Race Fuelage

Today while lying at the beach, I came across an interesting article in Runner’s World.  I still read RW whether or not it is geared towards the running I want to doI find that you can normally find some interesting articles in any magazine and who doesn’t love to learn more knowledge about running. 

One of the little blurbs that I wondered about (and somewhat have for a while) asked Miles the following:

What did Runner’s fuel with in longer races before all these fancy gels/GU/Gatorade/ect?

Maybe I (personally) was looking for a mystical answer-I don’t know.  They essentially said they got through marathons and such WITHOUT any sort of fuel and LITTLE water. 

Champ status? 


It got me thinking to my evolution of running and my reliance on gels and Gatorade and such.  (Keep in mind-I have never run a marathon.)  My longest training run was unplanned and 18 miles and unfueled).  The first and only 5k I ran in high school (for funzies and because the gym was closed on thanksgiving ), I needed water at both water stops.  I was going to die if I didn’t.

Die I tell you, die.

Took me a while to dig this beauty up but here you go and yes I did run in abercrombie sweat leggings. Judge me-I dare you.

I proceeded to take water from most water stops at local 5ks (they don’t have them during cross country races…rude) .  During my first cross country season -I realized that I could save about 30 seconds per stop if I didn’t take the water.  I would literally stop-shoot the breeze with the people, drink and go.. Then when I realized I could finish not only a collegiate 5k but a 6k with no water breaksmy mental block of needing the water was released.

Then I moved into my love of half marathons in the Spring after proper training (2011).  Now keep in mind this is just my personal liking, but  I never felt like I needed a gel at mile 6-7 as most people did.  I kept a gel with me and normally took it around mile 10.  The thing is though-I have never really bonked out of a race either so I don’t quite know if the gel helps me or not.

So that is how all three of my half marathons went.  Gel at mile 10.  Water at most of the fuel stops that I was close enough to grab some.

Then at my 20k (12.4M)-I got to the race and realized…

I didn’t have any power gels.  It was close to a half distance and I needed these gels to survive.  Without the gel-god knows I would peel over and die right at mile 10.01.

But that never happened and I ran my way to a great time.  (so anti-climatic I know but I didn’t even think about the gel)

So although I think gels are handy-I don’t really think I’ve mastered the trick to using them or Gatorade very efficiently.  I have really gathered my thoughts on the amount of gel and fuel that is needed for a race and I understand it varies (a lot per person).  I’m curious to hear other’s thoughts.

What are your thoughts/opinions of fueling during races? 

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  1. I still swear by Fig Newtons before a 5k and during longer events. On longer MTB events they are hands down my favorite.
    Personally, I prefer foods/snacks that are calorie dense (fig newtons). Sometimes I’ll pack one up and never go for it…Always nice to have though. I’ll leave the leggins alone for now…Great Post!!!

  2. I’m with you on this one. Gatorade majorly upsets my stomach, so I rarely drink sports drinks (except maybe in the summer, when it’s hella hot), and I did a 14 miler this weekend with no fuel or water. I definitely don’t stop for water during 5ks or 10ks (and for me, this used to be a very bad social habit, based on the running group I first trained with) and doubt I will on my half unless it’s really hot.

    As far as fuel, my nutritionist says that it’s better to teach your body to run on its own fuel…the less you need during a race, the better. This is how a lot of ultra-marathoners do it. Anyway, her philosophy is if you eat and hydrate well, you shouldn’t need extra gels or sports drinks. Your body should be able to process its own fuel. So, I haven’t run with gels or anything in over a year, up to 15-16 miles. Not sure about the marathon yet–will probably need something, but I think people overdo it on food in general when they train. And not on the good food! There’s no need to overdose on pasta the day before a 5K or 10k or even half or full–just eat sensibly and cleanly, and your body has everything it needs. And will burn it more efficiently. The danger of gels and such is that you’ll crash when that fuel is gone, whereas if you have a good baseline of nutrition, it will fuel you longer and more steadily.

    Like I said, I haven’t figured out marathon fueling yet (though I am convinced Gatorade has made me sick in all three I’ve done, so I’ll use water only to hydrate), but for the every day runner and shorter distances, less is more. Even with water, you don’t need THAT much. Maybe a sip or two every few miles, unless it’s crazy hot and humid.

    1. Some of my best long runs have been without fuel as well! I think it also depends on the season. In the winter-I don’t lose electrolytes as quickly as in the summer.

      I like your nutritionists thought process! It makes sense not to put all that gel into your body. Even then-it’s still overly processed sugar.

