“What’s the best fueling strategy for runners?”

How to Practice Your Fueling Strategy, Supplement Strategically, and Get Enough Electrolytes

I’m thrilled to present a short excerpt from a new fueling program called Finish Strong. 

These are just a few of the questions and answers included in the program. There’s also:

–> How to change your fueling strategy during a taper

–> Whether to eat gels and sports drink, water, or a combination

–> How to strategically use gels with caffeine in them

–> When to stop drinking before a marathon

I want to give you a taste of the great stuff I have for you – including example fueling schedules, interviews, and even discounts on nutrition products.

Let’s start the Q&A!

This is a small excerpt from the full Finish Strong program. Click here to learn more about it.

How often should I practice my race fueling strategy during training?

If you’re preparing for a short race of 10 miles or less, you don’t need to practice at all! You’re likely only taking 1-2 gels (if any) during the race and this can be done without any problems for most people.

However, if you have a sensitive stomach, you should consume the same number of gels or equivalent fuel during a workout that simulates the race itself. This helps you practice your fueling strategy while running a similar pace as the race.

If you’re training for a half marathon, it will be helpful to practice your fueling strategy 1-2 times during the 2-3 weeks leading up to the race during a long run or half marathon-specific workout.

Marathoners should practice their exact fueling strategy at least twice before the race. Remember: as the race gets longer, it becomes more important to practice the exact fueling approach you’ll use during the race.

This entails eating the same breakfast the same time before your run as you would before the race. You should also eat the same fuel at the same intervals during your long run to pinpoint any sources of stomach distress or problems with your strategy.

Ultramarathoners need to practice frequently as well, particularly on very long runs and back-to-back long runs. However, since you likely won’t be running during training for nearly the same amount of time as you will during the race, it’s difficult to practice your exact fueling approach.

Instead, it’s best to employ a few different strategies:

  • Practice with a variety of foods that you expect will be on the race course
  • Start some long runs with a semi-full stomach (learning to run with food in your stomach is a learned and valuable skill for ultra runners)
  • Eat “real” food during a run in addition to gels and other commercially available fuel sources

Listen to our exclusive interview with ultramarathoner Doug Hay for more information on fueling for ultra distance races.

What supplements are recommended and which ones are a waste of time?

In general, if you are not trying to get pregnant, do not have a medical condition that impairs nutrient absorption, and eat a balanced, varied diet, supplements are not necessary.

If you are taking an excess of the water soluble vitamins (the B vitamins and vitamin C), your body will simply discard that which it does not need (via the urine). The fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K), on the other hand, can be harmful to take in excess amounts; because the body stores them, and taking in too much can lead to toxicity. Remember: too much of a good thing is still too much!

It’s also helpful to consider several studies that show mega-doses of antioxidants (like Vitamin E or Vitamin C) actually block training gains. In other words, you won’t adapt as well to the workout if you also consume high levels of antioxidants, preventing you from developing your fitness as high as it could be without antioxidant supplementation.

Of course, whether you individually need supplementation due to a deficiency is something to discuss with your doctor, following blood work.

A few common supplements that you may find helpful are discussed below:

Vitamin D: many people are deficient in Vitamin D because its best absorbed from sunlight and there’s not much of that going around during the winter. Plus, we spend most of our time inside. You may want to supplement with Vitamin D temporarily after testing your levels of this vitamin.

Protein: If you’re training very hard, you may want to take a protein supplement after your most challenging workouts to jump-start the muscle recovery process. Whey protein (derived from milk) is the most common, affordable, and easily digested form of protein on the market today.

Fish Oil: The research is mixed on this supplement, but we do know that most people (especially in the United States) have an imbalance in the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids in their diets. Fish oil is rich in Omega-3 and can rebalance this ratio. Of course, if you regularly consume seafood, particularly fatty fish, you likely don’t need this supplement.

Do I need sports drinks on hot days when I know I’ll be sweating a lot?

Whether you drink sports drinks or combine water with food is up to you, but you certainly want to make sure you are taking in fluid and electrolytes during your long runs and challenging workouts in the summer.

To stay adequately hydrated, take in about 8-20 oz. of fluids per hour. Avoid flavored waters and soda (which can be acidic, high in sugar, low in electrolytes and nutrients). This number will vary based on how much you sweat and how hot it is outside, but it’s a good starting place and you can adjust as needed.

A great experiment is to weigh yourself immediately before and after a long run to assess your fluid losses on a hot day. Remember to weigh yourself naked (sweaty running clothes will affect the weight reading!) and do one long run without fluids or fuel early in your training season for this test.

The amount of weight you lost during the run represents how much fluid you lost. So if you weighed 150.0 pounds before the run and 147.5 pounds afterward, you lost 2.5 pounds (or 40 ounces) of fluids.

There’s no need to replace all of the fluids you lose while running during the run itself. Becoming slightly dehydrated is normal and won’t affect your performance, but it can be helpful for the recovery process to consume roughly half of the fluids you will lose during the run.

Once the long run is complete, you can focus on rehydrating to normal levels.