It seems that spring is finally starting to make an appearance – yay! Spring often signals the time for many runners to begin increasing their mileage or signing up for races. The fresh weather and long lost sunshine provide some extra motivation after the dark days of winter.
As many runners sign up for races and begin to increase their mileage, long runs become more and more frequent in the training plan. As our long run distance increases, the toll it takes on our body does as well. With each added mile, our bodies work a little bit harder to get us to the end of our run.
There comes a point for most runners while training for a half marathon or longer, when they will need to begin fueling during a long run. The more miles our legs run, the more calories we burn. As we burn calories, there comes a point where those calories actually need to be replaced in order to continue without bonking or hitting the wall.
Related: Tips for Your Best Long Run Ever
While eating on a run may feel a little strange the first few times, it is actually a crucial part of training. Long run nutrition is a topic very widely discussed, but with so many options it can be challenging to know where to start. Here are a few tips to ensure you have a successful long run, and break down some of the reasons for taking in fuel on a long run.
Fueling Tips for a Successful Long Run
Why do you need to eat during a long run?
I’ve heard many times that the average person burns roughly 80-100 calories per mile. This is obviously a very rough estimate, but it provides a helpful starting point in determining how many calories you burn during a long run.
If the average person burns roughly 100 calories per mile, this means that during a 10 mile run you burn around 1,000 calories. A 20 mile run during marathon training leaves you with a 2,000 calorie deficit. Yikes!
While it’s possible to run a decent amount of miles without needing any extra fuel for long runs, there comes a point for every runner when they will need to replenish some calories during a long run. Our muscles burn glycogen (carbohydrates) as we run, and the longer we run, the more glycogen that is burned. Eventually we will need to replace some of those carbohydrates to keep our muscles going strong.
At what point do I need to fuel a long run?
While each individual person is different, my rule of thumb is that if I will be running double digit miles, I need to bring along some fuel. My body requires some fuel during a long run of anything over 10 miles.
How much fuel do you need to eat on a long run?
Knowing how much you need to eat to fuel long runs can really be challenging, and will probably require a lot of experimentation. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered what is best for my body. I have found success taking in about 100 calories every 6 or so miles during a long run.
This means that after the first 6 miles I begin to take in fuel. The total calories I consume will vary depending on the distance of the run. Usually for a half marathon, I take in a total of about 200-300 calories. For a full marathon, this is doubled. During a full marathon, I continue to consume around 100 calories every 6 miles, but also take Gatorade at each aid station if it is available.
—> Easing digestive problems from eating on the run
Amanda at RunToTheFinish has some great tips on dealing with runner’s trots. If you’re worried about having to run to the bathroom during your long run and trying to figure out how to avoid it – this is a great resource.
Check Amanda’s article out here – Avoiding Runner’s Trots: Tested Advice to Settle Your Stomach
When should you begin fueling during a long run?
When I take in my first fuel on a long run, it always feels really strange because my body is used to running 6 miles regularly without requiring any fuel. However, I have found the best success when I am proactive in fueling early and before I feel hungry.
When I was training for my first marathon, I would eat sporadically throughout my training runs. Packing mid run snacks was not something I enjoyed, so I missed out on a lot of key nutrition for by first long training runs. I’d eat when I felt hungry, and bonk shortly after. I’d skip eating because I was in a groove and wind up low on energy and struggling to continue before I was even halfway done with the run.
As I trained for more marathons, I learned from my mistakes and slowly developed a long run fueling system that my body responded well to. Every 6 miles, I took in fuel. No matter how poor or great I was feeling, I made sure to consistently fuel my long run.
What long run fuel options are there?
The great thing about long run fueling is that there really is no right or wrong thing to eat on the run. Once your mileage reaches a certain point, your body is going to require extra calories to continue on and maintain energy. While there are some calories that are more dense and beneficial than others, what your body really requires is a quick boost of sugar. Any type of mid run snacks will do.
Even though your running friends all fuel with gels, if you find that eating candy or grapes on the run works the best for you, that’s just fine. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If you have experimented with gels and they always make your stomach upset, try something new!
The key to long run nutrition is making sure you take in enough calories. You will know once you find the right fuel.
Some long run fuel that I have tried:
Honey Stinger Waffles
This is my favorite type of fuel for marathon training runs. It took me a while to discover these waffles, but I have loved them ever since! They are packed with carbs and sugar, and are more dense than other types mid run snacks. I usually break them up and eat them in small pieces to making eating on the run a little easier. They come in many different flavors as well!
One waffle has a total of 160 calories, 21 grams of carbs and 14 grams of sugar. Check them out here.
