TotR: Fueling on the Run

For our Tuesdays on the Run topic, we’re discussing running fuel options and strategies.  My co-hosts Patty from My No-Guilt Life, and Erika from MCM Mama Runs have some great posts too, so make sure to check them out and find a few new ideas to keep you going on those long runs.  I’ve refreshed an old post on this subject.

When I first started running 15 years ago, the closest thing to running fuel used to keep your energy up during a long run was Gatorade.  Maybe there were some gels or something available, but because the internet was new (can you imagine…how did people obsess about things back then?) and I was young and only a casual runner, I didn’t know about them.  In fact, the first half marathon I ran (walked, cried), only had one Gatorade stop.

Fast forward 15 years and the options for fueling on the run are just about limitless.  The general idea is that your muscles hold enough glycogen (the easiest energy source for your muscles) to last for about 45-60-90 minutes (depending on what you read) of exercise.  The theory is that one of the reasons runners “hit the wall” and suddenly feel out of energy and like they can’t lift their pinkie fingers, much less these 150 pound weights that used to be their feet, is that they have run out of glycogen.  Your body can be trained to use glycogen more sparingly (during your training runs).  You can also delay when you run out of glycogen by replenishing some of it on the run.

The first option is to use real food.  A bagel or banana or snickers bar or peanut butter crackers or just a sandwich will all do the trick if you like them and your stomach can handle them and you have somewhere to carry them.  I love the idea, but my stomach rebels at the thought of solid food during a run.  Not to mention the mess solid food would make in my pockets during the run.  But I do know of some runners who carry sandwiches in their pockets!

Next up is the grandaddy of all running fuel.  Gels.  Now, I need to admit here that I have never even once been able to bring myself to try one of these.  It just sounds gross.  Now, if they were just little packets of butter cream frosting I could get on board with it, but if I’m going to eat a bunch of concentrated carbs and calories it had better taste great.

The first fuel I tried when my long runs got past six miles (after one terrible training run where I somehow managed to hit the wall at five miles) was Sports Beans.  The kind I tried were made by JellyBelly.  I do like jelly beans (um, I’m not sure anyone is out there who does not like jelly beans) so I these seemed much more approachable than the strangely textured gels.  I bought a couple of flavors (they also come with and without caffeine, so make sure you are aware of which kind you’re getting if you don’t want any surprises) and tucked them in my pocket for my next run.  The first time I tried them, I HATED them.  I was using the orange flavor, which is my favorite jelly bean flavor.  I don’t know if it was a bad pack or if I was having a bad day, but they tasted awful.  Way too salty and weird.  And I needed a TON of water to wash even two beans down.

Well, since I’d already bought a few more packs, I tried the fruit punch flavor on the next run.  Somehow these were much better.  I may have just been used to the slightly salty taste or maybe I was just having a better day.  I still needed to time my jelly bean fuel intake with water breaks, because I couldn’t get them down without a swig of water but they tasted a lot better than the orange ones.  It was kind of a reward to keep me pushing through the miles.

I stuck with the beans for a few months and then I found Honey Stinger.  They are organic and all natural, which appealed to me.  They are made using tapioca syrup and honey which are easily digestible carbohydrates.  They taste great (I love orange blossom the best) and best of all, the chews are so soft and moist that I can take them without water.

These have been my one-and-only for running fuel ever since I found them.  On a long run (over six miles for me) I take one chew each mile (unless it’s a race or a hard run for some reason, then I take more).  One pack is sufficient for me for up to a 15k and I use about 1 1/2 packs for a half marathon.  So far, no upset stomach, even when I take them with Gatorade (which is a no-no for some of the gels).

I got the first couple packs at a running store, but have found the best price on a little box of them at vitacost.com.  If you want to check it out, you can use my referral link, which will give both of us a $10 credit towards purchase, or feel free to just go straight there without referral at vitacost.com.

Like most things in life, I’ve found that the perfect running fuel is different for every runner.  Some people prefer nothing at all and each brand and type has its own die-hard fans.  The best advice I can give is to try out a few things on your training runs LONG before your race to figure out what works for you.  It’s much better to have a miserable training run because a new fuel didn’t sit well than to have your hard-earned race day ruined.

What is your go-to running fuel?  Have you tried any that you hated?  Do you use them for every run or just over a certain distance?

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Comments

TotR: Fueling on the Run — 36 Comments

  1. I am enjoying today’s topic! I am training for a 15K and I am passing the 4 mile mark now on the long run so I know my hydration needs are changing. Jelly belly beans are like my most favorite thing in the world but I thought the sport beans tasted weird too! Maybe I will try again. I need to stock up on a few things so I am ready! Great post! Thanks!
    Mary Beth Jackson recently posted…Recovery time- do we need it?My Profile

    • I just had to find the right flavor for me of the sports beans, but the honey stinger gummies are perfect for me. It’s good to try different brands and flavors while training so you get the right fit for you.

