How to Choose the Best Running Fuel for You and Master Your Fueling and Hydration eCourse

Best Running Fuel for You + Fueling and Hydration E-Course

Maybe it’s my upcoming half marathon or the e-course I have been crafting (more on that later in this post!), but I have running fuel on the brain. Not just what running fuel I plan on using during the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon (I already have my fueling strategy outlined), but how different every runner is when it comes to training and fueling and how you can choose the best running fuel for you.

I remember how much the plethora of gels, chews, and powders overwhelmed me when I first began training for long distance races. I had no idea where to start: GU? Clif Bars? Powerade? I went to my local running store and bought one of everything: Honey Stinger gels, Clif Blox chews, Hammer gels, Nuun, GU gels, and so on, and just began trying them on my long runs.

Almost two years and several races later, I finally have found what works for me (I hope!) in terms of running fuel. Mastering my fueling and hydration for training and races is one of my goals for 2016, so of course I immersed myself in research and lots of practice with fueling on runs over the past couple months.

If you’re trying to determine how to fuel on a run and what sports nutrition products to use, follow these five simple and practical guidelines for how to choose the best running fuel for you.

How to Choose the Best Running Fuel for You

How to Choose the Best Running Fuel for You and Master Your Fueling and Hydration eCourse

Read the Label

Can your stomach be sensitive to sugar or certain preservatives? Read the label on the back of any sports nutrition products you try. Look for how much sugar they add, what types of sugars, whether they contain caffeine, and how many grams of carbohydrate they contain. Not only will this aid you in selecting fuel that will not cause stomach upset, it will also help you in developing your cohesive fueling and hydration strategy.

Athletes with sensitive stomachs usually prefer fuel with less sugar (such as Hammer gels), while athletes who digest sugar with no problems may receive an extra energy boost from higher-sugar gels such as Clif Bar gels and chews.

Some products contain extra sodium, which may be beneficial for heavy sweaters who have higher salt needs. However, the additional sodium and salty flavor could also increase your thirst while running, which isn’t desirable.

Experiment on Your Training Runs

What works for your training partner, coach, or favorite running blogger may not work for you. What worked for you a couple years ago may not even work for you now! The only way to find out? Experiment with several different types and brands of running fuel. Try different products and note how they work in your training log.

Pay attention to how your body responds to your fuel of choice during a run and afterwards. Did you experience any GI distress? Did you stay energized or feel fatigued near the end? How was your appetite afterwards? Did you feel bloated?

In addition to experimenting with different products, test out different flavors. I find that Hammer apple cinnamon gel is easy to eat while running (great for races and hard long workouts), while the peanut butter flavor helps me during long runs thanks to the bit of fat. I’ve also tried flavors of my preferred Hammer gel that I don’t like, such as the chocolate hazelnut (chocolate is for after runs, not during).

Texture Matters

Just as individual preferences on tastes vary, so do individual preferences on the texture of food. Your texture preferences directly impact how what type of running fuel is best for you. If soft foods make you want to gag, then a gel may not be the ideal choice for you.

You should also select a running fuel that you find easy to consume while running at a moderate to fast pace. Once you find a texture that you can tolerate (let’s be honest, none of these products are foods you’d want to eat as a mid-afternoon snack), try it on a race pace run. I personally prefer Hammer gels and don’t choose any chews for this reason, since I’m not a fan of chewing while running.

Train Your Stomach

I have discussed training your stomach to handle fuel before, but it is so necessary for runners that it bears repeating. Our stomachs are not designed to digest while we’re running. When you run, blood flow redirects from being equally distributed to being delivered primary to the working muscles, with organs such as the stomach and intestines receiving less blood flow. With less blood flow, digestion becomes more difficult during a run (and you become more prone to GI distress).

However, just like you can train yourself to sustain a certain pace or run a particular distance, you can also train your stomach to handle fuel during a run. While glycogen depletion runs can hold their place in long distance running, you also want to include long runs where you practice taking in sports nutrition products or whole food alternative at regular intervals (usually every 45-60 minutes on runs longer than 90 minutes).

Try Whole Food Alternatives

You’re not limited to eating only specially designed sports nutrition products on the run. If your stomach can handle it (and you can chew them without choking), there are several whole food (or, at least, real food) alternatives to fuel your run.

Raisins, dates, whole food bars such as LaraBars (or, even better, a homemade version), boiled and salted potatoes, or even organic gummies can provide quick-releasing and easily digestible carbs to fuel your miles.

Clif Bar makes Organic Energy food packets which offer portability and ease of consumption while containing whole foods such as oats, quinoa, fruit and vegetables purees, and potatoes.

If you do opt for whole food running fuel, consider carrying an low/no carb electrolyte beverage such as Enduropacks, Nuun, Ultima, or coconut water with you to ensure you are getting enough electrolytes during your run.

Master Your Fueling and Hydration E-Course

Want to learn more about how to fuel and hydrate before, during, and after your runs? Want to finally master your fueling and hydration strategy for racing?

On March 14, I’m launching an email course designed specifically for runners to guide you in how to master your fueling and hydration for training and racing. This 6 week course includes detailed lessons delivered directly to your inbox, weekly worksheets, and guidance from a certified running coach (me!).

