Until I started training for a marathon, fueling for runs was never something I’d bothered with. I never ate anything of note before, during, or after any of my half marathons (or in the training beforehand), other than the occasional Gatorade after a particularly hot run.
I knew that this approach wouldn’t cut it for a marathon.
I’m not a big fan of the whole running gel phenomenon – the texture, the chemicals, the stickiness. Instead, I thought I could try an all natural route, getting my calories and energy from whole foods instead of the gel version. The suggestions I found online didn’t seem quite right for me (mashed potatoes from a baggie in the heart of summer? No thanks.) I found one idea that seemed okay: dates. Except I’m not the biggest fan of dates, but hey – raisins will probably have the same effect, right?
I practiced eating raisins every 30 minutes or so during my first long run (16k). I had no idea how many to eat or how often to eat them. It seemed to go okay, so I kept it up – but, to be honest, they didn’t seem to be doing anything. So, I went to the store to pick up some Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews, which are like fruit snacks (try the Fruit Smoothie kind). I alternated raisins with the energy chews on my runs, which felt better, but still not terribly substantial. Eventually, I phased the raisins out entirely and tested a few different products. I found two that I really liked:
- Kewaza energy balls, specifically the dark chocolate coconut kind. These taste like truffles, but the ingredients are 100% normal people food, which I love: honey, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, coconut oil, shredded coconut, protein, goji berries, flax seed, and maca powder. Each packet comes with two balls. They take a little extra time to eat, and I found I needed to drink a lot of water while eating them. They have that dry mouth cocoa powder/cinnamon feeling if you don’t have enough water.
- Bounce protein energy balls, specifically the cacao mint kind. These are still pretty natural, but the ingredient list is not quite as easy to read as the Kewaza balls. These aren’t really balls – they’re more small bars. I would eat half a bar per “serving”.
Here’s what my fueling routine looked like, once I had it down pat:
- The night before, I ate something healthy, often (but not always) involving pasta. I made this Greek Chicken Pasta Salad before a few runs, including the night before the marathon.
- Right after I woke up, I’d have a piece of toast (two for really long runs) with homemade peanut butter (literally just peanuts in a food processor). I’d sip a glass of Gatorade with breakfast. Note: I bought the Gatorade powder and mixed my own – way cheaper than buying a bunch of bottles.
- About 30-45 minutes later, I’d be ready for my run. I’d eat a Honey Stinger Gingersnap Waffle right before I left the house. I picked this up from another blogger.
- Throughout the run, I’d sip Gatorade. I did this whenever I started to feel a little thirsty. On any runs over 21k, I’d hide a water bottle full of Gatorade along my route so that I could refill on the go. During the marathon, Cedric met me at the halfway point and refilled my flask for me.
- Every 45 minutes, I would eat either one Kewaza ball or one half of a Bounce bar. This depended on what I had with me at the time – I preferred the Kewaza ball, but the Bounce ones were easier for me to find. (I’ve since discovered that they sell Kewaza balls at Capra, so I will probably use these exclusively in the future). I used the Bounce bars during the marathon, simply because I had more on hand and had used them slightly more often than I had the Kewaza balls, so they felt like a safer bet. I always took a few sips of water while I ate something on my runs.
- I carried the Honey Stinger fruit snacks in case I needed a boost in between fueling sessions (or “snack times”, as I liked to think of them). I rarely needed them – however, I found that during my marathon, I was having trouble eating Bounce bars. The 45 min one went down fine, the 1.5 hour one was okay, but the 2.15 hour one was a real struggle. At 3 hours, I knew I couldn’t stomach one, so I switched to Honey Stingers exclusively. I’m really glad I had them with me, and I ended up eating the whole pack over the next two hours.
- After the run, I’d come home and chug a chocolate milk.
Outside of the runs themselves, my eating habits did change – I was RAVENOUS ALL THE TIME, especially in that last month or so. I tried to eat well, but I also ate a lot of Halloween candy.
I have to say, it’s nice to see my appetite returning to normal. For awhile there, I felt like a teenage boy in the middle of a growth spurt. Although I do miss snacking on those tasty Kewaza balls.