  2. I can only do gels! I can’t chew while running, it’s just too hard for me to breathe, so gels it is. I love GU chocolate outrage and I really want to try salted caramel, I have only heard good things. I haven’t gotten any because I’m not training for a half yet, so my runs haven’t been much longer than 45-55 minutes and I usually don’t take a gel until I’ve been running an hour or somewhere around 6 miles.
    Karen@losingtheglassslippers.blogspot.com recently posted…Glass Slipper Challenge, here I come!!My Profile

    • The GUs just have a funky texture to me. I do sometimes worry about choking on one of the honey stingers though! I try to bite them in half immediately just in case (yes I’m a crazy person!). I try not to use fuel on a run unless I’m doing six miles or longer too.

    • I adore peanut butter, but I just can’t eat it before a run. It sits in my stomach and makes me nauseous. Those applesauce pouches look like a great option though!

  3. I bought those beans to try out on a run but ended up giving them to a runner friend who was struggling. The next day he called me and told me “Those magic beans you gave me really worked”. I had been wondering if they did taste like regular Jelly Bellies. After your review, I don’t know if I will by them again cus I really like my gummies!
    Meranda@fairytalesandfitness recently posted…Food and Drink for Runners: An Honest ReviewMy Profile

    • Ha ha! Magic beans! So funny… I don’t think they taste like regular jelly bellies, I think they have to add some sodium to them for electrolytes and that is what tastes weird to me. But I’m really sensitive to salty stuff so others might not even notice!

    • I can do a banana before a run but peanut butter just sits badly in my tummy when I work out.

    • It’s funny how everyone reacts differently to different things. It’s all a matter of experimenting and finding the right fit for you, right?

  4. Thanks again for hosting the link-up. Nine years ago when I started running, I trained for my first half marathon using gummy bears. And I didn’t eat any of them during the actual race. I had them in a baggy in my fleece vest pocket (I so overdressed for this race) as insurance.
    Tiffany recently posted…Salad Boost (with dressing)My Profile

    • Oh my, I would choke to death if I tried to eat peanut m&m’s while running! 😉 Coconut water is awesome though!

    • I like that they don’t have a ton of weird ingredients in them. And they’re pretty tasty too.

  5. Very true that every runner is different. I am truly amazed at the people that actually enjoy the taste of energy gels. I tolerate the fruit flavored ones (Clif Razz is my go to) because I feel they really, truly do help me, but I would never describe it as yummy lol! The Jelly Belly Sport Beans are def my top pick. They’ve really made a difference with my training and races.
    Hope (Random Ramblings of a Running Princess) recently posted…Fuel and FitnessMy Profile

    • I know some people just love the GUs, but they are barely tolerable to me. It’s all about figuring out what works for you!

    • I like the Luna Peanut Butter Protein bars and sometimes will eat those before a night half marathon. If they weren’t so messy, that would be a nice idea to cut into bits and eat during the race.

  6. I can’t do the gels, they’re just too weird textured for me. I tried the Sports Beans and didn’t mind them, but I didn’t see any noticeable difference. My favorite things are chews, and the best I’ve had so far is the Clif Shot Bloks – tropical punch flavor!
    Becky recently posted…ToT 10 miler training: 7 weeks to goMy Profile

    • Yeah, the gel texture is what just grosses me out. I’ve never tried Shot Blocks though!

  7. It’s so funny how people’s tastes are different. I hate regular jelly beans but I love the Sport Beans (orange is my fav!). I have brought my self to try gels, just a small taste, and want to gag. Can’t do it. I’ve heard of Honey Stinger but have not tried them yet. They sound good!
    AMP runs recently posted…Tuesdays on the Run: Alternatives to GelMy Profile

    • Yeah, I won a whole bag of gels and ended up giving them away because they were so gross!

  8. I have heard so many good things about Honey Stingers. I was using Gu gels, but my stomach can’t take it. I tried the Gu Chomps on my last long run, and it was okay. I didn’t like the flavor, but it was easier on my stomach. I may run to the store this week to pick up some Honey Stinger to try on my long run this weekend.

    I remember when my mom and her friends were training, they would use Snickers (the fun size kind) and something similar to a Power Bar. I do like the Snickers idea.
    Angie recently posted…The houseMy Profile

    • Let me know if you give them a try, I think they are really easy to digest!

  9. The longest I have ever run is 13.1 – ish miles and I have found depending on the weather I use anywhere from 5-6 Shot Bloks. This last weekend I ran the AFC and it was brutally hot and I ended up having a whole sleeve. I want to try Honey Stingers but it seems like the margarita shot books with sodium work for me!
    Smitha @RunningwithSDMom recently posted…AFC Expo Recap – 3 Words a PictureMy Profile

    • Hey, if you have something that works for you, don’t try to fix it! 🙂

  10. I love the Orange Blossom Honey Stingers as well. After years of running they are the first thing I found that I could tolerate and not want to barf up. I also tried the Jelly Beans and those were a “gross” for me too. Before the Honey Stingers I would eat those fruit slice looking gumdrop things on long runs. I just stumbled on your blog and already love it.
    Amanda recently posted…Feetures Socks ReviewMy Profile

    • I love the honey stingers so much I pretty much have given up on trying anything else! Thanks so much for the kind words! 🙂