Nutrition/Fueling for Long Runs

Not only do they prevent the bonk, but they come in many delicious flavors!

Not only do they prevent the bonk, but they come in many delicious flavors!

One of the most asked about topics in regard to running: What should I eat before and during long runs? The answer comes in three parts, the night before, the morning of and during the run itself.

We have stored energy within our body’s muscles in the form of glycogen. The body uses this form of stored energy to aid the muscles in their functions.   When stored glycgoen in the muscles is depleted, we “hit the wall.”
So, what do you eat before a run to get this energy? Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes, starchy foods) are great for an evening meal. This will top off your glycgoen stores for morning runs.

However, your body will burn energy during sleep.  The average person burns 77 calories per hour while sleeping. Everyone’s metabolic rate is different, so what you will need to eat in the morning may vary depending on several factors:

  1. How much did you eat the night before?
  2. How long did you sleep?
  3. What time are you running compared to the time you awake?

I’ll be honest and say that I have had too much oatmeal in the morning before my long runs, because as my father would say, “My eyes are bigger than my stomach.” Certain foods, while high in carbohydrates are also somewhat slow to digest. Foods that are also high in fiber can send you in rapid search for a porta-john or well hidden spot in the woods. Hey, it happens!
Some people will want something like 1/2 a bagel with some jelly or butter, others will eat a piece of dry toast and a banana. I have recently been doing fairly well with a banana and a Clif Shot (Mocha flavor which contains 50mg of caffeine). These absorb quickly and are simple to digest, this is easier when I want to sleep as late as possible before meeting others for a long run on a wekeend morning.

Do not forget: water. Food can not absorb well if you do not take in water, resulting in a stomach cramp. Your body needs water not only for digestion but also to keep your internal and external temperature at a proper stasis.

Which brings us to the question “What do I eat/drink during my long run?” Most people can absorb about 5-6 ounces of fluid while running in about 15 minutes.   At anything quicker than what is considered “easy” or “conversational” pace, you will lose more fluid than you can take in. Your body will lose electrolytes along with the fluid that is lost in the form of sweat.

Energy gels like GU or Clif Shots, chews like GU Chomps, Jelly Belly Sport Beans, or Clif Bloks, contain energy in the form of a blend simple/complex carbohydrate and elctrolytes (potassium and sodium). Ingest these items  followed by water every 20-45 minutes. During runs of 90 minutes or more, this will help prevent you from running out of energy and experiencing muscular cramping.

Again, everyone has their own metabolic rate, so you need to test these products on your own to see which ones and what timing works best for you.

Personally, I like Clif Shots best, and there are days where I find myself needing these items a bit sooner than others, anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes apart. I also prefer to keep a hand-held bottle with dissolved electrolytes added to water (Nuun; another item we have in our stores).

Come into one of our stores to ask our staff about these items so we can help guide you to a good solution for your hydration and nutritional needs for your long runs.

Happy Trails,
Mike A.


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