Nutrition & Hydration on the Long Run

Have you ever run out of energy in your long run?  Hit the wall? Gotten light headed?  Then this post is for you. 

During your long runs, you will need to take in calories to sustain your energy levels to take you through 26.2 miles. This is done by drinking and/or taking in food. Determining how much to take in during your long runs is one of the keys to a successful marathon.  Also determining the timing of your nutrition is important.  Just like everything else, you want to practice in your long runs and find a plan that works for you. 

Let’s start with some basics. 

How long should a run be before I need to hydrate and how frequently should I hydrate on the run?  For runs over 90minutes, you will need have a hydration plan.  For runs less than 90minutes you probably do not need to hydrate unless it’s a very hot day (that sounds nice right now!).  This being said, you should not wait until you reach the 90minute mark to begin hydrating. I find it easiest to space out your hydration by time or km.  For example, every 45minutes take in 4 – 6 oz. of fluid, or every maybe every 8k.  Some may find every 5k to be more suitable for their needs. 

What should I drink?  Water should be alternated with sports drink so you get in calories and electrolytes.  Using a sports drink designed for intake while running is ideal.  PowerBar’s Perform Sports Drink Mix is the perfect tool for hydration.  It provides sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and other nutrients to keep you strong. Drinking 4 – 6oz of water at 45minutes, then 4-6oz of Perform Sports Drink Mix at 1:30, etc. gives a nice pattern for your body to get both nutrients and water.  Again, this cycle could be every 30minutes for some.  The key is to find the timeline that works for you.  Plan ahead. Place water bottles out along your long run course.  Some like to use fuel belts. I personally have found them to be heavy and annoying, but others swear by them.  Go with what works for you!

Should I stop to drink?  NO! You must learn to drink on the run. I know, you grab a cup, you spill it, it goes up your nose, and you get nothing other than a sticky hand and shirt.  Is that you?  All you need to do is practice!  Set up a table on a track with cups filled ½ way.  Each time you run a lap and pass the table grab a cup, squeeze the top together to make a “spout” and take a few sips. If you do practice this, you’ll get much better at grabbing the cup and drinking on the go.  Why not stop and drink?  Your body will lose its rhythm.  Stopping, even just for 30seconds not only wastes time but stiffens the body up.  If you simply cannot take in your water on the go, slow to a BRISK WALK to drink and resume running within 20seconds. Whatever you do, do NOT stop moving! 

How long should a run be before I need to take in fuel? For runs over 2 hours, you will want to have a plan to take in more calories. This should be planned in with your hydration stations. You do not need to plan for a smorgasbord, but you do need to plan to get in at least 100 calories each hour.  This will help get you through the final miles of the marathon.  Fortunately, there are several products specifically designed for fuel while you are running.  PowerGel and Energy Blasts are two great products.  They are easy to carry while running, and easy to take in and digest.  Simply pin a couple of PowerGels to the inside of your waistband. You can tear it off (if you pin it right, you can pull the top right off when you pull it off your waistband). Timing of taking a PowerGel or Energy Blasts should be at one of your hydration stations so you have fluid to wash it down.  An example of combining this with hydrating would be at 30minutes take water, at 60minutes take Perform Sports Drink, at 1:30 take PowerGel and water, at 2:00 take Perform Sports Drink, at 2:30 Energy Blasts and water, etc.  Yes, this takes some planning, but if you’re investing all of this time into your long runs, you might as well take 10 more minutes to plan your nutritional game plan.  The results will be worth it! 

Once you find the products and flavors that you like, and the timing system that works best for you, keep the plan for all of your long runs and carry right over to marathon day.  Consistency is the key (have you heard that before?). 

 A note on hydrating and fueling on these cold days.  Most do not feel thirsty when the temperature is as low as it has been lately. In these conditions, you do need to hydrate.  Don’t be tricked by the cold temps. You are still sweating.  Also, the dry indoor conditions sap the water right out of your body all day long, so you actually need more than you think. A trick to keep your PowerGels and Energy Blasts from getting too think or hard I the cold weather is to pin them to the inside of your waistband.  If you put them in a jacket pocket, on a sub-zero day it could freeze! 

Unrelated to nutrition, be aware that a cold sunny day still requires sunblock to protect your skin.  Don’t forget to put on sunblock before heading out for your long run! 

You now have a plan to set up your nutrition plan for pre-long run (the day before and the morning of), and during the long run.  Next up will be post-long run recovery.  We’ll take a look at what is needed nutritionally and modalities to help you recover quickly! 

Vicki is a distinguished athlete and international competitor, Vicki competed in the 1996 US Olympic Trials in the 10,000 run. She made her marathon debut at the 1999 Hong Kong Marathon, where she qualified for the 2000 US Olympic Marathon Trials. In 2001, she was invited to join the Fila Discovery USA training program, a program designed to develop American distance runners into elite marathon athletes able to compete with the best in the world. She has been a member of five USA national teams, including the 1993 World University Games and 1998 IAAF World Road Race Championship in Manaus, Brazil.