if I wanted to rely on what the race will provide, I would try and find out what it will be so that I could try it out in training. I think it’s all a lot of trial and error in figuring out what works for you. Good luck!

    • Thanks! I’m lucky that (so far) my stomach’s pretty strong, but when running and just in general. And I like to sort of plan for things to go wrong, so I try not to get set in any certain routine when training — I don’t want to be freaking out on race day because I don’t have my lucky racing socks or whatever. 🙂

  4. We sound like the same kind of runner! haha. I really am so glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t think *too* much about what food I’m eating. Makes me feel better! Thanks for linking up with us 🙂 Sorry this visit is so belated. I would out of town all last week and am still getting back into the swing of real life.

  5. Pingback: The Ponytail Diaries | Runners Tell All: Running Routines

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