Finding the Right Fuel For Long Runs

When I did my first ever 20 miler almost two weeks ago, I had my usual pre long run breakfast – a serving size of plain oats made with water, a scoop of almond butter and a scoop of raspberry preserves. However, I felt like I was hungry for the majority of those 20 miles and lost almost all energy by mile 18. Was it a fluke? That meal has always worked out fine for me but I’m beginning to wonder if I need to try something different. And so continues the search for finding the right fuel for long runs.

I recently was sent three CORE Defender Meals to try. CORE Meals are made with real whole food ingredients.

CORE Defender Meals - happyfitmama.com

Most bars have seven ingredients or less – whole oats, nuts, raisins, flax and spices are the base. The ratio of complex carbs, healthy fats and lean protein can give up to four hours of stable energy according to their website. They are recommended for pre-workout, endurance fuel and post-workout recovery.

I usually don’t eat anything before my early morning runs of 7 miles or less. I just don’t have the time to have anything settle. However, on Saturday I had a little bit of time before I headed out for an easy 7 miler. I thought I’d do a test run by eating 1/2 of the Raw Banana Nut (approximately 200 calories) bar before. It was good! It really did taste like eating a bowl of oatmeal but in bar form.

CORE Defender Meal 2 - happyfitmama.com

I’ve read some reviews where some people have complained that they were dry and not sweet. I didn’t notice that at all. I tasted oats, nuts and a nice mix of spices. It reminded me a lot of a larabar but heartier. Ron had a taste and of course my little birds wanted some too. Everyone thought it was delicious and wanted more.

During my run, I felt good. I wasn’t hungry and my tummy was happy (afterwards included). I have a 16 miler on tap for this weekend with the plan of eating another CORE Defender bar beforehand. Although this time I’ll eat a whole bar since I’ll need more fuel.

Run Happy - happyfitmama.com

I’m still working on my fuel for during a long run. In all my half marathon training and races, I have yet to find something that works consistently. I’ve tried GUs, Chomps and Clif Shot Gels in the past with no luck. All give me intestinal distress. I’m fine running. It’s the after that’s not pretty. Sorry for the TMI but I know I’m not the only one that this has happened too because let’s face it, it’s a common topic in any group of runners. We like to over share, right? I started using Trader Joe’s Gummy Bears on my most recent 16, 18 and 20 milers. I took a serving size at miles 5, 10 and 15 during the 20 miler. They seem to work just fine (i.e. tummy is happy) but I’m wondering if they don’t give me enough gas in the tank.

It’s recommended to eat 45 grams of carbs an hour during a long run. This can come in the form of gels, drinks, chews, gold fish crackers…what ever works for you. You should also make sure to drink 16-24oz of fluid per hour. Hmmm…

So I’ll be doing some more experimenting in the coming weeks of training. I’m going to try Honey Stinger Gels in addition to trying to make my own via Brendan Brazier’s book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. Although I’m not vegan, I like that his recipes for gels and drinks come from nothing but real food that I already have on hand.

Finding the right fuel for long runs and races seems like something every runner goes through. What works for one doesn’t work for the next. It’s a long process but something that needs to be done. Fingers crossed I find one that works!

The winner of the Active Accessories On-The-Go Pouch is Lindsy @ Fuel My Family! Congrats! Please email me:( happyfitmama [at] gmail [dot] com ) with your full name and address so I can pass it along.

Have you found the right fuel for long runs?

I was sent three CORE Defender Meal’s free of charge as part of being a Sweat Pink Ambassador. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

49 comments on “Finding the Right Fuel For Long Runs

  1. I’ve seen these around and they sound interesting . I too can get hungry on my long run , it doesn’t always happen but when it does , it stinks. I’ve heard that PowerGels are good for runners who get stomach distress. When I first started doing long runs I would get diareha after I was done, but my body adapted and that very seldom happens anymore, this may or may not be what’s happening to you. The fact that it happens after leads me to believe you may adapt. Fingers crossed!

    1. Thanks for the input! I know the upset tummy has gotten much better the higher my mileage gets. When I first started doing 1/2 marathons, it was a common occurrence no matter if I tried to take in a fuel or not. Fingers crossed I’m adapting!

  2. I use Hammer products for all my fueling. I use their gels or Sustained Energy mixed in water. They do not have any simple sugars, so they work really well for me as far as no GI distress.
    Fueling certainly is a science and takes a lot of trial and error to find what works best for you. Good luck!

  3. I’m awful about fueling for any run. I usually only take in water (even on my super long runs). I know it’s not the recommended way but so far it’s what works for me.
    Kim recently posted..BloglovinMy Profile

    1. That’s how I am usually for anything shorter than 14 miles. I tried (because it’s recommended by everyone) but I just didn’t feel like I needed it. Now, it’s a different story…

  4. I suffered from severe stomach upset until I discovered Stinger chomps. They were great for all distances including my most recent marathon. I also like Hammer perpeteum. Good luck to you!

