Learning how to eat during a run is often an unexpectedly challenging task for new runners. We’re all aware of the need to fuel during long runs, but by the time we arrive at this point in our training, we find ourselves uncertain how to actually do so.
How should I fuel a long run?
Fueling mid-run involves a bit of coordination – not only do you have to open your fuel, chew and swallow all while running, but your digestive tract needs to work efficiently under the stress of physical activity.
Many runners experience unwanted issues when attempting to fuel during a long run for the first time. A sudden side stitch develops as their digestive system begins to work, or worse – a bathroom emergency occurs.
But no matter your experience with eating during a run, it’s important to remember that every runner is different – and finding a successful long run fueling strategy usually just involves a bit of experimentation through trial and error.
What to eat during long runs?
Once you are to the point of needing fuel during a long run, the first step will be to figure out what you are actually going to eat during your long run.
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Take your time testing out different fuel options to find one that best meets your body’s needs and keeps you feeling strong and energized throughout your long run.
Eating during a run is a skill that is acquired through practice, so be sure to start testing out your long run fueling strategy early on in your training. This will give you some much-needed confidence and familiarity by race day.
Here are a few tips for eating during a run to help you fuel with ease and confidence.
6 Tips for Fueling During a Long Run
Avoid foods with fiber.
When you’re halfway around your neighborhood or deep in the woods, the last thing you want is a bathroom emergency. One of the trickiest parts about eating during a long run is doing so without causing any digestive distress.
Luckily, a simple rule to help minimize the chances of this occurring is to avoid foods with fiber. Green, leafy vegetables and whole grains are particularly dense with fiber, so these foods should be avoided even before you begin your long run.
Look for fuel options that are high in natural sugars and carbohydrates, but avoid any fiber before and during your long runs.
Look for foods with easily digestible sugars.
The best long run fuel options are those that are easily digestible, containing sugars and carbohydrates. Not only are these foods easier for your digestive system to process while on the run, but they provide a fast-acting source of energy.
Remember that the entire point of fueling during long runs is to provide your muscles with the energy they need to sustain your activity and continue to replenish themselves. The best way to do so is by providing all of the fast-acting sugars and carbs that they need to avoid running out of energy.
Look for running gels, chews and real foods that are high in sugars to bring along with you on the run. Choose fuel sources that are easy to eat on the run, and don’t forget to test out a few different options to find one that you like best.
Take in fuel before you start to fatigue.
One of the biggest mistakes new runners make is consuming fuel too late during their long runs. By the time your body is sending hunger or fatigue signals, it is usually too late to make up for the lost energy.
Aim to take in fuel well before you notice that you need it. In general, you should take in at least 100 calories every 60 minutes – but remember that each runner is different.
Pay attention to your body on the run and respond to its signals and needs. Try out different long run fueling strategies to determine what helps you feel the most energized and strong during long runs.
Replenish electrolytes during sweaty runs.
Electrolytes are naturally occurring minerals which are electrically charged.
Athletes and runners are often told about their need to replenish electrolytes when they hydrate during activities.
The main electrolyte concern for runners is sodium, as we lose a great deal of sodium when we sweat for long periods of time (such as during a long run). There are a variety of other electrolytes, such as potassium or magnesium, that could potentially be lost as well, but the main priority during a long run is sodium loss.
Be sure to replenish electrolytes on particularly hot runs, when you sweat the most. Even in chillier temperatures, your body loses quite a bit of sodium during sustained physical activities. Check your running gels, chews and sports drinks to find out whether or not they contain electrolytes.
Some runners choose to take salt packets or tablets with them on particularly long or grueling runs, but this is not always necessary. Listen to your body and experiment with various fueling strategies until you find what seems to work best during a long run.
Don’t forget to hydrate.
Fueling during long runs doesn’t just involve running gels and chews. Hydration is just as essential! Consuming water on the run is even more important than what you eat during a long run, so don’t get so caught up in fueling that you forget to hydrate.
Bring water with you on long runs and be sure to regularly take drinks. Take a few swigs every hour when you consume new fuel, and don’t forget to sip in between as well.
It’s important to drink water well before your body sends thirst signals. Make a habit of drinking water regularly throughout your long run, regardless of whether you feel thirsty.
Refuel immediately after your long run.
Once you’ve finished your long run, it’s important to continue your fueling strategy by eating something immediately (or at least within 20-30 minutes post-run). Now you can look for fuel options that are denser and contain more calories.
Your post-run fuel should contain a healthy balance of sugars and protein to replenish your muscles and jump start the recovery process. Don’t stop fueling just because you stopped running!
Fueling during long runs doesn’t have to be a nuisance. All it takes is a bit of practice to learn how to eat during a run. Before you know it, you’ll be eating and running at the same time without a second thought.
Start experimenting early during training, try out multiple different fuel options, and continue to adjust your strategy until you feel strong and energized throughout your run.
Fueling during long runs has the power to make or break our experience on the run and during a race. The right fueling strategy will help you stay physically energized and give you that mental confidence you need to conquer new distances!
More long run fueling tips:
- Everything You Need to Know About Fueling During Long Runs
- 10 Delicious Pre and Post Run Snack Ideas for Runners
- A Guide to Long Run Recovery: What to Do Post-Run