Many long-distance runners experience symptoms of underfueling but never attempt to fix them because they think that’s just the way their body works. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. Take your running game to a whole new level with a few minor tweaks to your eating plan.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF UNDERFUELING?
Regular runners know that all runs are different. Some fill you with blissful energy while others leave you huffing and puffing till the bitter end. After a particularly grueling long run you may wonder what was up that day. Since our bodies are so dynamic, there are many reasons why these symptoms happen during runs. For instance, if you travel a lot, your runs following trips may feel different due to fatigue or stiffness, so you may require additional fuel to power you through. A change in climate or altitude may also warrant more fuel.
Here are seven of the most common signs that you may be underfueling on your long runs:
- Chest pain/labored breathing
- Reduced energy
- Heavy legs
- Muscle fatigue, cramping or pain
- Feeling of “hitting a wall” or “bonking”
- GI trouble (stomach pain, diarrhea, urgent bowel movements)
SHOULD I HAVE A MIDRUN SNACK?
I challenge my runners with this thought: Why suffer through a run when you could fuel more and have a better run? There is no shame in needing more fuel to make it through a run, even if it’s a very “normal” distance for you. Here are four tips to help you prevent adverse symptoms related to underfueling:
1. Fuel up early.
Begin fueling early in your run, about 15–30 minutes in, and continue to do so every 15–20 minutes (give or take). While you may not feel like you need energy this early, it is more about setting up your digestive tract to work for you. If you wait too long to start fueling, your body has already decided digestion is not a priority over your working muscles. Any food you put in your stomach could feel like a heavy weight — or even worse — cause serious issues like stomach cramping, nausea or diarrhea. You can help prevent this by fueling early in your run, which in a way, tells your body that digestion is still important.
2. Eat before you run.
When you start with fuel in your system, everything from your brain to your lungs to your muscles is going to work better and feel stronger. A small snack is even sufficient to get you going on the right foot.
3. Pay attention to your hydration.
Some GI issues are related to fluids more than fuel. Just like with fueling, you should also start drinking early in your run. Keeping some liquid in your stomach from the get-go will enable you to better absorb fluid throughout the whole run and avoid negative side effects. Try to drink 2–3 sips of either water or a sports drink every 15–20 minutes during long runs.
4. Practice fueling.
As a rule of thumb, during a long-distance run you should be consuming 30–100 grams of carbohydrates (120–400 calories) per hour along with 7–10 ounces of sodium-containing fluid every 15–20 minutes. There are a lot of fuel options — supplements, beverages and food — that could be your secret sauce for a better run. In this case, I believe whatever works for you is your best option, whether it seems conventional or not. Try experimenting with these options:
|Food Source||Carbohydrates||Supplement source (aka energy gels)||Carbohydrates|
|1 large banana||27g||PowerBar Performance||21g|
|1 Smucker's Uncrustable PB&J||28g||Clif Organic Energy Food Sweet Potato and Salt Pouch||21g|
|1 small box raisins||34g||Clif Shot||22g|
|1/3 cup dried cherries||34g||VFuel Endurance Gels||23g|
|20 gummy bears||44g||Honey Stinger Gels||24g|
|1/4 cup pretzels||46g||Gu Energy Gel||25g|
|1/2 cup dates||55g||Honey Stinger Organic Chews||39g|
Now that you have some ideas of how to improve your run through better fueling techniques, let me leave you with some encouragement: Finding your perfect fueling plan to improve your performance is an ongoing experiment. You may not get it right at first, but with practice, you will figure it out. If you have a particular race ahead that is really important, try signing up for another race before that where you can practice your newly formed nutrition plan. Sometimes you need a real race situation to truly put things to the test.
Have a great run!
What are your favorite midrun snacks? Share in the comments below.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN: