Miscellaneous Fueling Questions Answered

Fueling is one of the great mysteries of long distance running. Whenever we gather questions from readers about nutrition we are guaranteed to get lots of great ones about fueling.

The following were sent in by subscribers to the MTA Newsletter. We had help from the amazing nutritionists at MetPro in answering the questions that follow.

Fueling with Whole Foods?

When I run a marathon or anything that is more than 15K, I use gels with a lot of synthetic things inside.  The last couple of months I tried to use natural products like bananas, almonds, mixed fruits, etc…. but nothing worked enough, I was always loosing energy and finished exhausted with slow paces. Does anyone has experience with getting out of gels and synthetic products with vitamins added ? -Benoit

Answer from MetPro Coach Natalie Mason:

First off, way to prioritize your overall health in making these considerations! I can speak to this personally as I too have dabbled in this transition. It is more difficult using whole foods as the ONLY source of fuel during training/racing because it is harder to get the same amount of calories/carbohydrates needed given that the volume of food required is greater.

Often times, I find when runners use whole food sources they are not hitting fueling goals.

  • For example, one banana has the equivalent calories/carbs as most single servings of gels/chews so the volume that’s required can become a challenge from a gastrointestinal standpoint for a lot of runners.
  • Also, whole food sources often take longer for the body to breakdown and therefore utilize; whereas engineered products are made to maximize absorption and toleration, so they do have advantages. 

Bottom line, there is no “right” way to do it –you just need to find a system that works for you specifically. 
In addition to the fruit and nuts you have used, you might try a mix of carbohydrates such as baked sweet potato with added honey, which will provide multiple types of carbohydrates (starches and sugars).

Another thing to consider is finding a gel that is more “small batch” or “homemade” and there are several on the market now. Personally, my favorite is Muir Energy gels. Hope this helps!

When to Start Using Fuel?

I normally get up at 4:00am so I can get in my run, so I am running in a fasted state.  Depending on where I am in my training cycle, my run can be anywhere from 4 to 10 miles.  Should I use some type of food during the longer runs?  How about refueling after my run?  Thanks, -Tom B.

Answer from MetPro Coach Kristin:

Hi Tom, depending on where you are in your training cycles/upcoming events, you’ll have some options.

First and foremost, we need to decide if you want to prioritize weight loss OR performance. We can’t do them simultaneously. With increased training/output, it’s not to say your physique won’t improve (it most likely will) but it’s important to note that weight loss is secondary.

  • Since you are waking up very early already, it may be challenging to wake up even earlier to consume food prior to your runs. For your longer runs (1-2 hours or more) I recommend consuming 30-60g of carbs per hour.
  • For convenience, most use gels or chews. Depending on your body type, fasted runs MAY encourage body fat percent reduction or weight loss over time. The type of fuel you use during your runs is typically a preference to the individual.
  • Post run I recommend you eat as soon as your schedule allows (within the hour) to replenish your body with a balanced amount of macronutrients. 

Recovery Snack Post Workout

I often hear to eat a recovery snack, that is a balance of protein and carbohydrates, within about 30 minutes of a workout.  What is the right balance of protein and carbs? How much should I be eating? Is it important to wait to eat breakfast, or should I just go for the big breakfast right when I get home? Thanks much!  -Shaun N.

Answer from MetPro Coach Megan:

Dear Shaun, 
Great questions! It’s difficult to know exactly how much you should be eating without knowing how far you’ve run, where you are in your training, as well as what your metabolism can currently support. 

A few things to consider are: 

  1. Are you recovering well from your runs? If not, continue a recovery snack higher in carbs and moderate in protein right after your run. Possibly add a small breakfast before long runs.
  2. Are you keeping your breakfast balanced with proper macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats)? A balanced meal is a good choice by the time you get home for that meal.
  3. Are you eating every 2-3hrs? We suggest eating at a minimum every 2-3hrs to make sure you keep your blood sugar balanced and performance high.

What About Supplements and Electrolytes?

My questions are do you recommend that we take a supplement each day such as magnesium or a multivitamin? And why do we need to if we maintain a healthy balanced diet? Should we take electrolytes during or after a long run as well as our fuelling? Thank you!  -Annabelle 

Answer from MetPro Coach Dallas:

Hi Annabelle,

A healthy, well-balanced diet full of a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables should provide your body with the nutrients and vitamins it needs. However, taking a multivitamin daily may help make up for the days/weeks in which variety isn’t at it’s best.

If you choose to take one, you don’t need anything special. A women’s or men’s daily vitamin will serve just fine. Be careful of those promoting high levels. While they may sound great and many of us think, “the more the better” some vitamins do have toxicity levels, meaning too much can harm you.

These harmful levels are normally found amongst the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Water soluble vitamins are dissolved and absorbed into the tissues for immediate use quickly and the excess is excreted in urine, so toxic levels are not common. Though, too much Vitamin C has been known to cause diarrhea when taken in excess.

Electrolytes are particularly important during long runs and hot summer months. If you feel you will be sweating a lot, it’s important to assure we keep those hydration levels high.

There are a variety of electrolyte supplements out there and each are great for different people. Experiment and find the one that works best for you.

As for timing, I always advise taking some during long runs and if you feel you’ve been training particularly hard during warm months, having a little before your race may not hurt either.

Thank you Coach Natalie, Kristin, Megan, and Dallas! To see if MetPro is the solution you’ve been looking for, take their Metabolic Assessment and schedule a complimentary consultation with one of their experts by going to www.metpro.co/mta.

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