When you run, as long as you’re moving at a pace faster than walking pace, your body will be using muscle glycogen as its main fuel source. You will generally have enough of this to last 90 minutes, if your glycogen levels are tickety-boo at the start of your run. If you are running for a longer period than 90 minutes and want to avoid that feeling of “hitting the wall” as your glycogen stores run out, then it’s important to fuel correctly during your long runs and races. There are a huge variety of products on the market from scientifically engineered options such as energy gels, bars, jelly sweets, sports beans or all-in-one drinks, through to more natural options – all promising to be the next big thing in solving your nutrition issues. The thing is, just because something works for your friend, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll work for you. You might not like the taste or texture, or find it doesn’t sit well in your stomach. The key piece of advice that I can provide (having learned the hard way) is to practice repeatedly with any nutrition, before using it during a race.
Up to marathon distance (26.2 miles), gooey gels are probably the most convenient source of energy. However if you’ve tried them all and have decided that you can’t stomach them, thankfully, there are plenty other options for you to have a go at. A target intake of between 200-300 calories per hour should help you avoid hitting the wall. If a product is not labelled as isotonic, it’s important to ensure that you wash it down with water, to improve the efficiency with which it is absorbed into your body.
We stock energy bars in loads of different flavours from leading nutrition brands Torq and Clif Bar. I personally find the Clif Bars a bit more difficult to eat on the run and choose to munch these at home before or on the journey to, the event. Torq bars are less calorie dense but go down much easier. If using bars whilst running, I would suggest eating little and often. Clif Bars contain just less than 300 calories per bar whereas Torq bars contain about 150 calories.
Energy chews are similar to bars but easier to chew and consume on the go. Try Honey Stinger chews, which contain honey known for its steady energy release properties. 1 packet contains 150 calories so a maximum of 2 packets per hour.
A packet contains 6 soft chewy blocks with 3 blocks being roughly equivalent to 1 gel. Each block is about 30 calories, so eating something like 4-6 blocks per hour with a bit of water (after the first 60 minutes of excercise) should be good. They are very convenient for training with as you are not left with an empty gel packet to transport home, which will inevitably leak all over the pocket you stuff it in. Shot Bloks are also less likely to cause stomach upset (bloating or cramps) than gels.
3. Sports Beans
These are made by the same people that make Jelly Beans. A 28g packet contains 100 calories and is easy to nibble on as you go round. Sports Beans will keep your energy levels topped up, without spiking your glucose levels, however I’d advise using these to supplement some other nutrition, as if you were to eat 2 or 3 packets per hour during your marathon, you would never want to see another jelly bean again!!4.
Fairly new to market, Active Root is a natural ginger sports drink and the brainchild of Edinburgh-based sports enthusiasts Will Townsend and George Ashley. Ginger has long been known to naturally relieve nausea, bloating and stomach discomfort. Active Root manages to combine the positive effects from ginger with some carbohydrates to make a nice-tasting source of energy, whilst preventing stomach pain or upset. This product comes in 6 x 35g sachets which easily dissolve in a 500ml water bottle of flask. I’ve been using this myself (since it was launched last year) on many of my long runs and I can honestly say that it tastes nice and sits well. One serving has 130 calories, so should be supplemented with another form of nutrition.
5. Tailwind ‘All In One’ Nutrition
Tailwind is the newest nutrition product on Run4It shelves and one we’re all very excited about! Getting nutrition right for a long day training or racing is tough. Tailwind has been designed to simplify your nutrition, by giving your body everything it needs – in one – complete energy, electrolytes, and hydration in a simple drink with clean, light flavours. It removes the need for multiple energy supplements (i.e. a combination of gels, bars, drinks etc.) and makes keeping track of your fuel and calorie intake easier. Each stick pack contains 200 calories. Mix contents with approx. 500ml of cool, clean water, give it a shake or two, and go!
If you’re running ultras or taking part in multi-day events events, wholefoods can provide a brilliant alternative to energy supplements. Small flapjack squares for slow release energy are a classic choice!
Start right, finish right
To make the most out of any form of nutrition, it’s important to ensure that you are correctly fuelled going into a long run. So have a hearty breakfast or a Clif Bar if you are away from home. Immediately after running there is a 20 minute window where the body will absorb any nutrients you eat more rapidly, and start to repair damaged muscle and top up your energy reserves again. In order to keep your training on track and recovery on point, it’s advisable to eat or drink something within that 20 minute window that contains protein and carbohydrate. Ideally in a 4:1 Carbohydrate:Protein ratio after any long run.
In all our shops, we use a traffic light system to categorise our nutrition, with red, amber and green stickers to indicate what to take before, during and after exercise. If you have any questions (or doubts) about nutrition, don’t hesitate to chat to the team at any of our shops or online. They’ll happily guide you through the product range to ensure you gain the maximum benefit throughout your training and on race day.