Over two decades of working in the sports nutrition food industry designing fuel for athletes, I have learned a lot about how people feel about eating and drinking during long runs. People could be having a lot more fun if they shifted their mindset and fed their adventures instead of starving their adventures!
Being a distance runner since ten years old, I have also witnessed how people fuel long runs first hand. My college cross-country and track teammates were so concerned about staying thin to win, that they would not only not eat during their long runs but some would also go out and run more to burn extra calories after practice.
Common reasons people don’t eat/drink and consequently bonk, hit the wall, or feel as though they are running through sand:
1) I didn’t feel like I needed it yet
2) I forgot
3) I wasn’t hungry or thirsty
4) I am burning calories not eat more more
These things may all be true. Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that if you don’t fuel properly, your adventure, race, or run will be cut short. At best you might slog through to the end. Whether it takes one race, run, or a season not fueling properly will catch up with you and your performance will decline.
I get the fear of eating too much or the wrong things or even nerves that squelch your appetite. I have been there. What turned me around was knowing why I ran and what I wanted to get out of it. With this mindshift, I began fueling more and having a lot more fun, more fitness, and performing to the level of the fitness!
I also developed my “go-to” adventure menu that includes five staple energy foods you will always find in my pack for any run going longer than one hour!
Dietitian Tara’s Top Five Favorite Long Run Staples
Keeping your purpose in mind and how you want to feel will help you to eat when you might not “feel like it.”
Nutritionally what you want during your run from a drink is carbohydrate from an easily digestible source of sugar, sodium, and water. Everything else is just puffery. My three go-to drink options below are nutritionally very similar and therefore interchangeable for most people including myself.
My biggest challenge with hydration drinks is finding them. Each sports retailer carries their preference. Having developed the CLIF Electrolyte Drink Mix, I have always had a bias toward making that my go-to drink. However, unless you order it from the manufacturer, it is incredibly difficult to find in store! My next favorite is Skratch Hydration drink mix. It is easy to pick up at most sports retailers and flavors are extremely light, crisp and refreshing. I love that it comes in stick packs as well. Stick packs are easy to bring along for on-trail refueling. Tailwind Endurance Fuel is another great option. It is common on trail race courses and also found in most sports retail shops.
CLIF BLOKS in Watermelon, Margarita, Strawberry remain staples in my race day fueling menu. Sodium needs during a race vary greatly but when eating and drinking it (skip salt tabs) it is hard to get too much. That is why I “layer” in sodium with the high sodium flavors for BLOKS (watermelon and margarita). Strawberry isn’t high in sodium but it tastes great and is my go-to option between high sodium flavors. Again, a bias here because I lead the nutrition development of the BLOKS.
Caffeine Delivering Gel
Oh gels. I have never been a fan of gels, particularly CLIF SHOT, despite my background in the nutritional development of the product. CLIF SHOT Double Espresso however, seems to give me superpowers in the last miles of a race or in a middle miles slump.
After leaving Clif Bar & Company, I began testing out other gels. There are many newer ones on the market that actually have great consistency and a flavor I look forward to. Spring Hill AId, Canaberry, and Awesome Apple are always stashed in my pack.
To fuel your races and long adventures properly may require a mindset shift. There is now pride in getting through your race by eating and drinking as little as possible. Some people will tell me they feel fine with one gel every three hours or something ridiculous like that. My response to that is to get curious about what you could accomplish if you drink 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour with a liter of sports drink.
My approach to almost every race is to get most of what my body needs to be fueled and hydrated through hydration drinks and then supplement as needed with gels, chews, and real food. Real food is necessary to ward off my hunger pains in races longer than four hours.
Knowing your “why” – made famous by Simon Sinek – is intrinsically more motivating. Why are you out here running? Are you running to lose weight and create a calorie deficit so you can binge it to an uncomfortable level later one? OR are you out running because you’re curious, defying odds, overcoming self-limiting beliefs, coming back to yourself, or satisfying an itch that just needs to be scratched. I run because I am curious about where I can go and what I can experience when limits are lifted.
Crafting Food for the Journey?
Did you know Tara has twenty-plus years experience working with food and supplement companies to apply evidenced-based nutrition principles to the development and marketing of sports nutrition foods and supplements?
As the founding dietitian at Clif Bar & Company, Tara lead the product nutrition development program and nutrition communications for nearly two decades. Her knowledge levels-up recipes, formulations, labeling claims, marketing messages, and content development.
For information on how she can help elevate your products, marketing programs, and messages BOOK A CONVERSATION