Marathon & Long Run Fueling Strategies

I get a lot of questions this time of year regarding my fueling strategy for the marathon. I don’t think I’ve ever done a solid post on fuel so for all of you who have fueling questions, this post is all about my personal fueling strategy.

Fuel: I wasn’t always great with taking in fuel. I’m finally in a pattern that’s working and feel comfortable (as comfortable as one can be sucking down fuel while moving at a fast pace) taking it in. I’ve experimented a lot with different fuels-Cliff Shot bloks, starbursts, Powerade gels, skittles, Hammer Gel, Swedish fish, Honey Stinger gels and waffles….I’ve learned that the harder & more solid fuels (shot bloks, starbursts, skittles, Swedish fish) are great and give me energy, however, it’s extremely difficult for me to swallow and chew them without choking. Plus, when it’s really cold outside & these things are also cold- it become even more difficult for my body to process them. I don’t like the texture of Hammer Gel or Powerade gels: They are so liquid-y, it grosses me out. I love the taste and flavors of Honey Stinger gels, however, I don’t think they pack enough of a wallop to give me the energy level I need. GU seems to work the BEST for me. I like it’s consistency and find that it gives me the exact energy that I need. I swear I can feel its magical powers as soon as I take it! (Fave flavor: Salted Watermelon. I really like Salted Caramel too, but I find it sickeningly sweet at times, and harder to swallow. Plus- I like caramel on my ice cream…not during my runs:))

As far as hydration goes: I used to stop at a convenience store halfway through a long run, or, on a hot day, halfway through a shorter run to get a Gatorade/ Powerade. It’s really a lot of sugar though.. I would rather save those calories for something else! I switched to water for my training runs about a year ago, and it’s worked great for me. I also eventually started to use a Camelbak for long runs to alleviate the need to stop at a store for a drink. I fill my Camelbak up for my long runs and drink from that. In the winter runs- I typically go through 2 water bottles. However, during the summer, I can fill the whole litre up and need to refill it half way through the run!

I also drink a lot of NUUN. You know the days when the thirst is REAL and you CANNOT GET ENOUGH liquids into your body and you’re still parched like the Sahara desert??? NUUN helps me with this. I’ve thought about putting NUUN into my Camelbak, but just haven’t yet! Maybe next marathon training cycle…

For me, personally, this is what works:

Regular runs and training runs:
-If I’m doing a shorter run after work, I’ll eat a Honey Stinger Waffle about 20 minutes before I head out. I think they are delicious and they are the perfect amount of calories to fuel me for a 7-10 mile run. I find that I don’t really need anything else during these runs and can get away with not eating more than just the waffle. Which is good because they are expensive!

-GU: I take GU’s with me for longer runs. I try to take them at the same point in all of my long runs: miles 6/7, 13/14, 17/18. Ever long run is different. Sometimes, I only need 2 GU’s to make it through a run, some runs I could have 4. I find that when it’s really windy, I need more fuel. This weekend, I took my GU at miles 7, 13.4, and I tried to take a 3rd at 17.5, but I could only choke down a tiny sip of the 3rd because it made me feel like I was going to throw up. For the previous weekend’s long run, I took all 3 (6, 12, 18) and could have used a 4th (it was also really windy that day). It goes to show you that not all runs are fueled equally!! I always make sure I drink a quick sip from my Camelbak when I’m taking the GU because the combo of those two things is what makes the GU work.

Marathon strategies:
-Gu: I plan to take it along the same mile markers that I do for my long runs. If it ain’t broke… Since it IS 4 more miles than what I train for-I will probably take more-maybe even up to 5 of them? It depends on the day. I’m thinking I’ll end up taking it 6/7, 13, 17, 22, maybe even 24…I know I get REALLY tired in the end so I will need all the help I can get. Of course, past 22, I could really use an IV of BEER instead of GU….

