The saga of eating on the run continues. Now that you know why you need nutrition for longer runs, it’s time to dissect what to eat. During long runs of 13+ miles, the body needs to replenish calories, specifically carbohydrates, and salt. When we sweat, we lose both water and salt, so the best nutrition options are those that provide quick, readily digestible calories and salt (think sodium and potassium). There are three main types of in-run nutrition: liquids, sports gels/chews, and real, honest to goodness, solid food.
Let’s start with liquid options. Most runners have heard of the classic Gatorade. But there are a number of options now available to runners as powders to add to your water. Options include GuBrew, Tailwind, and Sword. This list goes on forever as new vendors come on the market whispering the sweet Siren song of performance enhancement without stomach problems.
If you’re feeling “hipster chic” you can also try coconut water. At 90 calories per 16 oz serving, coconut water contains all the key electrolytes including magnesium, potassium, and sodium. In fact, coconut water contains more 2x the potassium in a banana which is an extra bonus as potassium intake is linked to preventing muscle cramps. I can’t say I’ve tried this option because I’m not a fan of the flavor but I can see a lot of upsides to this option.
Final point on liquids; whatever you do . . . for the love of puppies, DO NOT HAVE DAIRY! Science tells us this is a bad idea. Nature tells us this is a bad idea. Do not subject yourself or others to this form of explosive GI tract apocalypse. Save your dairy for a safe post-run chocolate milk.
Energy gels, chews, and beans. These are a good option for people who can eat anything on the run and don’t want to think about their nutrition. Grab a gel, eat 3-4 chews, or snag a handful of sports beans. Each option has 80-150 calories and salt. Many gels and chews also come with or without caffeine. There is a buffet of options for this form of nutrition. These options are tough if you have trouble with the “mouth feel” of the gels or you struggle to chew when your mouth gets dry. For me, I can’t do most gels. There is a brand called Gu which I think is onomatopoeia because that’s the sound I make when I try to use most gels. I have found that the more natural gels made with chia seeds or Stinger honey packs go down a bit easier because of their lighter texture. Whatever you choose, make sure you consume them with lots of water.
If all else fails, there is always good old fashioned real food. Ultrarunners are hysterical at aid stations. At a 50 and 100 mile races I have seen runners eating beer and burgers. My husband ate a chicken salad sandwich during his last 100 miler. It all depends what works for you. If you can eat a chili dog and ride a roller coaster without losing your lunch, this is probably a good option for you. I can’t even look at food during a run without feeling queasy. However, if this is your jam, consider a mixture of sweet and salty to satisfy your mood. Some salty options include, pickles, PB & J Uncrustables, Cheez It’s, PB pretzels, potato chips, or salted boiled potatoes. For the sweet, there’s Pay Day bars, brownie bites, frozen grapes, dried fruit, watermelon, or bananas.
Lastly, nutrition only works if you consume the right amount on the run. If you have the best nutrition plan in the world, it will be wasted if you don’t eat or drink regularly during the run. Make sure you test out all of your planned nutrition options for any stomach issues and taste appeal. Chews may taste great for the first half of the run but by mile 20 if you’re gagging, they aren’t a good option.