Clif Shot Bloks
These are my go to fuel for training runs that are not quite as long – usually those for half marathons or in the beginning of marathon training. The size and consistency of each shot block makes them super easy to consume on the run! These shot blocks are very convenient to eat during a run. I take them along for my marathon training runs as well and take these in during the early miles. I typically eat 3 shot blocks at one time (the package comes with 6) which is about 100 calories.
One package contains 6 shot blocks and 200 calories, 48 grams of carbs and 24 grams of sugar. Check them out here.
Gels like these the type of running fuel I hear about most frequently, but have never personally had much luck with. I tried gels when training for my first half marathon, but really did not like the consistency. I was never able to take them in very gracefully and just could not find a flavor that I really liked. However, I know so many runners who swear by these gels for their long run fuel, so it’s definitely worth giving them a shot.
One (vanilla) gel contains 100 calories, 22 grams of carbs and 7 grams of sugar. Check them out here.
I haven’t had too much experience with beans, but the few times that I’ve tried them I’ve really enjoyed them. Sports beans are another common running fuel option, and I can see why: they’re small and bite size, making them incredibly convenient and easy to consume during a long run. Sports beans come in many different flavors too, which is awesome!
One package of sports beans contains 100 calories, 25 grams of carbs and 19 grams of sugar. Check them out here.
Grapes (I like to freeze them prior to the run)
My mom and I trained for and ran our first half marathon together, both of us having really no idea what we were getting into when we signed up for it. We knew that we didn’t like gels, but didn’t know what else was out there, so we decided to bring along some real food.
This turned out to be a great thing, because the grapes we brought were perfect! Grapes gave us a burst of sugar and liquid right when we were feeling thirsty during our runs. The only problem with grapes is that you have to eat quite a few of them to take in the amount of calories your body really needs. When combined with other types of long run fuel, grapes really get the job done.
Candy is actually a great option for long run fuel! It provides instant sugar and carbs, which is exactly what your body needs during a long training run. Any type of candy will do – experiment with different kinds and see what your body responds well too. Candy is easy to eat during a run since it is often small and can easily be chewed and digested. Some of my favorites are Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids and Skittles. Try some out!
When I’m running low on Waffles or Shot Blocks, I often turn to just a standard granola bar. I break it up into small pieces when I’m running so it’s easy to consume, and it always does the trick. Some brands of granola bars are denser than others, so pay attention to the nutrition facts to make sure you are taking in enough calories. These are another simple option for long run fuel.
I’ve eaten bananas at many races now and they always cure my hunger. Eating a full banana on a run would be a little tricky, so I always eat just a half or a little smaller. Bananas are a great source of natural sugar and will definitely give you a little boost during your training run. There is nothing better than being handed some real food as a mid run snack during a marathon.
Another common food that will do the trick as long run fuel! Why not use your long run as an opportunity to indulge in a treat you usually avoid?! Cookies are full of carbs and sugar – sometimes even as much as the standard long run fuel out there. Grab one and break it up into smaller pieces so it’s easy to eat on the run.
Laura at This Runner’s Recipes has a great article about long run fueling with whole foods. With a plethora of processed options, it can be challenging to know what is real food and what has been processed.
Check out Laura’s article here for some tips: How to Fuel Your Long Run with Whole Foods
How in the world do you eat while running?
Eating while running initially sounds easy, until you’re 15 miles into a 20 miler and feel like you can’t lift your hands up to your mouth. The act of fueling during a long run is one that you may actually need to practice a few times before it feels natural.
Here are a few tips for to make eating during a run a little easier:
- Tear open any wrappers before you begin your run.
- Break apart any large fuel so it is ready to go in small, bite size pieces.
- Take water with you during your long run so you have something to wash down the fuel you consume.
- Experiment with different fuel sources until you find one that your body responds well to (don’t be afraid to keep trying until you find the right fit)!
- Don’t try any new fuel on race day.
- Practice your long run fueling during training runs and replicate it on race day.
- If you are planning on walking at any point during your run, take advantage of these times to consume some fuel.
The awesome thing about fueling during a long run is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Your friend may be taking homemade, gluten free gels as their mid run snacks while you fuel with Swedish Fish. Running any type of long run is challenging in and of itself, so make it harder for your body by failing to eat during a long run. Those extra calories will help you avoid the wall, power through those miles, and recover quicker.
- How to Have Your Best Long Run Ever
- Simple Ways to Overcome the Wall During a Marathon
- How to Safely Increase Your Mileage
- 15 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Marathon
- The Best Half Marathon Training Plan for Any Runner
- 36 Essential Resources for Runners