-Water/Gatorade-The BAA has banned hydration packs and vests again this year, so I will have to resort to getting water from the aid station. Boo. I’m going to do my best….but I usually end up with my beverage of choice all over myself, or, somehow manage to snort it up my nose. I don’t like to stop and walk unless I HAVE to and I prefer the little quick sips of water to stopping and drinking the cup. Its just too hard. I’ll probably do every other if its warm out, and every 3rd stop if it isn’t. I try to cup the top of the cup and form a point in which to drink through…but it’s still hard to do that at times! I’ll only take Gatorade if I need the sugar boost….I’m not used to training with it and prefer to stick to what I know!!

I hope this helps some of you! It has always helped me to have a strategy in place. Of course, strategy can go RIGHT out the window come marathon day, but its still nice to have a plan!

What are your fueling tips?
What’s your fuel of choice for long runs?


19 thoughts on “Marathon & Long Run Fueling Strategies

  1. Pingback: Reads and Recipes (April 4)

  2. Exciting stuff!! I love gus for an instant energy rush but they really upset my stomach, so I stick with Clif blocks generally. Nuun is the best! Jesse and I refuse to drink “peasant water” when we buy tubes of it, which can get a little dangerous money-wise, haha.

  3. i’ve tried tons of different fueling options over the years, and my tried and true is strawberry banana powergel. i like the consistency (liquidy) so it’s easy to swallow! i unfortunately dont drink water on my runs in the winter, but when the water fountains open up for the summer along the charles, i stop every 3 miles or so for a gulp!

  4. Sometimes I take hard candies with me on a long run. They’re easy to eat because they just dissolve in your mouth and you don’t have to chew them! It’s sort of just a slow, consistent energy release. 🙂

  5. These are some great tips – thanks for sharing! I had to laugh because I’m pretty much identical on how I fuel! I settled on Salted Caramel Gus (need to try the Salted Watermelon) after trying Hammer gels and finding them too liquid-y and finding Honey Stingers too messy and not giving me the kick I need. And I seriously love Nuun – it’s way better than Gatorade or Powerade in my opinion.

  6. Nice write up Nicole and I think you’ll help many out with those wise words. I tend to not need much in the way of fuel. For my marathon I used a combination of Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes Fizz Grape & Vanilla Hammer Gel. Nowadays when fuel and/or hydration are needed I go with a 50/50 Gatorade/water mix … straight Gatorade does a number on my tummy and salted watermelon GU. I’ll also use watermelon Nuun and lemon-lime Nuun Energy when I get my hands on it 🙂

  7. I agree with pretty much your whole fuel paragraph! Gu works great for me. I’ve tried Honey Stinger gummies and they taste great but like you said, they just don’t seem to do much for me. I also like Clif Shot Bloks but they are so big and hard to chew. Gu seems to be the way to go for me, but it just starts to taste so bad. There are times when I start to gag as I’m eating it because of that weird cardboard-y aftertaste. Guess I’ll just have to suck it up!

    I only take food fuel on runs of 14 miles or longer. I don’t eat before any non long run or race, and even then only a little bit. I do better running on a slightly empty stomach. I take a Nathan pack full of water and on hot days a small bottle of Gatorade for long runs. I usually don’t take anything with me in half marathon races – I just try to hydrate as much as possible pre race and stop at maybe one or two stations.

  8. Those are some great tips. I have yet to try Gu – I think it’s a consistency thing for me. Maybe I should give it a shot during training to check it out. I typically go with Shot Bloks, but when I did my 10 miles on Sunday, I found I had to have the entire 6 pack by the end and barely noticed a change…so maybe they’re not actually helping me. Who knows! Plenty of time to experiment before MCM.

    • GU is a lot thicker than most of the gels. The consistency gets me with most of them and weirds me out. If you like the “thicker” stiff than you will like GU!! The entire 6 pack seems like a lot- that’s happened to me before too and that was when I realized I needed to try an alternative fuel source.
      Yes plenty of time to plan and figure out what works for you!

  9. It’s so funny how fuel/hydration is so different for everyone. I too LOVE Nuun and put it in my hydration vest which I use for my long runs!

  10. I find other people’s fueling and hydrating strategies so interesting, because they are usually so different than mine! I hydrate and fuel minimally (except during marathons, when i will hydrate at each station after about the halfway point, and fuel throughout). I try to pre hydrate as much as possible. That said, during the summer I am much more active in my during hydration–thank goodness for the water fountains on the LFT!

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