4 Questions about Fueling Up for a Long-Distance Run

As the weather cools in much of the country, race season is upon us. If you signed up for a half-marathon or marathon months ago, you've likely been training for weeks. But now it's time to start thinking about fuel before and during the event.

What Should I Eat During the Race?

This is a common question, and to answer it appropriately, I need to go all the way back to metabolism. (I know, but stick with me.) Your body utilizes the carbohydrates you eat, changes them into glycogen and stores it in your muscles and liver. The goal during an endurance activity is to keep your body fueled enough to not use up all the glycogen stored in your liver and muscles. Otherwise, if you drain your stored muscle glycogen, you will dip into fat stores and start to feel like you have "hit a wall."

Gels and other carbohydrate-containing products can keep your body from having to convert carbohydrate for energy and more gradually use your stored glycogen. If you elect to use this sort of product, test it out during a practice run first. Look for one that you enjoy and you can tolerate well. You don't want to find out about negative effects on the big day.

Do I Need to "Carbo Load" Prior to the Race?

The idea that you need to eat a lot of carbohydrate the night before to fuel your race the next day is common, but is it true? Not exactly. Instead, how you eat as you train and what you eat a few days prior to the race has a bigger impact on your body than what you eat the night before. If you want to eat pasta, then do that two to three days prior to the race, not necessarily the night before. 

If Not "Carbo Loading," What Should I Eat?

Make sure you stick with familiar foods three days prior to the race. Don't be adventurous and try new things before this big event. Instead, stick with foods you know your body digests well and that you can handle prior to your race. Some people find they have to limit the amount of fiber they eat before a race. Simply put, avoid any chance of gastrointestinal discomfort the morning of the run. 

What Should I Eat the "Morning of"?

The answer depends on you: whatever you tolerate best. Some people like bagels with an energy drink. I prefer cereal, milk and a banana, and avoid fatty foods such as breakfast meat or eggs. It's smart to eat the foods you trained with to ensure your body handles them well.

Good luck, enjoy the last days of training and remember to practice with a nutrition plan in mind to find what works well for you.

Anna Busenburg
Anna Busenburg, RDN, CSP, is a clinical dietitian based in Indianapolis and created RD Anna. She blogs at RDAnna.com.