We all know it’s important to fuel our bodies as runners, but learning how to fuel properly during a run can be tricky. How do you find the right fuel for you? What will work for your body? Experimentation is key. It’s also important to have a nutrition strategy dialed-in prior to race day. No one wants to be that person dashing to the port-o-potty every mile during a big race - so DON’T try something new on race day. Keep in mind, what works for one runner isn’t going to work for everyone.
Below you’ll find my 5 favorite ways to fuel on the run:
1. GU Energy Shots
These are my go-to during a long training run and on race day. GU has never given me stomach upset and the flavors are super yummy. I typically opt for the flavors with caffeine for that extra bit of oomph that helps me through long runs and races, but there are certainly options without. I love Chocolate Outrage, but Salted Caramel or Espresso Love are my other standby flavors. I typically take a GU about 10 minutes before my race, and try to fuel every 45 minutes during. This keeps my energy levels stable. I try to shoot for 100-200 calories every hour. Each packet of GU provides 100 calories.
Hint: Always drink plenty of water with a GU, in order to prevent digestive upset.
I have only just started using Tailwind, which is a powder that you mix with water. This is both an electrolyte and nutritional supplement. The great thing about Tailwind is that you can vary the strength to fit your taste and your nutritional needs. I also love that I can take sips as needed rather than consuming a whole packet at once. Tailwind mixes easily with water, so I can put this in my hydration pack and be set to go within seconds. It’s also very easy to digest since it’s dissolved into water, so there is very little risk of intestinal distress. (I could go into a whole bunch of science-y talk here about why digestive upset occurs, but I’m going to spare you the details.) Tailwind comes in flavors with caffeine and without and each serving provides 100 calories. That fits perfectly into my strategy of 100-200 calories per hour.
Hint: Scissors + Excitement + Tailwind delivery can sometimes equal a BIG mess. Proceed with caution!
3. Untapped Maple Syrup
Being a Vermont girl, it’s only natural that I give a plug for my state’s claim to fame, maple syrup. The great thing about maple syrup is that it’s just one ingredient: maple syrup! There’s no worrying about weird ingredients you can’t pronounce. Maple syrup is easy for your body to digest and has less of a gel-like consistency. Its biggest downfall is that it’s sticky! Currently there is only one flavor offered (maple, obviously!). Untapped is caffeine-free, but rumor has it that there will be a caffeinated option hitting the stores later this year. Untapped is made at Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond, Vermont, which is home to a long lineage of Olympic and world renowned skiers. The Untapped family takes fueling for performance pretty seriously. One packet provides 100 calories.
4. Justin’s Nut Butter packets
I recently started incorporating small amounts of real food into my longer training runs. Female endurance athletes' bodies will start to break down fat during long runs or races. Using a fuel source like Justin's that supplies a high amount of fat can be helpful in preventing the dips in energy I occasionally experience between gels. This also supplies a higher caloric intake at around 190 calories per packet. These packets can be a bit messy, and it’s a nut butter so it’s like eating a giant scoop of peanut butter. I love the taste, but I’ve never been the type of person who eats spoonful’s of peanut butter out of the jar, so the consistency still takes me a little bit to get used to. This method of incorporating real food into runs isn’t for everyone, but as someone who spends a lot of time running through the mountains, it’s been a good way to sustain energy for me and keep me from feeling exhausted and depleted after a long training run.
Hint: You KNEAD to try this. Seriously though, knead that packet before you dig in.
5. First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Drink
I was introduced to this recovery drink during an ultrarunning camp, and I’m officially hooked. While it’s important to fuel your body prior to and during a run, it’s equally as important to continue fueling your body after a hard run or race. Did you know there is a crucial window of 30 minutes after a run when women’s bodies require a specific combination of protein and carbohydrates to kickstart recovery. I like to mix this with water in a water bottle and sip on it right after a run. The flavors taste good and I know it’s providing my body with the right nutrients to help me recovery faster so I can get out there and train hard the next day. I love that this is easy to mix and even easier to consume! I can drink this in the car as I’m rushing back from the trailhead to my desk. This has also been a lifesaver by preventing that post-workout energy dip that leaves me feeling depleted and foggy the rest of the day.
Hint: Recovery is super important. This is more of a FACT
There are so many different options to choose from when it comes to fueling during your run or workout. It sure can get overwhelming. The important thing to remember is to provide your body with enough calories to sustain itself during those periods of strenuous activity, ideally between 100-200 calories per hour. Fueling prior to and after a run are equally important as well to optimize performance and recovery. Whether you’re running 1 mile or 100 miles, we still have to fuel our bodies properly if we want them to continue to perform.
About the Author: Whitney Hull is a Lily Trotters Ambassador, a dairy cattle nutrition consultant, a trail runner and an all-around #unstoppable woman. Whitney lives in Vermont with her husband and 2 daughters.