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Running 101: Race Fueling Made Simple

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Sep. 6, 2013

Top Off Your Gas Tank

On the topic of food, although you should never need to eat solid foods during a half marathon or marathon, some slower runners like to have the feeling of something a little more substantial in their stomach. Energy gels, “shots”, “blocks”, chews and beans are designed specifically for consumption during exercise and most provide roughly 100 calories of energy per serving, some electrolyte replacement and perhaps even a hint of caffeine for a late-race pick me up. Best taken and absorbed with a few sips of water, these products are easy to carry and are an effective means of obtaining energy and maintaining blood sugar levels.

So when should you eat this stuff? Clark recommends consuming 100 to 250 calories of carbohydrate per hour after the first hour during an endurance event to stay energized and maintain mental focus.

“By consuming carbohydrates during exercise, such as the sugar in sports drinks, your muscles have an added source of fuel,” Clark says in her book. “Because much of performance depends on mental stamina, you should maintain normal blood sugar levels to keep your brain fed and help you think clearly, concentrate well, and remain focused.”

Eat, drink, but be wary. Eating and drinking on the run shouldn’t be an excuse not to eat breakfast or hydrate before the race. Just as you wouldn’t start a long road trip on an empty gas tank, you shouldn’t start a long race on an empty stomach. The main objective of a fueling strategy is to stay hydrated and maintain energy levels throughout the race. Experiment with different foods and fluids during long training runs prior to race day and develop the confidence in a personalized plan that ensures you won’t run out of gas on when it’s time to go the distance.

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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