When To Eat Whilst Running?
What you should be eating and when whilst out running varies wildly, both by the individual runner, their boddy and metabolism, and by which advice you listen to!
The general guidance is as follows:
- If you are running for more than 2 hours
- After the first 30-45 minutes of exercise
- You should be taking on 30-60g of carbohydrates each hour
- Along with 500ml of water each hour
This is wholly dependent on the temperature, exertion of the run & your own body. As a rough guide I'd say if your running between 5-15k you're absolutely fine to have some food when you get home rather than on the run. When you jump up to a half marathon onwards is where you need to start looking at eating on a run.
The consequences of not fuelling are that, on a longer run, you're likely to hit that "wall" much faster, where your body runs out of glycogen, the carbohydrates it has stored it can readily burn when running. Again this varies but typically it's after 2 hours / 2,000 calories burned. Once you run out it becomes much harder to keep going, as you body is having to work extra hard to power your muscles. By eating on the run you are topping up those stores, delaying that wall as much as possible by rebuilding the carbs in your system.
What To Eat?
Another area that varies wildly; some runners strictly use gels (more on those in a bit) whilst some love jelly babies and sweets. It's all about finding what works for you, however here are some things you should take into account when choosing a food:
- How easy is it to unwrap: when your hands are cold, or energy low, trying to get a wrapper off may tip you over the edge. Some gel packs have these tear openings that I've ended up having to teeth open before mid-run!
- Is the food small and easy to carry?
- How easy is it to chew and swallow whilst on the move? You'll generally be either power walking or jogging when you refuel, and likely out of breath, so anything too hard may be a struggle to get down
- Avoid high fat foods or anything that may turn your stomach, a bacon sandwich sounds like a great idea until a few miles after you ate it
- Will you enjoy it? A super sporty isotonic gel is all well and good, but if you can't stand the taste you'll be less likely to eat when you need to
- Have you got a variety? I found on my first ultra that these tasty banana fudge bars were great and all, but after 5 hours of eating them I couldn't stand the taste
Below I've listed the nutrition I've tried in the past, thoughts on whether it worked and mistakes I'd made
First running nutrition I tried; these are vegan whole food bars with lots of carbs and a good kick of energy, whilst being small, easy to carry and open.
However absolutely do not recommend for runs, they are hard bars which you'll struggle to chew on the move, and you can feel the heaviness in your stomach when they go down.
Great post run snacks though, better than reaching for a chocolate bar.
These use to be my staple; they are pretty tasty, easy to get down and give you the right amount of carbs. The flavours are varied and mostly enjoyable.
One major downside is the tear strip at the top, it's foil packaging and when your hands are wet or cold it can be difficult to get that top off. I've had some moments of sheer frustration and anger directed at a gel pack as I tried to tear it open with my teeth, not a good look.
Also, as tasty as the flavours are, they aren't exactly the sort of food you'd reach for at home, and can get pretty old, pretty fast.
SIS Energy Bakes
Lovely stuff these, they are these soft cake like bars you can chew down relatively easily and very tasty.
The pack is easier to open and, whilst heavier than gels, didn't feel hard to swallow or cause any problems with digestion. Definitely a recommend on these.
SIS Energy Bars
I'm really on the fence about these bars; on the one hand they are the best tasting of the lot (Banana Fudge flavour rocks my world), however they can be tricky to eat, having a crunch that's difficult to chew through on the move, closer to the Nakd bars.
I started using these in winter, which may have been the mistake, as the bars become a lot more solid in the cold and harder to swallow.
For reference though, these are what I took on my first 50k ultra and they did me well with no stomach issues, however by the end I was doing banana fudge flavoured burps and couldn't look at another bar even if I needed the food!
Lucho Dillitos Guava Blocks
My new obsession; these are blocks of Guava paste mixed with sugar and coffee; which sounds kinda icky on paper but taste fantastic. They are easy to chew and swallow, they are super light so don't have an impact on your stomach, and come in this biodegradable leaf wrapping.
The main downside is that the leaf wrapping gets wet easily, and isn't secured in any way, so you'll want to have these in a freeze bag rather than loose in your pockets. Found this out the hard way as I opened a backpack full of sugary bits.
They do come in these plastic wrapped variants as well, which are easier to store, but pretty much defeat the point of a biodegradable wrapping.
If starting out I'd recommend something like the Lucho Dillio Guava blocks or SIS Energy Bakes, something that is tasty yet works well for energy on runs. Gels are especially good for when you can't stand to eat anything that feels substantial, so worth packing a few too for especially long runs.