Tara Gidus

Five Creative Fuel Sources for Distance Runners

How should you fuel during your runDisney race? Some runners who are on the course for two to three hours may stay well fueled during their race with just carbohydrate-containing fluids such as sports drinks, but for those who are on the race course longer may also need solid foods for extra calories. As an endurance runner, you want the source of fuel during your race to be simple carbohydrates or carbohydrate in the form of sugar. Sugar eaten before and during long periods of exercise can help with maintaining steady blood sugar levels, preventing high rates of carbohydrate breakdown, delaying the onset of fatigue, and improving endurance performance.

The body can use simple carbohydrates for energy quicker than it can use complex carbohydrates, which take longer for the body to breakdown into energy. Simple carbohydrates include things like sports drinks, fruit snacks, dried fruits, candy, cookies, white breads, and white rice or pastas. Most sports drinks have multiple sources of sugar like glucose and sucrose, which are rapidly absorbed and quickly converted to energy. The sugars in sports drinks have been shown to help athletic performance when the duration is greater than an hour.

After the first hour of exercise, about 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour is recommended. One study suggested about 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour is ideal for endurance events greater than 2.5 hours. For the runners who may be on the course longer and need a little extra boost on top of your sports drink, special sport foods such as gels, sports beans, and energy bars are good options. You can also get a similar benefit from other fuel options listed below.

1. Red Licorice: One vine of red licorice has 9 grams of carbohydrate and 40 calories. Three vines are equivalent in calories and carbohydrates as an energy gel packet.
2. Fruit Snacks: Fruit snacks provide calories and simple carbohydrate that will breakdown quickly in your body. One single serve packet of fruit snacks has about 21 grams of carbohydrate and 80 calories.
3. Granola Bar: One granola bar has about 25 grams of carbohydrate and 140 calories. Check labels to see what your brand contains. Choose your granola bars wisely, as some can be higher in fat which takes longer to digest, and may lead to stomach cramps.
4. Raisins: Raisins have been shown to be comparable to commercial carbohydrate sport chews. One box of raisins contains 22 grams of carbohydrate and 90 calories. Other dried fruits can be used such as dried mango, tart cherries, or cranberries.
5. Dates: Dates are high in simple sugars and carbohydrates. One Medjool date has about 18 grams of carbohydrate and 66 calories. For some people, the fiber load in dates and other dried fruits may cause gastrointestinal pain or cramping.

Sports drinks include both carbohydrate and electrolytes so if you plan to choose one of the options listed above it may be beneficial to supplement with a sports drink for the fluid and electrolytes. Water and a small package of salt could also be used to provide fluids and electrolytes.

Remember, when you try these options for the first time, try them on training days and during practice first. Pick the ones that work best for you to use on race day. If you have questions or comments, tweet me @DietDivaTara.

Known as the "Diet Diva," Tara Gidus is a nationally acclaimed nutrition expert and the official nutritionist of runDisney.