This subject of marathon fuelling is close to my heart. I have often struggled with this and found myself struggling those last six miles.
However, as they say, pain is a great teacher 🙂
So here are my marathon tips for fueling that will help you finish
Marathon Fueling Tips While Training For A Marathon.
First of all, your strategy for fueling a marathon should be tested and refined in your training before your race.
This enables you to try gels and drinks that work for you. A great tip also is if you plan to use the drinks provided by the race organisers at the various drink stations, it makes sense to train with those drinks.
Personally, I carry my own hydration and gels and use water when I need it from the stations.
Now the time to practice will be on your long runs once your plan starts presenting you with runs long enough to justify toping up glycogen stores.
Teach Your Body To Burn Fat.
I am going to mention this because it’s important; however, at the same time, I would advise you not to get too hung up on it either.
The reason that teaching your body how to burn fat when you run has become such a buzz subject is we have a lot more stores of fat than we do carbohydrate.
So in that respect, it’s common sense that if you’re burning more fat than carbohydrate, you will be able to go longer when fat-fueled.
But let’s be clear here when you run, you don’t have a fuel gauge showing you which one you’re using when you run, so in some ways, it’s a moot point.
My view is that the better runner you become, the more efficient your body becomes in utilising fat and carbohydrates, which should be your focus.
So for me, the best way to do this is to have variation in my running. Of course, there are many steady runs; however, I have speed work and variations of the pace set into even my long runs.
I have also run my long runs fasted which is meant to encourage your body ability to burn fat versus carb stores.
As I have gotten older, I have enjoyed this less and less, and I think it may work better for younger runners; however, like many things,s you have to experiment with and see what works for you.
The bottom line the better and more efficient runner you become, you will burn fewer carbs and more fat. To do this, you need variation within your training schedule.
As I said at the beginning on this subject, don’t get distracted by this. Just train well and run smart, and you will become a more efficient runner.
Set A Fueling Alarm On Your Running Watch
I have an alarm set up on my Garmin that beeps every 45 minutes; that’s to remind me to take on some fuel. Often early on in a long training run or race, I don’t feel like it; however, as I will outline, this is a key time to begin the fueling process, and I found the alarm useful for this reason.
Why Is Fueling Important In A Marathon
Your body has around twos hours of glycogen storage. However, you don’t wait till you are depleted to begin topping up the lost carbohydrate.
Why is this?
Well, your body realises quite quickly that you are doing something pretty stressful when running a marathon and starts shutting down non-essential areas such as the stomach.
So if you leave eating or drinking till late in a race, your stomach will not process the carbohydrate efficiently, and you won’t get the benefits from what you are consuming.
This is often when runners start panicking and piling in loads of gels that the stomach does not process, resulting in intestinal distress.
When Should I Start Fueling During A Marathon?
As mentioned, you have 2 hours of carbohydrate stores; you want to begin toping those up pretty early in a marathon race.
On average, we use 60 grams of carbs per hour; we have stores depending on how fit the runner is between 400-700 grams of carbohydrate.
You can see from the above that two significant events will occur if you don’t start fueling early on.
- You will begin fueling too late, and your body/stomach won’t process the incoming carbohydrates efficiently.
- You will experience a dramatic reduction in energy and performance.
Another factor to consider is your ability to run on tired legs.
So with that in mind, you have to think about fueling as a strategy that begins early in a marathon, even as early as the first 15 minutes.
So when you start aiming to get some liquids in early on, remember to take in 6-10 oz of fluid every 2 to 3 miles; however, this could be more if it’s hotter. Also, it depends on your condition as a runner and the amount that you sweat. This is something to work out while in the training phase.
Remember, it’s more than likely the first drinks station will hit the initial window of 15 minutes; however, as I mentioned, this would depend if you are using their sports drinks or your own.
I personally do not have anything solid such as gels, until 35/45 minutes. The reasoning behind this is it’s early enough in the race; however, it’s given my body time to settle into the race, and I have used some of my carb stores over the subsequent 45 minutes of running.
