Workout Wednesday Vol 8: How to Carry Fuel on a Run

Q: What’s the best way to carry fuel on a run?

A: Like most things about running, it’s personal and like just about everything else I’ve discussed on Workout Wednesday so far, trial and error is the best way to figure out what works best for you.

I’ve been using a Fuel Belt since 2001, and even though there are so many things I dislike about it, I always come back to it in the absence of any better options. In fact, it reminds me of a guy I used to date. That said, I think the fact that I haven’t lost the thing by now must be a sign from the universe that the Fuel Belt and I are meant to be together for the long haul.

What I don’t like about the Fuel Belt
It is actually nothing more than a glorified fanny pack. I am short of waist and a bit poochy of tummy. I never wear shirts that need to be tucked in. I avoid dresses with a defined waist. The thing just isn’t flattering on me.

The strap never stays tucked into the belt and inevitably flops against my body, which is annoying.

I don’t love the feeling of running with a belt and extra weight around my waist.

What I like about the Fuel Belt
Once you cinch the waist strap (which is easy to do), it doesn’t loosen or slide side to side on your waist.

It holds a drink (I have easily fit a 16 oz, a 20 oz, or a 24 oz bottle into the bottle holder) and it has two handy zipper pockets for a car key, cash, a driver’s license, and several gels.

But what if I dislike the fanny pack style Fuel Belt so much I won’t wear it?
Don’t worry, there are so many other ways to carry your fuel.

Fuel belt makes a belt that can be worn lower on your hips (as opposed to higher around the waist), and holds several smaller water bottles. (I’m sure other companies carry one like this, however this is the one with which I’m most familiar).

You can also slide a water bottle into a handheld holder that loops around your palm, or you can create one of these using duct tape. I’ve used both kinds and have found there to be no difference in function, just in look and in price.

You can just hold a water bottle in your hand and shove your gels wherever they will fit (pockets, in your bra). I don’t like holding a water bottle because it makes my arm tired and I like to have both hands free. As far as gels in my pockets, I don’t own many clothes that have enough pockets to hold several gels for a longer run, and I’ve never tried storing one in my bra because I would worry about chafing. I do have one long shirt that has a large pocket in the back, right in the middle.

If you don’t want anything in your hand or around your waist, there’s Camelbak‘s signature product, the hydration backpack. I personally have never run with one of these, so I can’t really speak to the advantages or disadvantages. That said, I imagine the advantage would be that the weight is distributed over a larger area and it allows you to carry a large amount of liquid. The main disadvantage is that it is much more gear that the typical runner needs. Perhaps if you were training for an ultramarathon it would make sense to use one of these. I’m just guessing. The farthest I have run is 26.2 miles.

As far as food (ie gels or Power Gel Blasts), like I mentioned before, I like to store it in the zipper compartment of my Fuel Belt.

Another alternative is to attach a bunch of gels to the waistband of your shorts using safety pins. I’m not kidding, I’ve actually done this. I used this strategy during the Kiawah Marathon. It worked fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it, just because it’s time consuming to attach the gels and there are so many better ways to carry gels.

I’ve seen belts that include a zipper pouch designed to store nutrition, though I’ve never used one.

What if I just don’t want to carry anything during a run, period?
You could go out in advance and drop water bottles and/or gels along your route. This requires extra planning and faith that no one will mess with your stuff in the hours between the drop off and the pick up. You must also be sure not to get lost or else you will not find your stuff. I know that seems obvious, but I thought I should mention it, considering I am directionally challenged. 

Another alternative would be to do a loop course from your home or your car and leave water and gels at your doorstep or your car. The problem with this method is that it can be far too tempting to cut your run short when you’re tired and standing directly in front of your house or your car.

You could bring cash or a credit card and make sure to stop at a convenience store on your run, however you are counting on them having what you like, and chances are their options for drinks will be limited to water, Gatorade, or Powerade, and they are unlikely to carry gels or sport chews. Also, you have to completely halt your workout to buy your stuff.

Does it matter if I carry my fuel one way on training runs even though I don’t plan to do it this way on race day?
Yes!! Race day is not the time to experiment. If you are used to carrying a specific drink and eating a specific gel that you carry with you during training runs, don’t expect that you will be fine with picking up whatever they have at the aid stations. It might not agree with your tummy. They might run out. The volunteer might not hand you what you thought they were going to hand you. The aid stations might not be as plentiful or in the same locations as you anticipated.

Also, if you’re not used to drinking while running, you might find it’s not as easy as it looks (read: You will have more sports drink on your shirt than in your mouth). If you plan to drink at the aid stations, expect to walk while you drink if you haven’t practiced running while drinking from a Dixie cup.


I’m sure I there are many other ways to carry your food and drink that I haven’t mentioned here. Feel free to let me know what methods I left out in the comments.

What’s your favorite way to carry your fuel when you run?

While there are many other companies that offer nutrition and hydration carrying systems, Fuel Belt and Camelbak happen to be the ones with which I am most familiar. They did not sponsor this post in any way. 

6 thoughts on “Workout Wednesday Vol 8: How to Carry Fuel on a Run

  1. Julia Arnold @ Frantic Mama says:

    Pam, I’m so impressed you manage to run so often with two little ones in your home! I feel like I need to conserve energy b/c my two kids suck so much of mine! Do you find running gives you energy? Do you try to run before they wake up or after your husband is home from work, or do you use a stroller? Just curious!

    • Pam says:

      Hey Julia! I definitely feel that running gives me more energy… Even if I feel blah before I leave, I always feel better when I get back. I run early in the morning before my husband goes to work at two days a week, sometimes more…When my older child is in daycare (one day a week) I take the baby in the jog stroller. On the weekends, my husband is usually ok with me going first thing in the morning. Sometimes I fit in a run after the kids go to bed, or during naptime. The hardest part is definitely carving out the time. It’s always less stressful if I plan out when I’m going to do it in advance.

      • Julia Arnold @ Frantic Mama says:

        Yeah, I can see that– advance planning always helps. I find it easier to make time to write if my husband and I talk about our weekend plans and I give an approximate time I need to be away with my computer. Like exercising, I’m guessing, having it on the schedule keeps you motivated!

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