Today I had a perfect bonk. After 3 miles, I just felt done. Completely and utterly done – but I was aiming for 10. I racked my brain….had I over trained this week? was I dehydrated? too little sleep? Surely it could not be lack of fuel – I had a banana before I left the house, but as a last resort, I downed the gel I had with me for mile 5 or 6 and forged ahead. In a textbook 10 minutes, I felt like myself again – I had the energy to go and the mindset as well.
I’ve said it before, you have to fuel before workouts – especially early morning ones. Fuel during long workouts is just as important. If you are going for 30 minutes or an hour at a moderate pace – don’t worry, water should be fine. But, your body only has enough glycogen – or energy – stores for 90 to 120 minutes of activity at about 70 percent effort says Chris Carmichael in “Food for Fitness.” Try to go longer and you may be able to plug along, but you will also feel the heavy legs, the slow-down, the thud of bonking.
Choices for fuel during activity are pretty grim. Energy gels are quick, easy, convenient and effective – but they are also sickeningly sweet and make some gag. Chews are, well, chewy. I, personally, cannot chew, run and breathe. Bars, to me, are a commitment and sit heavily in my stomach. Sports drinks offer some energy, but you have to gulp down a lot to get the requisite carbs.
You need 30 to 60 g of carbs per hour when going 90 minutes or longer. A gel contains about 25 g of carbs, an oz. of jelly beans (sport or regular) contains about 24 g, one medium banana 30 g, energy bars contain about 45 g, chews about 40 g per serving and a 20-oz. sports drink about 36 g. I have read of athletes who eat dates, fig newtons and even boiled potatoes on their runs, but have yet to meet any of these people in person. (Really, can you imagine carrying potatoes with you…perhaps I run with the wrong crowd?)
During-activity fuel is really a personal thing, which is why so many flavors and options exist. Things to think about when choosing fuel:
1) Do you think you can chew and be active at the same time, or are you willing to stop to chew?
2) Are you carrying a sports drink? If so, what flavors of gel or chew will marry with it?(chocolate and lemon-lime, for example, might be a disaster)
3) How will you carry it?
4) Do you have sensory issues? Does a pack of slimy goo gross you out? Consider mixing it in water.
5) Train with a fuel before introducing it in a race. My husband still blames a new sports drink for making him take too many port-a-potty breaks and cheating him of a sub 3-hour marathon.
Some of my standby fueling foods:
- Banana – all-natural, instant energy – but sometimes, it’s just not enough.
- Chocolate Powerbar Bites – not gluten-free, so I am no longer eating, but they are small so you can have three or four for about 150 calories just before heading out the door. Oatmeal raisin and I do not get along.
- Powerbar Performance Bars – chewy and resembling cardboard, but functional. Peanut butter or chocolate for me.
- Honey Stinger Chews – if I wake up too late to eat something more substantial before going out the door, I choose a pack of these chews. They taste like very soft gummy bears, but are still too chewy for me during a run.
During Activity – I’m a gel person.
- Powerbar Gels - I like (okay, don’t mind) the vanilla and chocolate flavors. For me, fruity flavors of this brand just do not work.
- Clif Shots – I like the mocha one with caffeine, but then again, I like anything with caffeine.
- Gu – I like the mandarin orange, chocolate mint and Roctane cherry -lime flavors. Warning, avoid jet blackberry; it tastes like burned raisins. I learned this the hard way.
- Honey Stinger – I was very enamored of the ginsting honey stinger gels for a while, but somehow lost my taste for them and now find them overwhelming. They are all-natural, so if that is important to you, they are worth a try.
Honey Stinger also makes an energy waffle, that is quite tasty pre-workout – but too much to chew and digest for me when running. I don’t use it regularly and it does contain gluten.