  5. For my last marathon, I used a combination of Jelly Belly Sport Beans and Gu. I like the Sport Beans because it takes a little bit of time to chew them, so I can space them out and it gives me something to think about (other than the fact that I’m running a marathon and have X number of miles left!). I’ve also used conventional fruit snacks during long runs. They’re tasty, easy to chew and give me a little boost. If anyone knows the secret to avoiding post-run distress, please share! I continue to struggle with this.
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted..Best Travel RunsMy Profile

  6. I think the science behind racing/ training and fueling just may be the hardest part about running. I have been using Honey Stinger gels for a year now and like them. I alternate between the gold gels and the ones with caffeine. I also love to eat their waffles on the bike. Good luck with your continuing experimentation. I’m in the same boat :)

    1. I’ve tried a few gels with caffeine and I’m pretty sure that it’s not for me. Felt great during the run…it’s the after party in my tummy that was not so great. ;(

  7. You’re doing all the right things by experimenting. It is so individual and so complicated sometimes! I am actually investigating whether or not underfueling is what has hurt me in my last two marathons…an elite friend thinks I definitely do. So anyhow, my advice would be to go with more is more–as much as you can tolerate. Good luck!
    misszippy1 recently posted..Marathon recovery–don’t get fooledMy Profile

  8. Yes, it’s part of the deal. I almost always have tummy issues after long runs but find what I eat the night before affects me the most (so I stick to some carbs, some protein and just a little veg). After I am done with the long run I eat very small frequent meals throughout the day and really go to town the following day when I am back to normal. 😉 When I trained for my marathons I just ate tiny bits of a high carb power bar and it seemed to work for me. Good luck dear!
    Melanie @ Nutritious Eats recently posted..Spaghetti Squash Au GratinMy Profile

  9. Oh, the stomach issues! I’ve noticed mine are worse (the after effects, that is) when I’m dehydrated and that it’s not necessarily what I’m eating. I’ve tried everything from gels to chomps to Honey Stinger chews to Swedish fish. I’m currently using – and happy with – Shot Bloks.
    Kimberly @ Healthy Strides recently posted..Spring Training: Week 12My Profile

    1. OK, maybe it’s time to try Bloks again. They seem so innocent (and taste pretty dang good too). Maybe it was a fluke those couple of times I tried them in the past?

  10. I struggled for a long time trying to find the right fuel for long runs, and to this day still try new things. Gels (no matter what brand) seem to tear up my insides, so I no longer even try them. What I have found that works well for me is Clif Shot Blocks, I get the strawberry ones. They taste like gummy bears and they don’t make me have GI issues. Out of the 4 marathons I have done, I used shot blocks for the last one and it was the only one I didn’t have issues with during or after the race (that’s gotta say something)
    Laura recently posted..What’s up WednesdayMy Profile

  11. I’m just getting into my longer runs as part of 1/2 marathon training and I’m excited to start experimenting with food on the run. Is the weird? I guess because I love to eat and I love to run so I get to combine both. In the past I’ve tried Skittles and Sharkies. I have a sweet tooth so these worked. Except after a while my stomach had enough. This time I hope to try more solid foods, like bars, cookies etc.
    Cat B. recently posted..Taking the LeapMy Profile

    1. It’s funny that I’ve never really needed anything for under 13 miles. I tried to take in fuel because that’s what’s recommended and it didn’t do anything for me. Good luck with your experimenting!

  12. I do a combination of Honey Stinger chews and Gu. The chews are a little harder to eat while running, but the Honey Stinger ones are much easier to chew than Shot Bloks. Definitely a good idea to experiment now – you’ll eventually figure out what works best for you.
    Michelle recently posted..Twenty, Ninety-Nine, and NineMy Profile

  13. I have wrestled with long-run fueling, too. I don’t know if this helps at all, but I’ve found that timing of the fuel is really key to having a happy tummy and full tank of gas.

    I got it down to eating 600 calories of something gluten-free two hours before the run, OR 300 calories of something gluten-free one hour before the run. Your oats/nut butter/preserves breakfast sounds perfect, just adjust the serving size–maybe add juice? Then fifteen minutes before take-off, eating a piece of fruit.

    Then I did what you recommended: refueling every hour on the hour with 30-50 grams of carbs. Then within thirty minutes of the finish line, eating something mostly carby with a little protein, and then a little while later when I could stomach it, a large meal of about half protein, half carbs.

    Once I got this magic combo down, it really helped me make it through the 16+ mile runs.

    Of course, the mid-run refueling is a huge issue–I found that the Cliff Bar gels were the only thing I could tolerate for some reason, but clearly that’s not working for you.

    One marathon I ran, I had a friend hand me a bag of sliced oranges at one point, which were perfect. I wish we could all carry around sliced oranges for four hours without them getting gross! Ha ha

    These Core Defender meals sound tasty, and like a good possibility for mid-run snack. Maybe break them up into appropriate-sized pieces? Thanks for the review.
    Emily @ Tips on Healthy Living recently posted..Stock Your Pantry with These Healthy BrandsMy Profile

  14. Nutrition is probably one of the biggest hurdles for people doing the “full monty”. What makes it especially hard, is that there aren’t any magic tricks….what works for you, might not work for me. Everyone is so different, so it is truly trial and error. Good luck, look forward to hearing what you find works…and trying some of these bars.

    I also love Honey Stinger Waffles, which are more “real food like” than gels, and I can manage then WHILE running, which is nice.
    Crystal@TheFastFitRunner recently posted..Dallas Rock N Roll Half Marathon Race Report – 2013 – 6 months Pregnant!My Profile

  15. I scanned through all the comments and have to say I’m surprised no one mentioned ENERGYbits. It’s a food, not a supplement. LOADS of protein, iron, and vitamins and nutrients (basically it can replace any supplemental vitamin except for Vitamin D). The great thing about it being a food is you can have a TON of it on any given day. I have converted almost exclusively to the ENERGYbits and raisins on my long runs and have never felt better. I don’t feel hungry on my runs at all because of all the protein packed in these tiny bits…and the protein is all in amino acid form so it is 99% bio available and absorbed instantly. (I don’t mean to sound like an infomercial! LOL) And my stomach hasn’t given me any issues like it used to sometimes. Let me know if you want to try some and I’ll send some over!
    Katherine Allen recently posted..A Confession…My Profile

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  17. Mmmm… I really like Core Defender bars and have always take them with me when I go for long runs. Thanks for sharing your tips, Angela.

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