How I Fuel For My Runs as a Distance Runner

I was asked a while back to write on how I fuel for runs.  So I thought today would be as good of time as any to give you an insight into what I do what I do and why.

I am not alone in the running world in fueling as I do, a lot of runners fuel this way.  I train and fuel this way for a purpose and because it works for me.

I want to mention that I am in no way promoting this or offering it as advice.  I am not a Doctor or Professional Sports Trainer so all thoughts and opinions on this subject are my own and should not be considered as anything else.

I would like to first start off by saying what I am about to tell you is nothing new for me.  In fact I have been training and running this way for the better part of the past 14 years.

Do I fuel before a run?

I have a very simple answer, I don't... Not really... But let me explain.

A lot of runners these days get caught up in all the supplements and sports drinks, protein shakes, energy bars, the list can really go on and on.
Although I don't have really anything against them other than the huge amount of calories in them.  I personally don't use them and if I do its a very rare occasion.

As for how I DON'T fuel for my runs:

1-10 miles runs:
I eat nothing before I run, I prefer to run on an empty stomach - I'll explain later.
I do drink water, usually a glass before I start and if it's a hot day I might stop and get a drink of water once or twice as needed on a 8-10 mile route.  Usually if it is less than 8, I just drink again when I am finished.
When I finish with my run, I make sure to eat within 20 minutes of the run, and try to eat something higher in protein to help with the muscle recovery.  I also make sure I drink up after a run, and regain all I lost in sweat.

(If you don't know how to properly hydrate, or don't know your body well enough.  Weigh your body before you go for a run, and then right when you get back, that will tell you how much weight you are sweating off, and how much you need to hydrate to get it fully back.)

11-20 mile runs:
I still do not eat before my run and run on an empty stomach (except, see below)
I do drink water before my run, and once about every 2.5 - 3 miles.
I avoid sports drinks (except, see below)
I ALWAYS eat within 20 minutes or less after a long run, with something in higher protein again to help promote quicker muscle recovery.  I also always make sure I am properly hydrated before, during and after the run!

Marathon or Race Day
I DO eat a light breakfast in the morning.  Usually a bagel with just a little cream cheese and a Banana as well as some water.
I may eat a little around or after mile 18, if I need it (most the time I don't need anything). Sometimes I enjoy a couple of small pretzel's or suck on a hard candy or fruit like an orange.
I drink mostly only water until after mile 16, and if I feel it's a hot day and I need it I may alternate with a sports drink, but I always chase a sports drink with a water to make sure it's diluted enough in my stomach.

My Exceptions:

I will pick 1 or 2 if needed, of my longer runs (18-20 milers) and I will eat something light like a bagel or muffin before I run. Just to make sure the item is still okay for my stomach.  (Basically I call this training for my stomach so I know what still works and won't keep me in the port-o-potties in a race.)

On a rare occasion if I am training for a super hot summer marathon where I may enjoy a sports drink in the race, I may test out that sports brand drink on one of my longer runs after the 14 mile point just to make sure it agrees with my system.
Only on a rare occasion I reward myself with an ice cold Gatorade after a 18-20 miler if it's hot and I feel extra deserving:)

Why do I do this:

Some of you are probably thinking I am crazy, or that I do the dumbest things.  We are all entitled to our opinions.
The important thing is to remember we all train the way we want/do because it works for us.  I don't just train and fuel this way because I thought it was a brilliant idea that I came up with on my own. It was actually how I was originally trained to run and believe it or not there is actually quite a bit of I guess you can call it runners science behind it.  Most importantly it works for me.

For instance, running on an empty stomach forces my body to find stored fats to fuel and burn. Which actually really helps endurance athletes to go stronger and longer than others.
Training my body to do this, actually benefits me over others who's bodies are running on recent food "sugar" fuel storage.
In other words, it's pretty possible they will run out of gas long before me.  Additionally, if a race is particularly harder and more endurance than normal is required.  I may actually outlast others and have an easier time coping with it, because I haven't trained my body to require constant sugars and fuels.  My body is already trained to dig deeper and work on stored fuels.

(Side note: some even believe training this way can eliminate "hitting the wall" in a marathon or an ultra.  Personally, since I have only hit the wall twice, I would lean on the side that I agree with this. But can't say I believe it to be a fact.... Yet...)

This method is actually far more beneficial for me for distance running than anything because it teaches my body to find the stored carbs and calories to burn.  Which teaches my body to dig deeper when needed to find energy.
In fact you actually can run out of recently stored sugars pretty quickly in a marathon.
Because I train this way I can't tell you how much this has helped especially the years I was running 13-14 full marathons a year.
Some take those different shots during a race for extra energy, but although I have tried them I personally didn't see much of a long term difference and they mess with my stomach too much to make them worth bothering with, so I don't use them at all and I don't really need them.

Hydration:  Just like if you train your body to need fuel in a race every so many miles, you will.  The truth is, if you train your body to drink water every mile.  You are going to want it in a race frequently too.

