How to Plan Your Fueling and Long Run Nutrition

You can imagine the hundreds of emails I get every month from crazy runners. Just recently I saw this gem and had to share:

Sigh…

But then I got a question from Stacey, who saved me from wanting to  jump off a ledge. She asked how to plan her long run nutrition and fueling (in addition to adrenaline). Her question:

I’m training for my 1st marathon and don’t know when to start fueling on my long runs. My long run so far is only about 8 miles. I think I read somewhere to take in fuel every 45 min after an hour of running?  I ran a half marathon a few weeks ago and “hit the wall” at mile 11. Would this indicate that I need to fuel around mile 9?

Stacey actually asks three important questions:

  1. At what distance or length of time should I start fueling on my long runs?
  2. How often should I fuel during my long runs?
  3. When should I take in calories during a half marathon race?

Runners always have these questions because (unfortunately) there’s no clear, 100% correct answer. Every individual is different and long run nutrition is very personal. Some runners need calories in a 10k while others can run a half marathon with no fuel whatsoever.

Notice also how Stacey says, “I think I read somewhere…” which makes me nervous. We’ve seen before how training advice can be downright terrible. Be careful where you get your training and running nutrition tips!

But for proven nutrition advice (from a certified coach and Registered Dietitian) check out this free nutrition course.

How Should Stacey Fuel her Long Runs?

In my book, I explain why it can be valuable to run fasted long runs occasionally and also how to top off your sugar stores right before a race.

But marathon training is different: the goal with your most race-specific long runs is to mimic the demands of the race itself. That means the distance is long (20+ miles), marathon pace is included in the later miles of the run, and also your fueling is similar to what you’ll do on race day.

So I recorded a video for Stacey answering her specific questions (note the framed picture of the 2008 New York City Marathon start in the background!):

A few notes from the video:

  • Take in calories (gels, 4-6oz sports drink, or whatever your stomach is comfortable with) every 30 minutes during a marathon.
  • You can eat fewer gels during your long runs, but at least 1-2 LRs should mimic exactly how the marathon will be fueled.
  • Most runners should eat 2-3 gels during a half marathon, spaced evenly throughout the race.

Great question Stacey – thanks for submitting it!

Want to learn more about fueling and optimizing your diet for running? Sign up for our free course on nutrition for runners and you’ll get audio Q&A’s, mistakes to avoid, and more diet tips for runners.

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