I’ve run a lot of 20+ milers in the last 10 months or so (23 of them according to Garmin). And I’ve done some experimentation with nutrition in the process. I’ve tested different foods and different timing to see how they digest and what effect they have on energy levels and overall stamina. Some of these things may seem obvious either anecdotally or if you trust the marketing departments of various companies. But i can comment on 3 classes of foods with some certainty at this point.
I eat a lot of clif bars on long runs. They provide sustained, mild energy and sit right in the middle of the amount of calories your body can process per hour (they’re in the 250 calorie range). Typical macronutrient profile is 5-6 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein, and 40ish grams of carbs (a mix of simple and complex). You might say the protein is useless during a run, but studies have shown that people that eat protein while running perform better than those that don’t, so it’s doing something. Digestion of a clif bar starts slow and drags out. So I find them very good for the first couple hours of a long run or ultra. Especially at an easy pace when your body burns a larger proportion of fat.
In a 2.5 hour run, I would eat a clif bar before I start, 1 after the first hour and one at about 1:45. And that would be great for a sustained, low intensity pace. In an ultra I might survive on clif bars for the first 4 or 5 hours. They’re not so good for higher intensity, though.
Honey Stinger Waffles
Waffles are about 160 calories and have a mix of fat and carbs. But the carbs are simpler than clif bars and digest faster. I eat a waffle expecting to feel it in about 15-20 minutes and have the energy last for a little while. Waffles are about the mid point between something complex like a clif bar and simple sugars like a gel, block, or bean. They’re also MUCH easier to eat that a clif bar if your stomach is upset and easier to eat than a gu if you’re one of those people that has problems with gus. It feels and tastes like real food and goes down easy.
In a marathon, I eat waffles in the first couple of hours to get some legit calories. They’re much easier to eat and digest at a semi aggressive pace.
After today I wonder why I eat anything other than gu in a race situation. probably because the consistency and sweetness can get tough to deal with after a while. And I like to save the gu kick for when I really need it. Gu’s are 100 calories of pure sugars, some extra fast digesting and some that take slightly longer (only slightly). I eat a gu expecting to feel it within about 10 minutes and I can definitely feel it. Unlike the previous two foods, you really notice gu. Maybe it’s because I don’t start taking them until late in a run when my energy is fading. But the boost they provide is obvious and awesome.
In a late marathon situation, I eat a gu every 20-25 minutes to make sure the energy keeps pumping.
As an endurance runner, I try to teach my body to burn more fat than normal in training. So I aim for heavy foods with a higher fat content early in runs (usually clif bars and lara bars). It makes the run a little more challenging. But it pays dividends over time. Eating a gu when you’re not used to it provides a big jolt in a run. So I try to save them for races or if I’m aiming for an aggressive finish to a training run (or as bonk insurance in a longer run).
I ate Australian Yogurt for the first time today. It was delicious but sooooo rich and fatty that I don’t think I could handle it on a normal day. I’m trying Icelandic Yogurt next time.