June 7, 2011

Fueling Long Runs

I’ve been doing some research to figure out how to fuel my long runs without sugar, and am completely stunned by the emotional opinions out there. Some say you shouldn’t fuel unless you’re running at least 2 to 3 hours. Some say you should fuel every 40 minutes. Several are somewhere in between. Many are emphatic and shout down those who disagree with their stance.

Much like any other fanatic, I guess.

Ultimately, it boils down to what works best for you. Personally, I like the grazing approach of taking a bite or sip every mile or two. That has worked best for me so far. It has the added benefit of giving a constant flow of fuel, as opposed to a spike at 40, 50, or 120 minutes. That said, I don’t think about fueling a run unless it is longer than 6 miles (which as of today is about a 1:20 run).

Taking a bite brings up another issue, because biting requires a more involved digestion process than sipping. Digestion is kind of sidelined during exercise, and takes both energy and oxygen to function. This means if you’re going to eat solids on the run, you have to slow down. I’m already slow as a turtle so I’m thinking that’s not my best option. I’m also wondering if this is part of why I crashed Saturday. Granted the solid food was run through a blender, but it was still solid food. I still had to digest it to get any energy, and that digestion started at the bottom of 3 miles of hills.

It also takes longer to convert solid food to energy. If I wanted to wait for my energy, I wouldn’t take fuel at all. I would just let my body feed on my copious fat stores. So maybe an almond butter sandwich is not my best option, at least for the distances I’m currently running. I’ll revisit this when I start getting into Ultras (yes, that is in the long term plans).

So I’m back to “How do I Fuel My Long Runs Without Sugar?” The truth is, the best fuel for long runs *IS* sugar. It is digested quickly and easily for immediate energy. It doesn’t have to be refined, white sugar though. This Saturday’s long run, I’m going to try a new recipe, found on Unprocessed Life, who got it from Cynical Dirt Doll, who is actually now the Pigtail Ultra Runner. It doesn’t exactly fit the sugar-free spirit of the original challenge, but I’ve changed that already and I’m comfortable with this change as well.

So, unprocessed energy gel, which I now have the ingredients for but haven’t tried for taste. I intend to add coffee to mine (and make it in smaller doses!).

3 ounces brown rice syrup
1 1/2 ounces honey
1/2 ounces blackstrap molasses
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon warm water
Mix together
Feel free to add coffee or whatever else tickles your fancy!

Energy bars I plan to try, from the same site (though I’ll probably forgo the coconut… and maybe add some nuts and protein. I am simply incapable of sticking to a recipe!):

1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried figs
1 cup dates
1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries or dried cherries
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup almond, cashew or peanut butter
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar

Put apricots, figs, dates and raisins in the food processor and process until sticky and forms into one big ball. Put the dried fruit mixture into a bowl, breaking it apart a bit. With a wooden spoon, mix in coconut. Next, add in nut butter and honey and stir until well-combined. You can roll them into 1-inch balls and put them in a pan, or if you want a true "energy bar" you can also press the mixture into a shallow glass dish. Place the balls or bars into the fridge to firm up.

What do you use for fuel?


misszippy said...

Interesting that people feel so strongly on it! No two people will be the same.

I'll be interested to hear how your "mixing and matching" goes with the homemade stuff. Very cool that you're trying it.

Emz said...

oh man - I learned this the hard way when I did a post a while back.

I could not believe how crazy people got at me re: my view.

You have to do what works for you and no one can dispute that. :)

BabyWeightMyFatAss said...

Interesting. I had just picked up my Gu Gels even though I know I have blonde ponytails bar recipe lying around. Then in Wally World I saw the cliff bars and then the high fructose sugar kids packaged stuff and was tempted to try it for my 12 miler this weekend.

RoseRunner said...

yup, sugar really is the best. I hate eating sugar for breakfast, but before races thats what its all about -- gus, gels, bananas, jelly beans...

I don't eat when I run. I've done it once, during my last marathon, and I have no idea if it helped or not. I ate 4 pieces of Gu Chomps.

Amanda - RunToTheFinish said...

i am all about unprocessed, so I think this is a good compromise if you feel that sugar works best for you

Neon Blonde Runner said...

I am totally a grazer in real life. Snacks throughout the day keep me from getting too hungry!

Thus far, I haven't eaten while running (haven't ever run longer than 15 or so miles) so I don't know what works for me while running yet!