I’m a smart person. I like science. I want to become a nurse. I understand how the body processes carbohydrates and sugar, and why we need to bring fuel on long runs. So why is it so difficult for me to remember how many snacks to take on my long runs?? I feel like every time I am planning a long run, I have to furrow my brow and figure out all over again how much fuel I need to take, what kind to take, and when to take it! So, since I’m a visual person, I’m just going to break it all down in writing so I can have the specifics on my favorite types of fuel all in one place. Beware: this is EXTREEEMELY SCIENTIFIC…no it’s not. Please don’t judge my fudging of numbers.
According to Runner’s World (I’m a huge RW fan if you couldn’t tell, but I have seen this information repeated from several different sources) “runners need to add in 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate each hour that they are running longer than 75 minutes.” So, 75 minutes is when your tank is empty. This means you should start eating BEFORE 75 minutes, so to be safe, start eating 30 minutes in to your long run. 60 grams per hour is easy for me to process mentally; it’s just 1 gram per minute.
You can really take in any simple sugar as your carbohydrate. The point is for the body to be able to break it down quickly, absorb the sugar and calories, and give you more energy. Lots of runners use candy – Skittles, those little Milky Ways or Snickers, Swedish Fish, gummy bears (very popular), pretzels (too drying, would probably choke you, but also very popular for some reason), etc. There are also tons of endurance sport brands that produce food especially for this purpose, which is what I like to use because I have a brand name problem.
My go-to types of fuel are Honey Stinger Chews and Clif Shot gels or Gu Energy gels (I can’t really tell the difference between the two brands and neither can my stomach.) Let us compare the nutrition labels:
Honey Stinger: 39 grams of carbs (rounded to 40 to hurt my brain less). Need to consume at least one pack of these chews each hour of running. Each pack has 10 little gummies. I can currently run about 6 miles in an hour. 10 gummies / 6 miles = 1.6 gummies per mile, so to get my 40 grams from this pack in one hour, I should eat about 2 gummies per mile. That feels like a lot of eating when you’re running, so I usually eat 3-4 every two miles.
My favorite way to carry these is in a snack sized ziploc bag. The Honey Stinger packaging is bulky and sharp, and I’m always afraid of accidental shaky-running-hands littering, plus I can stuff two or three packs into one ziploc. It’s just much easier to handle. The pocket of my water bottle can hold the ziploc, but I think for the race on Saturday I will pin the bag to the inside of my capris instead of carrying my water.
Gu Gel: 21 grams of carbs (rounded to 20 for brain reasons). My brain simplifies this to 1 gel for every 30 minutes of running. I feel like my body absorbs gels faster than chews, which makes sense because they are already broken down structurally before they enter your mouth. Less work for the tummy juices. I like to throw one or two gels in the mix with my chews because they’re easy to carry, easier to eat while running, and so cheap! Plus most races use these as the provided fuel so it’s good get comfortable with them.
Obviously, gels take much less thought and preparation. But they are less fun to eat, and food is a big psychological boost for me in the middle of a run (or always) so it’s worth it to me to do the work for the chews.
On a run, none of this is so calculated. I tend to just eat when I feel sluggish or hungry. But it’s nice to have a guideline of what the body actually needs because I’m sure somewhere in the back of my mind, my desert-land running brain will subconsciously remember how many gummies I need to eat.
A lot of runners are able to run long distances without refueling. One blogger I love only seriously uses fuel for marathons, and treats half marathon distances as fueling “practice.” I have a tendency to get low blood sugar on a normal day, so when I’m running for hours at a time I don’t think I should risk stretching out the food intake. Whatever works for your body is fine.
In the end:
My fueling plan for Saturday’s half marathon is: two packs of Honey Stinger chews, two gels. The gels will fit in the pocket of my capris, and the chews I will pin to the waistband. Water and gatorade will be at every other mile, which should be fine. I’ll start the race with a plastic bottle of water in hand, and I’ll have Matt stationed with another bottle in case I need it when I pass him.
YAY! Finally put it in writing. Race day please come quickly!