How Much Fuel?
For absolute beginners, determining when to fuel and how much to fuel during training is always a tough one to nail down. One of the main reasons that beginners are lost when it comes to fueling is due to all of the different opinions floating around. Supplemental companies want you to fuel as much as your body will assimilate per hour which is roughly between 250 – 350 calories depending on your metabolism. Some super elite runners, which are extremely rare individuals, manage to train their bodies to run on zero extra fuel except for their pre-race meal and water during the run. For the beginner and average runner, the odds are against them if they don’t fuel during training for a marathon. Yes, I’m sure it’s been done, but at what cost to your body?
Do I really need to fuel for a half marathon?
This is a matter of preference. I think the jury is out and I think it’s 50/50 on whether or not to fuel for a half marathon. If you don’t ever plan on running a marathon, then you might consider and even try to run the half marathon without fueling. If you plan on moving on to bigger races then it would be in your best interest to learn to fuel at a lower level because the marathon will require some type of fuel for you to finish the race. My take away is that if you are a seasoned marathon runner then you probably will not need to fuel for the half marathon race. A simple breakfast with enough calories would suffice. Again, it’s a matter of preference. However, if this is your first half marathon, I would lean towards fueling.
Runs shorter than 60 minutes
New runners that run for less than 60 minutes, which is roughly between 4 and 7 miles, only need water during their run. There is no need to eat a gel pack for runs lasting less than 60 minutes. Your energy will not be depleted and you should be able to easily complete the run
Runs between 60 and 90 minutes
This is a gray area for new runners. My best advice is that if you are training for a half marathon or a marathon and your runs are lasting between the 60 and 90-minute marker, then you should go ahead and be training your body to accept the gels that you will be using in the race. If you are just running to run and not really “training” for a race then you can get away with just drinking water and not fueling. Each individual runner will have to experiment with this gray area. For myself, I don’t fuel during my long runs which last less than 90 minutes which is the equivalent of about 8 – 9 miles. The key here is to listen to your body and if you are starting to feel fatigued go ahead and fuel past 60 minutes.
Runs greater than 90 minutes
If you’re training for a half marathon or marathon I would recommend that during your long runs you use energy gels that you will be eating in the race. Don’t forget that training is the time to experiment with your gels. Gels have different flavors as well as different ingredients. For the most part, energy gels are 100 calories and offer both potassium and sodium. Some runners like the gels with a caffeine boost while others don’t. Some runners, including myself, suck on shot blocks in between their dose of energy gels during a race. Each shot block is about 30 calories.
Training = Testing Time
The best and worst part about training is that you get to test out your fueling. As a runner, I know first hand, that each runner is different and the number of fuel requirements varies from runner to runner. Some runners like to take a gel right before a half marathon race and marathon race while others don’t eat their first gel until 45 minutes into the race.
My Half Marathon Fueling Strategy
I have tried all of the GU flavors and I’m lucky in that my stomach has never disagreed with any GU flavor, yet. If I had to pick a favorite I would go with Salted Watermelon and Orange Creme.
Weight: 220 lbs Height: 6′ 3″
Pre-Race Meal (as soon as I get up): 4 pieces of cinnamon bread, 2 scrambled eggs, 1/2 cup of oatmeal and peanut butter. (600-700 calories)
- No Pre Race Gel – I might eat a small snack like an energy bar.
- 30 minutes – 1 gel (drink water with gel)
- 45 minutes – 1 shot block
- 60 minutes – 1 gel (drink water with gel)
- 1 hour 15 minutes – 1 shot block
- 90 minutes – 1 gel (drink water with gel)
- 1 hour 45 minutes – 1 shot block
- 2 hours – 1 gel (drink water with gel)
- 2 hours 15 minutes – 1 shot block (if needed – I normally finish under 2:15)
The total amount of calories I consume during a half marathon race is about 500 calories.
Every Runner is Different
The biggest take away is that every runner is different. You need to experiment to find what works best for you. Remeber, sometimes running out of energy on a long run doesn’t really have to do with fueling, but could be from lack of adequate sleep or feeling under the weather. All runners at all age levels suffer from lousy runs – I promise. The key is to find out what works best for your body to give you optimal racing conditions.
Coming soon, Part 5 of 10 –> Habits
Scott Morton is the author of, Beginner’s Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon #1 bestseller.
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