Nutrition for runners does not end once you go out on a run. If you are training for a half or full marathon then you will be running long runs which might require you to bring along fuel during your run. Let’s talk about our goals in regards to our nutrition for runners during a long run as well as when you need to refuel on a run, what you should consume, how much you should consume and some food for runners recommendations!
When you are running longer training runs especially during marathon or half marathon training, your body is burning through your stored carbohydrate reserves found in your liver and working muscles, called glycogen. During runs of over an hour you risk burning off all of your glycogen stores which fuel your running and allow you to continue to run more miles, at a high intensity without fatiguing. To deter glycogen depletion you need to implement a refuel plan so that you do not “crash” and become unable to finish your training run or at best become extremely fatigued.
During runs of less than 1 hour in length, no fuel needs to be taken in. Glycogen or stored carbohydrates in the muscles are only depleted by about 50% during a 1 hour run. During a 2 hour run however you will almost completely burn through all of your stored glycogen in both your muscles and liver. Therefore, for runs over an hour in length you will want to implement a refuel plan to replenish those depleted carbohydrates.
Since all of your long runs vary in length, you might find that you don’t need to bring along fuel if you will only be running for closer to one hour.. To give you an idea of how I handle deciding whether or not to bring fuel, I usually only bring along supplemental nutrition if I am running 10+ miles. I run my long runs at about 8:00-8:30 per mile and so for 10 miles I will be out on the road for at least 1 hour and 20 minutes. I generally won’t bring anything along for a 10 mile run but anything over that I will make sure that I have something with me.
Your fuel that you choose to take during a long run should be composed of mainly carbohydrates to replace any depleted glycogen. However it is good to also include protein in your fuel so that you can jump start your recovery process before your run is even finished. A good ratio is to have about 4 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein in your fuel or energy drink.
On a different note, when you are looking at the carbohydrate content on nutrition labels, also read the ingredients list and choose glucose related carbohydrates over fructose carbohydrates as fructose is only utilized by the body in smaller amounts than glucose and so the performance benefits will not be as enhanced.
A good rule of thumb that I like to follow is 60 grams of carbohydrates for every hour that you are running. You could take this all at once or divide it up over a period of time (for example:15 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes).
If you take in 60 grams of carbohydrates every hour that means that you will also want to eat about 15 grams of protein as well to keep a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates and proteins.
The best option is of course the one that works the best for YOU! Ideally though you will want to take in your nutrition in a liquid form as it is absorbed faster by your body, is digested easier and can therefore be utilized to prevent fatigue and enhance performance at a quicker rate than in a solid form. So ideally you would want to focus on getting what you need through your energy drink. See this page for my energy drink recommendations for runners. (Spoiler alert: I prefer the Gatorade Thirst Quencher
As we talked about above, ideally your energy drink should be your go-to carbohydrate replacement fuel form. However if want that solid food form then here are some of the best options to use during your long run:
Then there are a variety of energy chews and gels which many runners prefer because of fast absorption rates but not necessarily in liquid form. Here are some of the best on the market right now:
Before you plan on going out on your next long run there are a couple of steps I want you to work towards:
I'd love to send you my FREE 26-page Step by Step Guide on How to Train for a Marathon!
Sources used: Katch, Frank I., et al. Sports and Exercise Nutrition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2012.