  3. I often drink during my runs – Even during 4 milers I usually run by a park and take a sip at the drinking fountain. I am a major water guzzler 24/7 so I don’t know if it’s just habit or what – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it but I’m not a big racer. When I was training for my half marathon I’d do 10 mile runs with no food but one water stop. I’m not a gatorade person and I don’t do gels either. If available I do like a piece of fruit though! I’d love to learn the science behind it but it seems like it would be easier for your body to just use the glucose/glycogen? straight from the food to the muscles instead of converting its own fuel… I don’t know. I’ve done workouts for 3 hours straight and not needed any food, so I think it can work fine both ways.

    1. I’m the same way (must be a swimmer thing). We have swam for 2-3 hours not needing much fuel (maybe some Gatorade). I prefer gels to real food if I need anything running but even then it’s pretty limited.

      On a side note-I hope to see you do another half, you did so well! 🙂

      1. Oh yeah, I forgot about swimming! I’ve done 2-3 hour swims and I never eat during those. Just water. Hopefully I’ll be doing a half in August! It’s just hard not being able to drive myself. There aren’t any in my town. 🙁

  4. I’ve only tried a gel once. That wasn’t because I felt like I needed fuel during a race or anything, just that someone mentioned they did it and I thought it seemed like a cool runner thing to do. I did not use one when I ran my lone half marathon, but I did get water/hydration at the stops- I do think water is important when running 13.1 miles, but I live in South Carolina with crazy humidity and you can actually lose a lot of hydration during a race if it’s between May-September.

    As for ODing on food, one of the local gyms is hosting a pasta party before a 5K/10K. A new food, heavy food at that, the night before your short distance race= not a good plan. And the drink offered at that dinner… SWEET TEA.

    However, I think a lot of this is just because these people are new runners. They haven’t done enough races or enough running to really know how their body reacts to things and how to fuel. One day, they’ll have a fate like you and “forget” and realize that most of it is mental…

    1. Exactly! I have never felt like I was dying for fuel, you know? Ofcourse, I’ve also never run a marathon either.

      I think eating during races or carb loading before shorter races is a major mental block you know? I would have felt the same way earlier, but now I know anything but a half-what I have in my stomach is what I have.

  5. Hmm very interesting thoughts here Hollie! This weekend as a matter of fact, I talked to someone who competes in an iron man each year, various marathons, triathlons and such, and ALWAYS uses Gels/gus stuff like that during the races. He actually swears by them, and he is a beast in those races.

    But then again you raise a good point here, what exactly did people do before hand and how much have we come to rely on them because they are there?
    I actually don’t know how to answer this question because I never used to fuel during races so that I could save calories, instead of wasting them on these types of items during the race…. ugh. So I am not sure how much of a difference they would make for me now, I think I will try them out next longer race though. Just to see

    1. I agree! I think it is on the basis of what works specifically for you. For some people that is nothing and for some people that is 500 calories worth of something. I guess at least now we have these options. 🙂

  6. Most well-trained athletes can store enough glycogen to fuel 90-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. So, for a half marathon you don’t necessarily need anything except fluids and maybe electrolytes if you sweat a lot. However, if you don’t suffer GI problems from taking in a gel or some shot blocks or chomps at some point in the race, if you are pushing that 90-minute lower limit you might want some as insurance. I personally take in about 100 calories during a half marathon and it is definitely enough. Marathon I need about 50 every 3 miles, but that is a different beast because unless you are really awesome, you are definitely going over that 90-150 minute limit.

    1. My gels have about 100 calories which I like-I just never really feel like that energy comes back to me. Who knows-I could be over prepared. God-running a marathon in less than 2.5 hours just seems so mindblowing to me lol!

  7. The only time I took a gel or Gatorade was on a 24 mile run. Otherwise I just sip on water during training runs but usually not at all in races.

  8. Except for water, I don’t really use much. Even during my half I think all I used was water. Until after the race when I needed to EAT. I’ll see how it goes for my marathon. But I do have to say I eat like half a powerbar performance before I work out so….. yeah.

  9. I’m just starting to test out Gus and stuff to use on runs over 12-13 miles. I never really used them before because I could run a half without them, and sometimes, I would take maybe like 3 small dates to eat halfway through. They seem to work just as well as Gus for me! I could tell on my last long run that I needed water though, so I need to figure that out because I don’t really wanna carry water.

  10. Oh my goodness…what a shame that you had to sit on the beach reading a magazine! I hate you for that. Anywho. I am not a serious running (obvi) but I usually just do with some water if necessary and maybe gatorade. I have never had a gel before… who knows. I don’t really know much though! haha

  11. I’m def no expert on running/ fueling, but I’ve ran many halfs with only a small sip or two during the race. Also, I never eat bfast for them either. I’ve never Fletcher weak, or felt like u would’ve ran faster with something in my belly. I’ve ran 2 marathons and I did eat some jelkybeans during it and drunk water throughout it. I fuss its whatever works for the runner. P.S. awesome job on your last race!

