Nutrition for Beginners
Nutrition can be very overwhelming to a runner who is just starting to need some extra fuel before and during a run, the possibilities are endless. Waffles, energy bars, granola, gels, gum, gummy chews, jelly beans, salt tabs, liquid fuel, caffeinated nutrition, cheap, less cheap, expensive….and all of this in every flavor combination you can think of. I know it seems like a lot, and it is, but I’m going to break down all you need to know about nutrition below. By the way, all the things I listed above can be purchased at TRWS!
Who Needs Nutrition?
Everyone! It’s really that simple. Regardless of if you are going out for two miles or twenty, all runners should have energy before they start moving. By general rule, you should never be hungry when you start to run, regardless of the length. Pre-run fuel comes in many forms and it doesn’t have to be “running specific” food either. Think fruit, nuts, granola, etc. A pre-run snack that I like to pick up from the running store are Kurt’s Bars. A local company that makes soft chew energy bars that are packed full of great fuel for your run. Also, they make a great breakfast!
The better question probably is “who needs nutrition while running”?
Your body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen (sugar) in your muscles. As you run, you convert glycogen into energy. This energy is used mostly for muscle contraction.
Most science suggests that the human body runs out of this important sugar after 90 minutes of continuous activity. So, the general answer is if you are running for more than an hour and a half, you need to be eating before and during that run.
Personally, I will use in run nutrition for some training runs shorter than 90 minutes. Not necessarily because my body “needs” the nutrition but more to train my body to get used to eating and digesting while running. Since consuming calories is a very important part of racing, I think it should be a very important part of weekly training.
Furthermore, trying a new type of energy source is great for a short run. It allows you to test the supplement for taste, texture, and most importantly the effectiveness of the nutrition. If your body doesn’t like it, no big deal because you’re just out for a short training run.
How Much Nutrition Do I Need?
There isn’t a one size fits all answer to this question but I’ll do my best to walk, or should I say run you through this dilemma. If you look at most endurance specific energy supplements the directions will suggest something along the lines of “Take one gel 15 minutes before activity and every 45 minutes during activity”. This, in my opinion, is a good general rule when using energy for a long, easy training run.
If you are about to toe the line for your first half or full marathon and your goal pace is similar to your training pace then 100 calories (most in run energy sources are 100 calories) every 40-45 minutes is likely enough for you to have the energy needed for your race. I also encourage you to keep eating, even if you are feeling strong late in the run. You never know when you are going to hit “The Wall”.
What makes this question tricky is when you start running faster, especially for long periods of time; think marathon and up distance. Obviously, the harder you run the more sugar you are going to use. The best answer I can provide for “how much” when you start to run fast is eat as much as you can and for as long as you can. I say this because stomach problems and loss of appetite can be common when you start running fast, especially the marathon; so if food tastes good and your body is letting you eat, keep eating. It’s important to intake as many calories as you can for the late stages of the run. My goal when racing is to consume at least 300 calories every sixty minutes.
The “as much you can eat and for as long as you can eat” is different for every runner, though. You will have to find what works best for you. As I mentioned above, using energy supplements during training runs will help you be able to eat more on race day! Also, finding the best energy for you will help increase your calorie intake as well, more on that below.
What Energy Should I be Using?
Once again, this is kind of a tricky question for a few reasons. As I said earlier in this blog the possibilities of what you can consume is really limitless. First and foremost you need to find a few sources of energy that taste good to you. If you are going to be eating a lot of something, you want to enjoy it.
The second thing to think about is the effects of different types of nutrition on your body. Some nutrition doesn’t sit well in your stomach, some may make you feel jittery, others may seem like they don’t really give you the boost you’re looking for. Honestly, it just takes time and practice to learn what works for your body. Yet again, another reason to use energy on a regular basis!
Running energy has a wide range in price. The cheapest energy gel we sell costs $1.40/serving, the most expensive cost $3.90/serving. When you take this price and multiply it by 6-8 over the course of a long race, that’s a big price difference! So, what gives? Why are some products so much more expensive than others? To be blunt, some energy products are simply made with more economical ingredients than others. I won’t dive into the ingredients of different energy supplements but I will say this: I have a hard time pronouncing some of the contents in the cheaper gels and higher quality energy gel has ingredients such as rice, apple juice, maple syrup, sea salt, and chia seeds.
I want to be clear, I am not saying that you must buy the “expensive stuff”. It’s all about finding the nutrition that works best for you! I run with a lot of experienced runners who feel that the cheaper products actually work better for them. Again, it is important to try multiple types of nutrition, and this includes trying some nutrition that costs more than others.
One of my favorite energy sources is called Tailwind Nutrition. A powder drink mix that provides sugar, electrolytes, salt, and caffeine (think fancy Gatorade). All of these ingredients are really important to keep you going during a long run. The only problem with something like Tailwind? You have to mix it with water, this task could be difficult when racing, you’d have to carry a handheld water bottle for the entirety of the race which is not the most ideal thing in the world. That being said, I save tailwind for a run when I’m going to be wearing a hydration vest.
I mention Tailwind to get you thinking about the logistics of carrying nutrition for a long run, especially a race. It is very important to think about and practice carrying the type and amount of nutrition that you will need on race day. The last thing you want to happen is show up to the start line and not have a way to tote around all your calories. Lucky for you, the Running Well Store carries a variety of products that will help you carry your nutrition needs around any course you may encounter!
My last big piece of advice is to find a few products that really work for you. I like to mix up what I consume during a long run or race just to change up the flavor and texture of products as well as the actual nutritional content found in different products.
I hope this blog helped guide you through some of the decisions you will have to make when thinking about nutrition for your first or next long adventure. Ultimately, the nutrition game is a lot of trial and error in order to figure out what is going to work best for you but The Running Well Store is here to help you figure it out! Stop by any of the three store locations and talk with a Guru about your nutrition needs, we are always here to help you achieve your goals.
About TRWS GURU Bryant
Bryant entered the running scene in the fall of 2019 and quickly developed a devoted passion for the sport. Over the last 2 and half years he has completed four marathons, three half-marathons, and numerous 5 and 10k races. Bryant trains with KC Endurance, owned by Jeremy and Jessica Hammer. He also enjoys the trail racing scene. He has completed two 50k’s, and covered 55 miles during a 12 hour timed trail race. Bryant began working at the Barry Road location in April of 2021. What he enjoys most about his job is sharing his passion for running, and helping others reach their goals.
The Running Well Store is the premier running specialty store in Kansas City/Lee’s Summit, Missouri and Mission, Kansas! We are a locally owned business that has been in operation since 2006. You can shop in store or online. Our tagline is THE PLACE FOR EVERY PACE as we want all walkers, runners, newbies, veterans, and people who work on their feet all day to feel welcome. We know that there are a lot of options for footwear on the market and deciding what model is the right one for your needs is not easy. We are here for you! You can come into one of our three locations (Lee’s Summit, Northland, and Mission, KS) for a free stride analysis. No appointment necessary, but if you would like to schedule an appointment, click here. We take in-person and virtual fittings. Want to do research online? We have a find my fit tool that will help narrow down footwear options. We hope to hear from you soon!