6 Tips For Eating During Long Runs

One of the extremely important aspects of long distance running is your diet—Largely what you eat before, during, and after the run.

In fact, fuel efficiency is the one of the critical elements of marathon running and endurance training.

That’s why I have decided to write a full post on the subject. I hope by the end of this piece, you will learn all there is to learn about proper “nutrition on the run.”

Basic Physiology

When you run for less than 60 to 90 minutes, the bulk of the energy used on the run comes from stored muscle glycogen.

But somewhere after the 90-minute to two-hour mark—whether you are an avid distance runner or marathon firs-timer— you’ll have depleted your stored glycogen. That’s why you’ll need to refuel to keep your energy tanks humming; otherwise, failure to address your energy needs can lead to compromised performance and a whole host of other troubles.

6 Tips For Eating During Long Runs

If you are looking to add a long run to your training program, considering training for your first marathon, or about to compete in a long distance race, but you are having a tough time figuring out the ins and outs the run nutrition puzzle, then this post is for you.

  1. Start Small

Starting small is of utmost importance.

If you have any digestive problems or are not used to eating on the run, then begin with the minimal approach. Start testing and experimenting by taking in as little as possible.

So instead of swallowing an entire packet, shoot for just one mouthful and make sure to wash it down with water, then see where that get’s you. If this does not go south, then aim to incrementally increase the amounts consumed.

Plus, make sure to eat on the run as early as you can and more frequently.

Therefore, be sure to start taking in nutrition around mile 4 or 5 rather than waiting until mile 9 or 10.

  1. How Much

As a rule of thumb, begin refueling within 30 to 45 minutes of into your long runs.

By fueling early, you may be able to keep your digestive system functioning optimally throughout the run, and if you wait too much, it will be too late for your digestive system to do its job.

Generally speaking, aim to ingest 30 to 60 grams of carbs for every hour of running—that’s roughly 100 to 200 calories—you are running for longer than 60 to 90 minutes.

Just keep in mind that you may need more calories, depending of course on your speed/intensity, gender, and training goals, so make sure have some extra food just to be safe and careful. Better to err on the right side.

  1. Eat Real Food

Run nutrition is not that expensive. In fact, most of the performance perks of engineered sports products—such as gels and sports drinks—can be found in your fridge.

And for the record, natural foods are always the better option. These foods are rich in vital nutrients and actually some of them contain the right ratio of carbs needed for maximum performance.

To make the most out of real food, stick with high-carb, moderate protein and low on fat options.

Here are some options to consider:

  • Peanut,
  • Honey,
  • Animal crackers,
  • Peanuts butter,
  • Pretzel,
  • Dried fruits like raisins.

And please avoid high fiber or whole grain foods during your workouts.

Just Don’t get me wrong here.

Of course, high fiber veggies, fruits, and beans are an essential part of a runner’s diet, but they can, for most people, cause digestive problems, such as gastrointestinal distress, bloating, diarrhea and other digestive issues—especially when consumed during a long run.

  1. Stay Hydrated

Proper hydration is essential for all workouts—and it’s more important when it comes to proper nutrition on the run.

And here is why…

The digestive system can only handle a certain amount of carbohydrates; therefore, you would need to dilute your fuel so it can be quickly absorbed—rather than lingering there like a stone in your stomach.

So make sure to drink the appropriate amounts of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And never rely on thirst as an indicator.

The truth is, if you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.

And also make sure to add Gatorade or any other electrolyte-replacement drink in tandem with water to prevent dehydration.

If you are running low on sodium, add a ¼ teaspoon salt per quart of water.

  1. Sports Drinks & Gels

If you don’t want to have any real food on the run, then consider getting your carbs on the run from a sports drink.

Sports drinks offer a mix of carbs, such as glucose and maltodextrin, add to it sodium and water and to ward off dehydration, then you have a performance potion guaranteed to help you perform your best.

So, how much would you need?

As I have already stated, you’d need between 30 to 60 grams of carbs for each hour spent on your feet. Hence, make sure to pick the right sports drinks. Aim for products that have at least 8 percent carbohydrate concentration for the optimal absorption of the sugars and water.

What’s more? Make sure to consider the sodium percentage as well, aiming for at least 100 mg of sodium per 8-ounce serving. Sodium is an essential mineral we lose through sweat, and replacing it is vital for improving the retention of fluids in the body.

  1. Keep Experimenting

Keep testing out and experimenting with different foods and products, and remember that no suit fits all. Everybody is different and responds differently to different foods and brands.

There are so many different types of food and brands on the market. Therefore, I’m certain that you are gonna find what works the best for you—of course, if you are willing to do the testing.

And once you find something that yields the best results, stick with it. Just don’t try to fix something that ain’t broken, and never test a new nutrition plan on race day. You will never know what will happen so don’t take the risk.

Carry out these important tests now and work on discovering your needs and what your GI system can tolerate and you will come up with a nutrition/drinking plan that works the best for you.

So as you experiment with different nutrition methods during your training runs, keep track of answers to questions like:

  • How much food did you take in?
  • How did your body respond to the food?
  • Your energy levels?
  • Did you have any stomach problems?
  • And so on.

The answers to these questions will help you form the right plan that will work the best for you. So don’t shy away from this, and put it to your own advantage.

Featured Image Credits – Boricualexis Through Flickr

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David Dack



    • SylSt
    • August 15, 2015
    • Reply

    Hi David, great article thank you!

    I have defaulted to using chewable fuel gels, given their convenience and being ‘built for purpose’ but have always suspected instinctively that real foods are the better option, but didn’t know where to start… so I just had a few questions I was hoping you could answer;

    In your list of possible options, you don’t mention banana? Is this a deliberate omission, and is there a reason you don’t personally use it?

    One of the ‘selling points’ for gels are that they provide carbohydrates etc in a format that maximises the absorption and utilisation by the body. Is this a drawback of using ‘wholefoods’? Does the body have to work harder/longer to convert the fuel from wholefoods?

    I’m reading from New Zealand, so am not so familiar with animal crackers – are you recommending the sweet, sugar cookie style? Or the salty cracker ones? Are they good for the carb/sodium boost, or something else?

    Same with pretzels, do you mean the little hard ones that come in packets like potato chips, or the bigger, baked doughy ones? Is this for the carb and salt boost too?

    Many thanks, looking forward to trying some stuff out and saving my wristwatch from the mid run gel disasters!


    • Thank you for reading my post. And yes it’s a deliberate omission. I love bananas, but I only eat them pre-workout. I tried having them while running and my stomach wasn’t that happy. However, different people different folks.

      I don’t know much about what kind of pretzels you have in New Zeland, but I think you should try them all and see which one works the best

      Thank you again

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