When taking the gels, remember to use water, not a sports drink, to wash them down, as you could overload yourself with sugars and end up with a dodgy stomach !!
What Should You Eat During A Marathon?
The unhelpful reply is whatever works!
Look as a runner about two things, running shoes and what to eat when running a marathon, and you’re sure to get a million different tips.
I can only give you my opinions, and then I would advise some experimentation on your long training runs.
Sports Drinks With Carbs In Them.
An easy way to stay topped up is with a drink that has carbs and electrolytes in. I have used Tailwind successfully in the past; however, a weird one that’s worked for me is Mission teas Hydrate or Perform.
This, for me, works really well for several reasons; it’s not overly sweet… Though I know my body needs to replace carbohydrates stores (sugar), I have found especially as I have got older, that sometimes too much sugar ends up with a sugar crash as I assume my body as it ages is not so efficient as it once was.
Both drinks have a low amount of caffeine that gives me a boost however does not make me jittery, as normally Iam hypersensitive to caffeine.
The mission teas aren’t massively high in carbs, for example, if you compare with something like Tailwind.
However, for me, I aim to get more of my carbs via the gels I use. Many runners will use either Tailwind or something like it as their main and only carb source.
For me, it’s just too much liquid intake. I like to have something slightly more solid than just liquid when running a marathon.
But like a say, it’s a personal choice.
Energy Gels For Marathon Fuel
I like to combine the less high sugar levels of mission tea as a drink that will hydrate me and add small levels of carbs but then, after 45 minutes, begin using a gel.
I have experimented with all sorts, and I would encourage you to do the same.
I think what you have to look at is does the gel do the job it’s designed to do plus does it give you a nice mental pick up while you run, or is it something you dread ingesting, which by default will mean that you won’t use the gel enough in your race to be impactful.
There have been loads of scientific research done, and the best combination is that of glucose and fructose for the best performance from a running gel.
Many brands now combine glucose and fructose; you will often see the ingredient maltodextrin in many gels containing fructose and glucose.
Personally, if I have gone down that route, I have liked Maurten gels. I like the natural ingredients and the gelly like the consistency of the gels.
The taste is very neutral, however pleasant, and the texture is more like have something to eat, though not chewy.
Here Is A List Of Ingredients Of Maurten Gels
Nutrition facts Per 100g / Serving (40g)
1063 kJ, 250 kcal /
425 kJ, 100 kcal
– of which saturates 0 g / 0 g
0 g / 0 g
– of which sugar 62.5 g / 25 g
62.5 g / 25 g
Protein 0 g / 0 g
Salt 125 mg / 50 mg
However, they are uber expensive, so I train with them in a limited capacity; I know I get along well with them, so I tend to use them on race days only.
Though I don’t think there is likely much harm in using maltodextrin in small amounts, I tend to avoid it if I can.
So another running gel I have really liked is 33fuels Chia energy gels. They actually pack less overall carbs than some energy gels; however, I like the slow release of energy they produce.
The use of chia seeds is a smart move because chia seeds can slow the digestion of carbohydrate, which will deliver a more sustained energy return, which is perfect for running a marathon.
Plus, you create the gel of your choice as the gels arrive in a dry state, and you top it up with the liquid of your choice, be it water, coconut water or even coffee if you wanted a real caffeine kick later in the race.
Yet again, the consistency is more of something you would eat, the flavour is refreshing, however not overpoweringly sweet, which personally I like.
Ingredients of 33Fuel Energy Gels
Organic Chia Seeds, Coconut palm sugar, Organic vanilla, Himalayan pink salt
Nutrition per gel
Of which sugars 6g
Of which saturates 0.4g
Nutrition per 100g
Of which sugars 30g
Of which saturates 2g
The real point I would like to make around fueling tips for marathons is it’s very much down to experimentation.
Don’t leave all that I have discussed till race day. Make sure throughout your training you have experimented with hydration and gels and found out how best your body responds.
Also, decide that if you are going to carry your own hydration and gels, the most comfortable way to do this is in your training to not face any shocks on race day.