When I was just starting out running, I didn’t really understand fueling for long runs. As a swimmer, there really wasn’t any opportunity to eat during practice (though we did sometimes keep Starbursts on the pool deck just in case), and we stuck to water and Gatorade as our main fuel source for workouts. I was always one of those people that couldn’t eat much before working out, and on the mornings of meets you could usually find me choking down a Powerbar or something similar – full meals (or even partial meals) needed to be eaten hours in advance in order for me to not feel sick, and that holds true today.
The biggest difference for me between running and swimming is fueling – mainly because of the amount of time spent doing each activity. Sure, our practices were 2+ hours, but it wasn’t ever 2+ hours of continuous swimming… thank goodness! So the first few long runs and even long races I did, didn’t include a lot of mid-race fueling. I still am unable to eat a lot before I run, but I’ve managed to condition myself to expect and deal with eating along the way. It’s taken a decent amount of trial and error in order to figure out what works best for me, especially making sure I don’t eat something before or during my run that will upset my stomach and GI.
So what’s my plan? I’ve found that for the most part, unless my run is over 13ish miles, I don’t need any mid-run fuel as long as I have a solid breakfast (which I’ll get to). But, if I’m going longer than that, I like to take something every 5 miles. I’m going to be honest with you – I think energy gels are pretty gross. But, I know that they are the fastest and easiest way for me to eat something during a run. The bites/gummies/chomps/beans are more pleasant, but they also up my chance for biting down on my tongue or cheek while trying to chew them and run at the same time (believe me, it’s happened). Of course I’m picky about the flavors I like, and so I stick to the Clif Shot Vanilla, but will gladly take any brand that has a Chocolate or Mocha flavor as well. So during a marathon I’ll take a gel before the race, and then at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20. I typically take the on-course gel they offer as well, just in case.
My breakfast also varies depending on the length of my run. For runs less than 13 miles, I’ll either have a a Picky Bar or a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For longer runs, I usually have a whole peanut butter and jelly sandwich… and of course lots of water! I’m new to the whole Picky Bar club (literally, I just joined their monthly club) and am IN LOVE with all the flavors. I know a lot of people don’t like energy bars, etc., because they “taste like cardboard,” but I beg to differ, at least about the PB’s. My favorite flavor is “Lauren’s Mega Nuts,” and they’re gluten and dairy free – nice and easy on the digestive system for someone like me.
As for post-run, anything is game. I usually spend most of my runs thinking about drinks – smoothies, iced coffee, Slurpees, protein shakes, beer… it’s weird, but I just go with it. No matter how cold it is after I run, I almost always want a cold drink, which I usually wind up regretting as I sit on the floor shivering. Why the floor? Growing up I was conditioned not to sit on the couches in the following situations (unless I put a towel down first): after putting on sunscreen, after working out, or immediately after swim practice (hello chlorine). So I still follow those rules today in my own house. I usually have an iced coffee, and then try to help aid my recovery with a protein shake and tart cherry juice (if I have any on hand). As for food, anything is game – if the run happens earlier in the day, I’ll typically make something brunch-y, but if it’s later in the day or evening, I’ll eat pretty much anything. I just make sure to make it as nutritionally sound as possible, and depending on the number of miles I’ve run, calorie heavy.
Fueling for workouts (especially running) really is a science, like they say at Picky Bars. Different things work for different people, so it’s really important to take the time and figure out what works for you… especially if you have any intolerances, allergies, or dietary restrictions. My routine works for me, so I don’t plan on changing it until I need to!
How do you fuel for workouts?
Do you fuel differently depending on the length or activity?