I never really understood how important fueling was until I actually started fueling well.
Before I fueled well, I thought that every race should be like a dive off a cliff performance-wise and that you just do the best to stagger to the finish. I would haphazardly take in fuel, and towards the second half of the race, I would stop entirely because I didn’t feel like taking anything. This did me no favors for my performance.
During this time I also ran fasted and did my long runs without fuel. That strategy just didn’t work and usually caused me to bonk and hit a wall way too early in the run or race.
The truth is that fueling well is a key factor in your success as a runner. Yes—just as important as putting in all the work and sleeping well. It’s one of the pillars of your running performance. Like gas in a car, you cannot go anywhere without fuel.
Fueling well in training and in races helps your body to recover quicker from the work, which means you’ll bounce back faster for your next session or race.
Nutrition also helps keep our minds sharp and alert. Our minds run the ship in running and racing. Showing up to a race hangry and with low blood sugar? Let’s just say that combo will do you no favors.
So it boggles my mind that people try to cheat the system and not fuel. We run (literally and figuratively) off of fuel. And by trying to run off of fat, we are asking our body for a big energy demand to convert fat to fuel. This comes at the cost of our performance and our future hormone health.
All that to say—you need to fuel in your races and in practice for races!
Dial In Your Nutrition
It’s really important to practice fueling for races because you want your stomach to be used to taking in those calories and processing it for energy. You also want to figure out where your sweet spot is with fueling—what has you feeling good with steady energy and your stomach is able to handle.
My fuel of choice is UCAN. That’s what I used when I ran my half marathon PR of 1:27. (Coincidentally, it’s also the fuel of choice of Emily Sisson, who just set the American record in the half marathon. We are just a cool 20 minutes apart in half times.)
I chose my fuel because it has carbohydrates that will keep my energy steady (no sugar crash) and it also has the thinnest consistency so I can take it without water. If you’ve ever taken a gel without water you know what I’m talking about. Your mouth feels glued shut until you get to the next water station.
I make sure that I start a run or a race fueled, first. I always eat breakfast or a meal before my run. And I also top off with some UCAN carbs beforehand. You feel better and more steady when you eat before your runs.
Then I take in fuel every 30-40 minutes while running. The key in racing is to make sure to take in the fuel whether or not you feel like it. For the longer races, you are over it. You are tired, you don’t want to eat another gel, you’d rather eat a burger. But the key is to plan out your fueling before your race, and no matter what—stick to it. If you feel like taking in your fuel, great! If you don’t feel like taking in fuel, you still take it because you know your body needs it and you’ll get that best results that way!
Another thing I’ll do in races is to try and stick to the electrolytes at the aid stations. We are losing electrolytes and minerals in our sweat as we are racing, so the water at the aid station isn’t replenishing this. That’s why it’s helpful to get in the electrolytes too.
You’ll want to practice taking in your fuel before race day so that you’re ready to go when it comes to racing.
Fueling could be what takes your performance to the next level. You may not even have to better your fitness to get faster, it may just be a matter of improving your fueling strategy so that your body has steady energy to run to your fitness potential.
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