Workout Wednesday Vol. 7: Fueling During a Workout

Q: What should I eat during a run?

A: Like virtually every question I’ve answered so far as part of Workout Wednesday, you guessed it… that depends. Most importantly, that depends on how long you are running.

If your run is…

Up to 60 minutes– You probably don’t need to take in any calories but you may want to bring a drink if it’s hot out.

60-90 minutes- It’s up to you. I would not bring anything to eat for a run of this duration. I would however, bring a drink of either water or a sports drink with electrolytes, depending on the weather. I did a little research to see what the sports nutrition expert Nancy Clark, RD has to say about this. According to her, one should consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during exercise lasting 1-2.5 hours.

90 minutes or more– Definitely take in calories during a workout of this duration.

When and how frequently you take in your calories is up to you. I have experimented with eating something at the 15 minute mark and then every half hour after that, which works well for me. (This was a suggestion from the fabulous coach Elizabeth Waterstraat, who I highly recommend). I’ve also tried eating every 30 minutes, and I like that strategy too. I am also mindful to space out my calories in a way that makes sense. For example, if my run takes me two hours and five minutes, I might choose to eat my last snack a bit early, otherwise I am ingesting a bunch of sugary calories when I only have five minutes left of the run.

What exactly you decide to use as a calorie source depends on a few things:
-What tastes good to you
-What your tummy can tolerate
-What gives you energy

Whatever you do, experiment with taking in calories during a training run before race day. Unless of course, you like wasting time in porto-potties.

There are so many options for fuel sources, it’s hard to know where to begin. If you are in this situation, the best thing to do is just try something. It doesn’t really matter what. Now you can begin your process of trial and error. Keep notes in your training journal (I use Daily Mile which is a web-based tool. Of course a pen and paper work great too.) This will be useful for you to refer back to as you try different products, so you can keep track of how each one made you feel.

Gels are a very popular source of fuel. Back in the olden days (2001) when I started running longer distances, the only available gel on the market was Gu. Now there are dozens of forms of sports gels. Some are thicker (like Gu), some are more viscous (Like Power Gels), some have a more mild flavor (like Hammer Gels), and virtually all brands of gels offer a selection of flavors that have caffeine, in addition to calories. If you are trying to see which type of gel you prefer, I would recommend sticking with one flavor of one brand per run while you are experimenting. Otherwise, if you have digestion problems, you will not know which gel was the culprit.

If you want to try something solid during a run, there are chews designed for athletes. I like the Power Gel Blasts, personally. Other alternatives include the Sport Bean, a Jelly Belly product, and Clif Shot Blocks. (I don’t prefer these, as I hate chewing on things that get stuck in my molars.)

If you are adventurous and/or have a stomach of steel, you might try eating real food. The main problem with real food is that it can be more messy and hard to carry. Also, because it’s not processed, you have to digest all of it yourself. While it is generally healthier to eat whole foods,  it can be rough on your digestive system when your blood is being diverted from your core to your legs. That said, you could try orange slices, bananas or honey. I’ve never done this, but you could store your honey in a reusable baby food pouch. If you try this, let me know how you like it! Although dried fruit is easy to carry, it is high in fiber, so I would avoid this.

If you can’t handle the idea of eating during a workout, you can try a drink that has calories. Again, you will want to experiment with different drinks to see which one you like the best. There are too many options to name them all, but I really like the Hammer Nutrition drinks (Heed or Perpetuem) if I am going to go this route.

A good place to start, as far as purchasing any sports nutrition products, would be your local running store. The staff at a specialty running store is usually very knowledgeable about all things running, and should be able to point you in the right direction, depending on your specific needs. If you don’t have a running store where you live, I’ve always found the customer service at REI to be very good.

I can’t stress enough the importance of trying different things and noting what you observe. Treat your quest to find your best fueling strategy like a science project. It took me many years to figure out my optimum fueling strategy, but now that I have it locked in, I don’t mess with it.

Please note, none of the products  or people I’ve mentioned have sponsored this post in any way.

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