Marathon Fueling

Even when I was a professional track and field athlete, I always took a very simple approach to fueling for workouts and competitions. I ate things that were healthy and easy for me to get down. I’d find what worked for me and would listen to my body. I don’t have a sensitive stomach and used to swear I could put back a burger and fries 30 minutes before competing.

But the whole marathon thing is totally foreign to me. While I never get too scientific when it comes to fueling, I figured it would be a good idea to get some help from the sports physiologist I worked with as a professional athlete, Trent Stellingwerff. Basically, he tells me what would probably work best for me (he knows me well as we’ve worked together for 8 years), I try it, and we adapt small pieces of it if something doesn’t feel quite right. 

This is our basic plan (and it’s super simple):

My long runs are usually on the weekend, depending on my schedule. I do them in the morning, mostly because I’m nervous as hell and just want to get it over with. Otherwise, I’d spend the majority of the day anxious because I know how frickin’ bad it’s going to hurt.

Fueling: Pre-Run

As I said, I don’t typically get stomach issues, so I usually eat whatever I’m feeling that day for breakfast. It usually includes coffee and either two pieces of toast with almond or peanut butter, sliced banana and honey drizzled on top, or overnight oats with chia, banana, almond milk, cinnamon, nuts and honey. I’ll eat about an hour before I start my run. I don’t typically drink much water in the morning because I don’t like when I can feel it sloshing around in my belly. Instead, I try to hydrate the night before.

Fueling: Running

If my run is going to take me longer than an hour (more than 7.5 miles), then I always bring a sports drink (like Gatorade or Powerade) and gels (like Gu or Honey Stinger) with me. My fueling is super simple: 5 oz of sports drink, to replenish electrolytes and get in some sugar, every 20 minutes, and an energy gel, for energy-dense carbohydrates, every 60 minutes. So, if it took me 4 hours to run the marathon, I would consume 3-4 gels and just under 2 liters of sports drink.

So far this has been working for me and I haven’t been getting stomach issues. Some days I’m thirstier and want to drink more, and some days I have to force myself to drink. But I typically try to stick with the plan. If I have to run on a really hot day, I will probably have to alter the plan a bit and drink more. In that case, I’ll just listen to my body and consume what I feel like I can handle.

I was told that on the marathon course, there will be cookies and candy and all kinds of junk to eat. I don’t understand how people can chew and run. I once tucked a fruit leather into the band of my shorts and tried eating it on a run and almost choked. Needless to say, I will not be eating the cinnamon buns given out during the race.

Fueling: Post-Run

This is where I’m noticing distance running is different than sprinting. About an hour after I finish, my stomach gets uneasy and no food sounds appetizing. If I don’t eat something right after running, I have to force myself to eat, and it’s usually something bland like noodles with butter or a fruit smoothie with some spinach and a bit of protein powder. It won’t be until around dinner that I’ll start to feel normal again.

I’m also INSANELY thirsty! It makes sense because I’ve just run 2 or 3 hours, drinking a bit of Gatorade every 20 minutes, but I’ll literally spend the rest of the day downing water bottle after water bottle. It’s nuts!! 

Do either of these things happen to anyone else??

If any of you are runners, I’d love to know your routines/fueling plans or tips and tricks you find helpful. One thing someone told me once was to plan a treat for the end of your run that you can look forward to. So now I carry a Jolly Rancher with me when I run and suck on it the last 3 miles when the pain really starts kicking my ass.

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