But you don't need water this frequently, it's actually not good for you to run and drink too frequently.
If you are running a half or full marathon, you really only need water every 2-3 miles.  Most races only offer water stops like this, so I train to drink at this rate.
On a rare occasion (and it happens) races run out of water or have problems at the water stops and you might be forced to miss a stop.  But if you've trained your body to already only drink every 2-3 miles you can usually be okay even if you have to go 4 miles between stops to get a drink.  (This going with being correctly and fully hydrated to begin the race.)

I also participate in this thing called the Sugar Method
(Although I have heard other names)  

3 Weeks leading into a marathon I try to avoid sugars.  Meaning I stay away from soda, candy, pastries some fruits or other items that are high in sugar.
I don't mean I avoid it all together (that's impossible), I just mean I avoid high sugar foods.
It's true, this can make a person quite tired and I may need an extra nap that day, especially in peak training. But it has a very cool purpose and result come race day when done correctly!

In fact as I introduce them again into my diet whether that be the morning before or even into the race (depends on when I feel I need it), I get a much stronger energy boost than others who's bodies are used to burning off recent sugar intakes.  I know there are articles out on the Internet on this, but it's been so many years since I looked into it, I don't have any that I can think of right now to link to, but if you want more information on it, I am sure there is loads of it out there.

But don't get me wrong, when I say I eat sugars race day.  I am NOT downing a sports bar or sugar pack before or in a race (I will never understand why some do that), that kind of behavior can just create a sugar crash and even slow you down or use up your energy too fast too soon.
I prefer using Banana's and fruits mixed with proteins and carbs, gives me a much better endurance boost than the claims of most sports bars out there.  Which the result is a more long term energy boost from the newly added sugars into my body.

Correct carbohydrate loading

I wanted to touch on this subject too, because believe it or not unless you have been trained on how to correctly carb load before a race, most runners especially new runners do it incorrectly.  So much so that it really doesn't benefit them at all, in fact a lot of times it can even hurt them and they rarely ever realize it was the problem.

As for me:
I mentioned that I avoid sugars 3 weeks leading into a race, and this also includes a reduction in carbs in my part to.
But what I do, when I am correctly carbo loading is 4-5 days before the race I start carb loading. Why? Because it actually takes your body several days to build these carbs especially if you want to store up enough stored energy for a race. (I still lay off high sugary items though.)

I personally think carb loading is really more beneficial for distance runners.  I never saw much of a benefit from it for anything shorter than a half marathon.  I remember trying it in high school for 5k's & 10k's but never really saw any noticeable difference from when I did it or didn't.  I just don't think I was out there running long enough in those distances to see the effects come across.  But others may disagree, so I guess it really comes down to what you have convinced your mind, or what works for you:)

A lot of people believe carb loading is a big pasta dinner the night before a race.  But if that is all they are doing, they aren't really carb loading in a way that will help them.  In fact that can actually hurt a person, especially if it is a really big meal.

Which is why I take the 4-5 days before the race to introduce more carbs into my diet.  Pancakes, French Fries (less greasy), pizza, breads.  That is my thing.  I will enjoy higher carbs 3 meals a day for those days leading into a race.
I also reduce dairy, no ice creams and less in other dairy products the week leading into a race.
(I avoid pasta, it took me many years to realize pasta is the one thing that is sure to keep me running from outhouse to outhouse, ha ha.)

The night before a race, I will eat dinner early, and definitely do not over eat!  I eat like normal or as I have been all week, I never try anything new.  Why?  Because I don't want to start running a race with a huge full stomach the next morning of food that still hasn't finish digesting, or eating something that disagree's with me.

Also, quickly I will touch on hydration

You can't fully hydrate for a race if you start drinking and filling your belly with water the day before a race.  In fact if you do that, you risk starting the race with a belly ache or stomach problems.
Technically a runner should aim to be fully hydrated all the time.  (Pee the color of light lemonade is a good indicator, too clear means you are over hydrated, too yellow under hydrated.)

However, as with the 4-5 day carb loading, it also takes your body 5-7 days to become correctly and fully hydrated.  So a week before a race is when you should start making sure you are working on being correctly hydrated for a race.


Okay, so I know this is a long post, but that is my short version of how I fuel for running.
I am not a Sports Doctor, so like I said above I am not pushing my method out there for anyone.
If your interested in trying any of these things, I suggest looking into them more and speaking with your doctor or a Professional Sports Nutritionist or Coach first to understand the benefits and in's and out's of what to expect, and to find out if it is right for you.
I wrote this purely so in case others wondered how I did it, now they know:) please don't take it for advice.

But I am going to ask, do any of you train/fuel in any of these ways?

I'd love to hear who else is a marathon/ultra runner who uses the sugar method, most of those who I know who do it, love it and experience similar results as me, but I'd love to hear how it helps or benefits you, or if you do it differently, I'd also enjoy hearing how your method is especially if it is different than mine as I know there are a few different ways of going about it!

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