Master Your Fueling and Hydration

The course covers everything you need and want to know about hydration, electrolytes, how to avoid bonking and GI distress during runs and races, fueling on the run, eating for recovery, and how to create, test, and perfect your race day fueling and hydration strategy.

All of this costs just $97! That’s less than a pair of running shoes for the knowledge and guidance that will lead you to years of successful training and racing.

SIGN UP NOW!

You can sign up using the button or read more about the Mastering Your Fueling and Hydration E-Course here! Even if you don’t sign up, I’d appreciate it if you shared the link.

Linking up with Fitness, Health, and Happiness.

What do you eat during a run?
What foods do you crave after a run?
What’s the weirdest/most unusual type of mid run fuel you’ve tried? 

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18 Responses

  1. I used to be able to use any kind of gel but now i find that I can’t handle ones that are too sweet. I like hammer gels the best and I used to use powerbar performance energy gels but they were kind of expensive. I’ve taken raisins as fuel before as well as larabars, but I prefer to not have to chew anything while I run!

  2. so cool that you are offering a course! I use the hammer gel in raspberry as you know. once I found that it worked for me last summer, I never even tried another flavor! I used to use trader joe’s jelly beans as my fuel. I liked them but there’s a big difference for me in what ahammer gel does and what the beans did. I may still carry a few beans though for races because popping them is really easy and sometimes I just need a little something sweet in my mouth! oh and raisins. I did raisins on occasion. once or twice they upset my stomach so I wont do it again. but they worked so many times that so often, it’s just one of those variables that may change depending on the day which can lead to frustration.

    1. Thank you! I’m a big believer in sticking with what works, so that’s great that you found the gel that worked right away. I’ve read studies that say small bits of sweetness like candy can trick the brain into think it’s more energized on a run. I used to do raisins as well, both before a run and sometimes during.

  3. What a great idea! Love the e course, definitely going to help you get that out there. I love me some Sport Beans. I don’t like gels (they are too intense of flavor), and I actually have some funny stories about trying to convince myself to run with them, which I discussed on my podcast.

    1. Thank you so much Susie! I really appreciate the support! I remember that story in your podcast – if I hadn’t already found a gel that worked for me it would have made me nervous to try one!

  4. I’ll help you get the e-course out there too! I use Vanilla Bean Gu and any type of electrolyte drink. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not just water. I am a super salty sweater. When I do hard treadmill workouts I usually sweat until my shorts and shirt are completely soaked, so I make sure I drink Nuun or something instead of water. Long runs, I learned the hard way, are finished with salty something. Like broth, or pretzels, anything to get my salt levels back up. I got really sick once after a marathon in Arizona years ago and it was scary.

    1. Thank you so much, Suzy – I appreciate it so much! We’re both super salty sweaters and it makes fueling and hydrating a bit trickier – we need that salt. Broth is a genius idea, since it’s so easy to get down. I’ve been really enjoying coconut water with a pinch of sea salt and some fruit lately. That is scary about getting so sick after a marathon!

  5. I”ve tried just about everything, and the one fuel that I’ve had the most success with is Tailwind. It’s an ultramarathon fuel, and it’s a powder that you put in water. It is the only fuel that doesn’t make me run to the portapotty midrace and the only fuel that doesn’t make me nauseous. I can stomach Clif Gels, but after a few, I start to gag on them.

    1. I’ve heard ultra runner fuels can be better so sensitive stomaches. I’m glad you’ve found one! It’s strange how so many mainstream sports fuels cause GI distress – I guess it makes sense given the sugars, but still you’d think they’d find a solution.

  6. I’ve been experimenting recently with half marathon fueling and Honey Stinger chews seem to be working best for me (and the pink lemonade flavor actually tastes like pink lemonade). Nothing has really bothered my stomach on the run, but most of the other chews I tried were too big to chew comfortably while running.

    And I crave anything salty after a run, even during winter when I don’t sweat that much. So electrolytes are always a must!

    1. I’m glad you found what works for you! I’ve never tried the Honey Stinger chews but I like how they sound easy to chew! Oh and yes definitely electrolyes are a must! They’re so essential for fluid balance. Good luck on your half marathon!

    1. Thank you! Oh, I can’t even imagine how the cold makes chewing even harder! Do the chews freeze? I personally love Hammer gels because they are so easy to get down – much easier than GU, even – but easier to digest like chews. The apple cinnamon flavor is almost like applesauce in the consistency and taste.

  7. Great tips Laura. I used them all when I was training for ultras. Good luck with the launch of your ecourse.

    Thanks for sharing with Fitness Health & Happiness. Have a great weekend!

  8. There are so many options out there, it’s crazy! Great advice on picking the best fuel, too. Honey Stinger’s Organic Vanilla Gel is my long run go-to. The ingredients are simple and organic – plus they just sit well with my stomach!

    Some day I want to try one of those bacon gels just because they sound so strange 🙂 I am a coffee lover in “non-running life” and was surprised when I didn’t like GU’s espresso love gel! The 2x caffeine made me feel terrible because I wasn’t used to it :s

    1. Sitting well on your stomach is a priority for fuel! I liked the maple bacon GUs when I first tried them but they are a little too thick and salty to work well for me. At least they weren’t too sweet, which is a problem I had with GUs before I just switched over to Hammer. I’m a coffee lover also and I can never do the espresso gels either – too much! 🙂

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