Whether you’re running your first race or your 50th, having a race-day fueling strategy should be as much a part of your preparation as getting in all your miles in training. The key is, of course, to be sure you have enough in the tank to finish the race strong. This means figuring out what to fuel with, and when—not only during the race, but before and after.
To help simplify things, we’re going to focus on answering three questions:
1. Do you need a fueling strategy?
Yes. For every race, no matter the distance, yes. The caveat is that not all races require the same fueling type or timing. You want to consider not only what to have during the race, but also what you’ll have leading up to the race. Below are fueling recommendations to follow during the race based on how long you’ll be running:
• Less than 60 minutes: You don’t need a thing. Focus on fueling before and after the race.
• 60 minutes to 2 hours: Up to 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour
• 2 hours to 3 hours: Up to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour
• More than 3 hours: Up to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour
In case I lost everyone with the grams/hour, here are a few examples to give you an idea how much certain foods contain:
• 1 gel = 20-25g
• 3 gel blocks = 24g
• 1 banana = 26g
• 2 Fig Newtons = 22g
• 12-ounce sports drink = 20-25g
2. What should a fueling strategy include?
Focus on the big three: Carbohydrates, electrolytes, and hydration. Most foods and products will contain more than one component. For example, pretzels are a great source of carbohydrates and salt. A sports drink is another great option that covers all three components.
3. How do you structure your fueling strategy?
Keep it simple by breaking it down by time. Here are a few tips to help you plan:
• Carbohydrates paired with a small source of protein
• Go for familiar, easily tolerated foods
• Lower fiber and lower fat for sensitive stomachs
During Race Fueling:
• Fuel the big three: Carbohydrates, electrolytes, and hydration
• Refuel: Have some carbs to replenish your energy
• Rebuild: Have some protein to help rebuild muscle
• Rehydrate: Have some water/fluids to rehydrate
Tiffany Chag is an exercise physiologist and registered dietitian. A fitness professional with more than 10 years of experience, she works with a diverse population of athletes focusing on improving sports performance through both strength and conditioning as well as nutrition. Chag received her Master of Science degree in exercise physiology and nutrition from Teachers College, Columbia University.