Thought for Food

What is the best thing for a runner to eat during a long run?

Good question, and one to which there is no best answer.  However there are certain things that work for me and I’m happy to share my thoughts.

 The basic science is that Carbohydrate is the body’s main fuel source for hard exercise.  This is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, however the body has only got enough stores to last for about 90 minutes of hard exercise.  So if your race or hard training run is going to take more than an hour and a half you are going to need to refill the tank as it were by eating carbohydrate rich food.  But with lots of choice of gels, energy bars and other food sources it can be hard to know what to use.

Fell Runners Favourite!

A lot of fell runners I know swear by jelly babies!  They are easy to chew / swallow and have a high carbohydrate content.  Whilst I have used them I find them too sweet and I prefer other types of jelly sweet. My current favourites are Tesco Cherry & Pomegranate Gummies.  These are more chewy but much less sickly than Jelly Babies whilst still having a high carbohydrate content.  I tend to look for sweets that contain fruit juice rather than just sugar such as the Gummies and Rowntrees Fruit Bottles.

 

Runners’ Fuel

There are also a number of specialist gels and bars on the market.  I use Science in Sport (SiS) isotonic gels.  These have the advantage that they can be taken without water whereas most others are designed to be washed down with a drink and thus diluted.  Some gels also contain caffeine although if I’m honest I haven’t noticed any difference between these and the non caffeinated ones.  The bars also come with and without caffeine and resemble a very chewy flapjack.  I tend not to use these as I find them difficult to swallow – they need a lot of chewing! – and it’s not ideal having a gob full of goo whilst trying to run fast!

The new kids on the block are Cliff Shot Bloks.  These are like the old fashioned squares of Rowntree’s jelly only slightly firmer.  They are easily palatable and not difficult to chew.  Although the packaging advises taking with water I have eaten them on their own with no ill effects.

 

Gels & Bars

As these products have been designed with the athlete in mind they are seen as “specialist” and with that comes the inevitable cost.  A single gel will cost £1, not a bank breaker on its own but if you are doing a high weekly training mileage, training for a long race for example such as the Ultra Tour of the Peak District, those pounds are going to add up.  So are there any cheaper alternatives?

 I like to use Coconut bars, nice tasting with quite a high carbohydrate content and cheap (39 pence from Tesco).  Other options are School Bars, these are fruit concentrate bars, and Peanut Brittle.

 

Alternative Fuel

Whichever method of refuelling you choose you can check the carbohydrate content by reading the nutrition advice on the label.  Look for the value per 100 grams, that way you can compare like for like regardless of the weight of the packet.

 My strategy is to use sweets and alternative bars when training.  Because I am not running as fast and can afford to stop for a few moments I am much less likely to inhale a peanut!  I save the expensive gels and Shot Bloks for races.  I might supplement the gels with a few sweets.  Make sure whatever you choose is easily accessible, I carry them in a side zip on my bumbag.  On a long run or race I will start snacking on the sweets after about an hour and take a gel after about 80 minutes of racing.  I try to time the gel consumption to a steep uphill section where I am likely to be going slow and thus find it easy to open my bumbag and scoff the gel – it’s much harder to do this at pace.  It takes about 10 minutes for the gel to take effect and the trick is to take the fuel on board before you feel the bonk.

Whatever fuel you use on the hill, please don’t drop the wrapper – including the little tab off the top of the gel.  Unfortunately empty gel packets are becoming a common site on some race routes.

I rarely take a drink with me unless I’m on a long run in hot weather.  Then I choose something like Tesco or Aldi’s own isotonic juice.  This is much cheaper than Lucozade / Powerade etc and it seems to work.

Cheap Isotonic Juice

So what about post race?  Well not only will you need to replace carbohydrate but protein as well.  This is essential to allow your body to rebuild and recover.  The general advice is to take on a carbo / protein mix straight after exercise.  I do this with Frijj milkshakes – the chocolate and fudge brownie ones are Dee-lish!  A cheaper alternative is Tesco Chocolate Milk, 2 for £2, better value but nowhere near as tasty!  I will also have a banana with the drink.

 

Post Race Food

As with any food, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, or just because it works for me it might not for you.  I know some people who react quite badly to certain gels whilst other people have no problem with them. The best thing to do is try a few different products and find what works best for you. And don’t use something on race day if you’ve never tried it beforehand – you don’t want to be diving into the bushes halfway through the race because your nutrition has given you the wrong type of runs!

 To book a Peak District guided run or navigation training visit:

 

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About fellrunningguide

Dave Taylor, fell runner and coach. 2015 English Fell Running Champion (V50). I work as Fell Running Guide - offering coaching, guided fell / trail runs and navigation training. www.fellrunningguide.co.uk
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