A key part of any training plan includes a weekly or bi-weekly long run. Long runs teach your body how to adapt and become comfortable with running progressively longer and longer distances. Among other things, the long run triggers your body over time to become more and more efficient at burning carbohydrate, it's primary source of fuel. But what happens as carbohydrate stores deplete on these runs?
Scientifically at this point your body begins to use it's secondary fuel source, which is fat. The problem with this is that getting your system used to burning fat as fuel once carbohydrate stores deplete is hard work, takes time, and because fat doesn't burn nearly as efficiently as carbohydrate, doesn't feel good. If you've ever felt woozy, lethargic, or just plain awful during a race, you've experienced this feeling. Let's face it, running out of gas (or hitting the wall), frankly, feels awful. To get the most out of your long runs as your system learns to burn fat and carbohydrate more efficiently, use these nutrition tips below to get the most out of your long run while you increase distance over time.
Endurance lasting 1.5 hours and longer- Try take in roughly 300-400 calories worth of fuel pre exercise. Think things that are easily digestible and carbohydrate based- bananas, English Muffins. Finish your meal within 1-3 hours of your run depending on how sensitive your stomach is. On race day, try not to drink within 1 hour of race time to avoid last minute bathroom stops.
Regardless of fitness or ability, the body can store enough energy/fuel to last you through about 1.5 - 2 hours worth of exercise. The goal with fueling and rehydration is to not wait until your body's stores run out. The idea here is to constantly top off the tank before waiting until the tank is empty.
After the 2 hour mark, your carbohydrate stores if not replenished begin to run out and your system switches over to burning fat as fuel. Fat is not as efficient of an energy source as carbohydrate, and the body's process of switching to burning fat as fuel will not feel as smooth as burning carbohydrates. If you've ever felt foggy or an inability to concentrate during a race, you've had this experience. This is commonly referred to as hitting the wall. The solution here is to take in roughly 120-150 calories per hour to top off your carbohydrate stores to delay or avoid hitting the wall and running out of gas.
A good rule of thumb is to take in liquids every 15 minutes, with a gel or chew every 35-45 minutes. Don't wait until you are thirsty or running out gas, at that point it is too late to recover.
Your body has a window immediately post workout where you will want to replenish your carbohydrate stores. Great sources of replenishment include carbohydrate sources as well as anything with a slightly higher protein mix than in the product you would take during exercise. Within 60 minutes of completing your exercise, try take in approximately a 3:1 ratio of complex carbs to protein. A good source of protein is whey based and is free of lactose and fat. Other good sources are things like chocolate milk.
Nutrition Packs based on total Exercise Time:
30 Minutes or longer:
Pre- Up to 12 ounces of carbohydrate drink mix, one gel (followed with water) or another easily digestible source of carbohydrate (banana). Try take in no more than 150-200 calories, finishing up no less than one hour prior to exercise.
During- If necessary, sip on a carbohydrate drink mix every 15 minutes.
60 Minutes or longer:
Pre- Up to 16 ounces of carbohydrate drink mix, one gel (followed with water) or another easily digestible source of carbohydrate (banana)
During- Depending on stomach, take in 120-150 calories per hour (if needed). Works out to 1-2 gels followed with water or carbohydrate drink mix.
2 Hours or longer:
Pre- Up to 24 ounces of carbohydrate drink mix, one gel (followed with water) or another easily digestible source of carbohydrate (banana or English Muffin). Try consume between 300-400 calories, finishing up no more than one hour prior to exercising.
During- Take in 120-150 calories per hour in the form of a gel, chew, or waffle (immediately followed by fluids). Bring a 20 ounce water bottle with carbohydrate drink mix consisting of up to 200 calories of mixture in it and sip every 15 minutes. If you are going longer than 2.5-3 hours, bring two bottles, or consider storing your fluid and gels in a hydration pack to keep your hands free. 120-150 calories per hour works out to about 1 gel per hour, with sips every 15 minutes.