  12. I’ve promised my nutritionist that I will fuel like I’m supposed to during races now- 200-300 calories an hour on the bike. It seems like a lot, but it help me so much on the run I think. I’m committed Hollie, I am!

    For the halfs, I think you should gel earlier. I KNOW what you’re doing works, the trick is to use them before you need them because it can’t hurt and will help that final kick. Taking it at mile 10 means it won’t hit you till like… mile 12 and then you’re done lol

    Much love Holz

  13. I’m training for my first marathon, and getting into my longest runs yet. with the 14 and 16 mile runs it seems to help to take gels before and during. I have been bringing a fuel and water belt on the long runs because I don’t want to get stranded with no energy. This is on top of eating carbo friendly meals before too. Who knows? I’d love a better insight as well, but in the meantime, i just ordered more gels.

    1. I always have some sort of fuel with me too but sometimes I just don’t feel like I need it. Could be me. I think possibly in the half-I never die because I take the gel but who knows. It’s good to keep it with ya is my philosophy. 🙂

  14. Anton Krupicka, an ultrarunner, regularly does insanely long runs (think preparation for ~100 mile trail races!) on minimal water and gels. He has a running blog where he actually talks about how he ‘trains’ his body to run on the least amount of fuel possible WHEN RUNNING. The longest run I’ve done is a 10 miler, but even then I didn’t bring along any water and definitely no food.

    1. Yeah I’ve done plenty of ten milers and even a few longer with no food/drink. I normally do loops around my area though so I’m always close to something.

  15. I have run without gels or cliff blocks, but I think (maybe its all mental) that I feel better when I do have those things. I will be going to the running store to get some Gu gels this week for my race this weekend. If anything it’s more of a security blanket?

  16. I think it’s mostly a mental thing for me, but I like having the shot blocks & use them to break up the run (i.e I map out when I’ll have another, etc). My longest run to date is 12 miles, so I’m not exactly running a marathon.

  17. To be perfectly honest, I don’t fuel before races OR workouts, which I know is disordered, but it’s where I am right now. I also used to always think my workouts weren’t “hardcore” enough to need fuel, and once they got hardcore enough, it wasn’t like I was going to start…or something, yeah. I know this isn’t healthy.

    It was interesting to read about how people used to not fuel, though, because I have always wondered how much faster I’d be if I ate properly before/during races. Based on my own experiences, I’ve also suspected I wouldn’t necessarily–I got a 10k PR at the NYC tri this summer, meaning I ran faster than I’d run before even though I had already done the swim/bike, and the lack of calories should have affected me the MOST in the run, since it’s the last leg. Ehh. This all just sounds messed up and stupid, but hey!

  18. I can’t believe runners used to get through races with little fuel and hardly any water! Very interesting! I’m not a big racer, but when I have run races I’ve used gels and hate them, but they help keep me going and I believe they help prevent cramps for me! I’m obsessed with water so I can’t imagine running and hardly having any.

  19. This is kind of funny that you bring it up because I ALWAYS used to get in trouble for not drinking water DURING my track & cross country practices. I drank a TON before & a TON after, but never during runs. I still hate it. I usually pass the water stations, unless it’s a half marathon or more. I just don’t like drinking while running- I always cramp up & it makes me slow down…and I have the worldest smallest bladder. So no water = no additional bathroom stops 🙂

  20. Interesting that marathons were mostly run before without much water…
    I can’t really comment on this, because my longest race is only about 15k (9 miles) thus far… and I only drank a bit of water throughout!
    I’ll definitely be giving it a go when I *eventually* hit the half-marathon though and not trying gels unless I feel I have to!

  21. ohh the fueling aspect…so tough to know what’s “right” or “wrong”…again I think this is something that it SO SO SO different for everyone, and definitely varies with races.
    I LOVE the idea of training your body to create its own fuel…I think to some extent I have been doing this for years…it started with swimming: there was no way in hell we were going to rip open a GU mid-practice…I wouldn’t even think of it, and even though we’ve done 2+ hours of intense swimming, there is no “OMG your going to hit the wall”…it is expected that the wall is hit and that you train through it.
    I will not fuel until I run beyond 18-miles…usually takes about 130-minutes. And I only fuel because I know how advantageous it is in a race to get a spike of carbs…so I want to train my stomach to tolerate a little GU…
    I have raced 3-marathons with very minimal fuel, my first one without fluids or gels…and my last 2 with 1-GU and a few sips of gatorade…for no reason other than the fact that my body didn’t signal a need (which I think goes back to my swimming days)…in my next marathon I want to take 3-gels…but I also want to have every advantage to run a killer time!
    …in conclusion (WOW SORRY THIS IS A NOVEL!) I think runners are definitely wimpier than swimmers 🙂

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