Fueling for a Long Run -- the Natural Way

Meghan Reynolds

Figuring out how to eat and drink during a long run can be daunting. It requires practice and experimenting with different types of food and drinks. Recently, my stomach started to reject the sport chews I usually ate during my long runs. Knowing that I needed to fuel on any run longer than 90 minutes, I sought out advice from my Ayurvedic practitioner, Deacon Carpenter. With his help, I have created a few natural "gu" concoctions that keep me running strong.

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First, when fueling for any run that's more than 60 minutes, it's important to realize your pre-run food is just as important as the food or fuel you consume during the run. Consuming carbohydrates before a long run helps ward off hunger and provides the energy your muscles need to perform at optimal levels. Carpenter recommends eating foods such as cooked oatmeal and white basmati rice with dates, raisins, maple syrup and cinnamon for pre-run fuel (about 30 to 60 minutes before a run). "Not only are these foods extremely digestible," Carpenter says, "The maple syrup gives you a quick boost of sugar, and the grains provide a sustainable sugar release." Additionally, about 15 to 30 minutes before a long run, aim to consume 30 grams of carbs, such as a banana with 2 tablespoons of all-natural almond butter and a little honey drizzled on top.

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During your long run, you want to eat about 30 grams of carbohydrates every 45 to 60 minutes to keep up your energy and maintain the necessary levels of glycogen in your muscles, which delays fatigue. To find a natural source of energy during my runs, Carpenter had me experiment with honey and dates. I was skeptical of honey, not because of the nutrition facts, but more so because of the messy factor. How would I consume it? We figured out that I could use a small water bottle to carry and dilute the honey. I put 4 tablespoons of honey into the water bottle and then filled it up with cold water. I drank half at 45 minutes and finished it 1.5 hours into my run. I felt great during my 2-hour run and didn't have any stomach issues. One tablespoon of honey contains 17 grams of carbohydrates.

Multiple studies have shown that honey, a simple carb that absorbs quickly into your system, is just as effective as sport gels. Honey is all-natural, doesn't contain any added preservatives and is cheaper than buying lots of gels. If the idea of carrying a small water bottle and making your gel is not appealing, try Honey Stinger's products.

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I also experimented with eating dates during my runs. I bought a package from Trader Joes, pitted them and put them into a Ziplock bag. There are about 34 grams of carbs in six dates, so that's what I brought on a 1.5-hour run. This was a lot for me to eat. I experimented and found that eating three dates every 45 minutes is what my stomach is able to handle. As a result, I use dates on shorter runs.

Overall, the key to fueling naturally during a long run is to experiment and find what works for your body. I recommend you try new fuel types during shorter runs, which is anything less than an hour. That way, you can consume the new gel or fuel about halfway through and see how your body reacts without having to suffer through a long run.

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Meghan Reynolds, a USATF-Certified Running Coach, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor, is a runner, yogi and fitness enthusiast. After working in the business world for years, she decided to make fitness a full time job and founded Hot Bird Running, a run coaching business, in May 2011. She has run 11 marathons, numerous half marathons and sprint triathlons. In addition to coaching runners, Meghan is a yoga instructor. She received her 200-hour level certification in 2004. Her yoga teachings focus on alignment and creating space in the body, which she finds vital for runners and athletes whose repetitive motions create blocks and stress in the body. Meghan credits her running accomplishments over the last 6 years to her dedication to cross-training, yoga and allowing herself and her body to recover properly after her rigorous running schedules. Find her on Twitter and Google+.