Reader to Reader: Fuel On The Run

Increasing your mileage in preparation of a marathon not only brings with it heavier training demands - you’ll need to pay much more attention to your refuelling strategies too. Sugar-coated sweets have been the snack of choice for this reader so far, but what should she be eating to tackle the big one?

"Hello all! Life has suddenly got a bit more serious for me as I've changed my race distances from half-marathon to marathon. With half-marathons I've managed on Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles, water and Lucozade pouches if they were included as part of the water stations. However, I've decided to up my game and enter a marathon. The thing is, I just don't understand nutrition. What stuff should I be eating on the run? Talk to me like a seven-year-old, this is all new territory for me. Thank you! " Mouse.

Your best answers

  • Stock up on carbs beforehand
    Before an endurance run I always build my glycogen stores by packing in the carbs for two days before - brown pasta, brown rice, potatoes, whole cereals, porridge etc. On the morning of the race I add a large slice of Malt Loaf with a load of chocolate spread to my breakfast plate, then take Kendal Mint Cake with me on the run. The problem with too much sugar before a run is that you may then experience a sudden drop in blood sugar (caused by an insulin rush) which will leave you knackered and affect your performance. – Nimble Turnkey
  • For an immediate boost, reach for something sugary
    I take a lump of fondant icing with me on long runs - I prefer this to more popular sweets like Jelly Babies as it is a bit softer. I carry it in my shorts pocket in a little plastic freezer bag, and just break a little lump off when needed. I guess it's just pure sugar really. – Heth
  • There are a variety of special energy products on the market
    I manage about 300-500ml sports drink in a marathon and maybe a few sweets. Some energy gels have to be taken with water, others can be tolerated without. In theory you also need to eat within 20 minutes of a long run - if you can’t, then a recovery drink (basically a carbs-protein mix) may be helpful. – Eva Midsole
  • Or everyday carbohydrate-rich snacks can work just as well
    Jam sandwiches can be good during a run, so can malt loaf and Jaffa Cakes. I used to take mini Mars bars out on long runs with me to have while I was running. – Kazzaaaah!
  • It all boils down to personal taste
    Everyone is different in what works for them and you may even find that what works in training somehow doesn't work for the marathon. I developed a pathological hatred of Jelly Babies during the FLM, despite them having been my life saviour during my training runs. I can't stomach Lucozade Sport of any flavour, nor any of the normal sports drinks, but I use Taut Endurance whenever it’s hot and I'm covering more than 10 miles. It’s got loads more salt (and less sugar) than the other drinks. Chocolate milk is a good recovery drink and possibly a bag of crisps or something salty if it was hot, followed by a meal within an hour. All trial and error though, so start experimenting now! – Treacle Tart
  • The sooner you start taking on fuel the better
    About 60-90 minutes before a long training run I down a milky filter coffee and a couple of bananas. If I've fuelled well the day before, I find a bottle of vanilla For Goodness Shakes does me. This provides carbs in the form of lactose, fructose and sucrose, some protein and nearly zilch fat for quick absorption. Of course, if you're not good on dairy, forget it. If it's a hot day, I also take two tetrapaks of Vita Coco (coconut water containing natural potassium and sodium). All this stuff is very natural so suits me fine. It will get me through a run of 20-24 miles, about 30-60 seconds off my minute-mile race pace. However, on marathon day, I gloop down around seven energy gels as my heart rate is faster and I'm doing the extra distance. I love the SIS gels as they're isotonic, so you don't have to worry about getting the right proportion of water with them. I take my first one just before the starting gun, then one every 20 minutes or so. I think you need to give your body time to absorb them so you don't hit the wall. I've done three marathons on this strategy and have been chuffed with my times and never hit the wall. The same principles apply on a training run, I think. Start as you're going out the door then as soon as it's comfortable, and you feel your stomach emptying, get some more down you. – Little Lizard
  • Long-distance runs can deplete your sodium levels too
    • I tend to fade horribly towards the end of marathons and have suffered with cramp on the last two (due to a lack of salt). It might be worth having something savoury to hand for later in the race - I'm always sick of sugary things after 20-odd miles. – SoVeryTired
  • Don’t try anything new on race day
    Find out which energy drink is being offered at the marathon and practise with that drink so you know whether to take it on the day. I'm a Jelly Babies fan as gels are just a bit too sickly sweet for me. You do feel a bit silly in races, because clutching a little bag of Jelly Babies doesn't look as professional as carrying some hi-tech gels, but they are a lot cheaper. Try eating two or three Jelly Babies every 20-30 minutes, washed down with water. If you don't take on water at the same time as a gel or sweets you are likely to get vile stomach cramps. – Jools B
  • Make time to rehydrate and refuel properly
    Some people like dried apricots but I find that they turn to a gooey mess in my mouth and then I end up drinking so much water I get cramps. I also like flat Diet Coke afterwards – it doesn’t have any nutritional value but it really picks me up after a long run. I guess it’s OK as long as you also have something nourishing! It can a bit tricky refuelling after a race because it’s hectic getting your bag back, getting your breath back, and trying to keep upright... – Shimmy shimmy
  • Go for something easy-on-the-stomach
    After a long run some fruit (like raspberries, blackberries, nectarines) in yoghurt with honey or golden syrup is a nice gentle way to recover. It doesn't feel too heavy and means you can get your recovery fuel in quicker than usual. – Pingu1903
  • Relax with a glass of the white stuff
    Research suggests that milk is your best bet as a post-run drink for all sorts of reasons, not least that it hydrates more effectively than water (the body keeps hold of it for longer) and it also contains protein, some carbs and electrolytes... One thing I learnt on a long run - Jelly Babies and sweat don't mix. Or rather, they do, to make sweet gunge. You should've seen the waterproof Jelly Baby carrier I fashioned from a running belt, a trimmed sandwich bag and four paper clips for the FLM this year. Work of art, it was! – PhilPub

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