In the last segment of our blog on nutrition, I will provide some details on how to fuel on the run and some possible alternatives to the normal “carb-covered carbs” that are traditionally used by runners on the go.
Okay, let’s talk turkey . . . well not really but you know what I mean. The two main issues related to fueling on the run are when do I need to consume calories and how often? In terms of when, if you come to the race/run with a full tank of muscle glycogen from carb loading (see Feed the Beast – part II) you should be good for at least 45 minutes – hour before starting your fueling regime. Once the “bewitching hour” for nutrition intake hits, be consistent. Runners can absorb 200-240 calories per hour, depending on their size and stomach happiness. For some folks, this is a lot of calories to ingest while running.
In the middle of a run, it can be hard to remember to eat/drink that much so set a timer on your watch or make a mental note to “check in” on nutrition every time you pass a mile marker. Do not assume that you only need to eat or drink when you see an aid station. Particularly for longer races on challenging trails. Just because there is an aid station every 4 miles, doesn’t mean you will travel four miles at the same pace each time. On some trails, where boulder hopping was the activity of the day, it took me almost 90 minutes to move between aid stations only 4 miles apart.
Unless you have a stomach of steel, it may be easier to try and consume smaller amounts of calories every 15 minutes to get the magic 200-240 calories in an hour. Another strategy is to mix solid food with liquid calories. During a marathon you might consume Gatorade or some sports drink every few minutes and then down a Gu with water at an aid station. Always take gels and chews with several ounces of water to prevent a “gut bomb”. For even longer events like 50 or 100 miles, you may eat half a PB & J sandwich with a cup of Ginger Ale or a Coke to be sure to get your calories.
When you run ultra-distances, you start to think of nutrition in a different way. Most of the experts report that carbohydrates are the way to go for your “in run” fueling needs. But is their a place for other fueling options . . . say protein? The answers continue to be divided. In general, the faster you go, the more carbohydrates you use and the less protein and fat that is broken down for fuel. Breaking down carbs seems to be the body’s general preference to get nutrition to the muscles faster. But if you are not planning to break the 2 hour marathon record or running 30, 50, 100, or more miles, is protein a good option on the run? The science currently says that supplementing carbohydrate drinks or gels with protein (in a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein) MAY result in some increased performance, but this is a big MAY as some studies have shown no increase in performance. Protein has also sometimes been linked to stomach issues.
So the bottom line is, mid-run fueling with protein might be helpful for some runners but it should be taken with caution on a run. Test out adding protein to your “in-run” nutrition for shorter workouts and build up the amount of protein to see what your body will tolerate. Here is a list of some possible “on the go” protein options to use during a run:
- Justin’s Nut Butter – comes in easy to use individual serving packets (just like a Gu)
- Beef or Turkey jerky – you can buy these in bite size pieces but they can be tough to chew on the run
- Huma Chia Energy gel – still has the carbs and electrolytes but also gives a boost of protein in the form of chia seeds
- PureSport – a liquid option for folks wanting lower carb, lower calorie, but with added protein
- Accerlerade – higher protein drinks and gels
- Bacon – I’m not even kidding about this one. Precook some bacon to get it extra crispy and throw it in a bag for a quick snack on the go.