To make it through any race, what you eat before, during and after the run is crucial. Hitting the wall is real, and fueling properly can help you avoid it.
Race-day fueling takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what works for you. Use this guide to get started fueling properly!
Your meals in the hours before the run will supply your muscles with glycogen and will help fill your fuel tank.
For races lasting longer than one hour, fueling should start 1-4 hours before the gun fires. 2-3 hours before is really the sweet spot. Ideally, you need to eat 1-4 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight, says Annie Weiss, an ultrarunner and registered dietitian. For example, someone weighing 150 pounds would need between 68-272 grams of carbohydrates pre-race.
Becca Pizzi, winner of the 2016 World Marathon Challenge, says her normal pre-race fuel consists of a nutri-grain bar, banana and power bar.
Weiss starts off with a banana and bowl of Kashi cereal with almond milk three hours before the start of a race. Two hours before, she eats bread with peanut butter or a bagel. One hour before, she goes for a Clif Bar.
During the race
Races less than 45 minutes:
Stay hydrated, but eating during your race is not necessarily needed.
Races lasting 45-75 minutes:
For these smaller distances, small amounts of a mouth rinse will usually suffice. Have an electrolyte mix at water stops intermittently with water cups.
Pizzi’s electrolyte of choice for the World Marathon Challenge was Ultima Replenisher (her favorite is grape).
Races lasting 1-2.5 hours (i.e. a half marathon):
For half marathons and races in this time frame, Weiss recommends 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. “I notice that most athletes, both males and females, do well with at least two gels per hour. But again, some may need more. It takes a lot of experimentation to know what’s best for you.”
Races lasting 2.5 hours or more:
For these longer endurance races, Weiss recommends up to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour . “I like to consume every 1-2 miles when I’m doing ultra-distances of 50 plus miles.” For marathons and 50ks, gels are convenient, work great and are the preference of many pro athletes. Taking a gel every 1-2 miles usually equals about four gels per hour.
Weiss’s fuel of choice for ultras consists of gels, fig newtons, halves of Clif bars or hydration fuel (she recommends FLUID performance powder).
For ultras, she also eats at aid stations- peanut butter sandwiches, pickles, pretzels, sometimes fruit and potatoes are her foods of choice.
Don’t forget about your recovery fuel! Even though the running is over, your body is still racing. Try to get down a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. For 5-15k distances, 15-20 grams of protein is ideal. For longer distances, shoot for 20-30 grams of protein with four times the carbohydrates. Carbs open the door of the muscle, letting protein in to start the repairing process. Without carbs, your muscles can’t repair.
Pizzi’s favorite post-race routine first consists of a Starbucks’ ice coffee then pizza and/or pasta.
In the end, fueling really depends on the person and what works for you. Everyone is different, and this is why trying to mimic what others do is not the way to go. Weeks and months before your race, experiment with different foods and find what really works. Although the amount of fuel needed is pretty standard, how you get that energy in is up to you!