What I eat while on the run has changed a lot since I first got into running all those years ago. When I first started running, I felt like I needed a lot more fuel on runs, and would take snacks out on shorter runs and always had to eat before running.
I feel like my body has adapted to my higher mileage, and years of training so I have got to the point where I don’t necessarily need to eat anything before runs, or during either. My rule of thumb is listening to my body, if I am hungry when I wake up I will have something small beforehand like some dates or a homemade energy bar, but if not then I’ll just get up and go. I prefer to do the majority of my weekly mileage in a fasted state, mostly because I prefer getting up and going straight out rather than waiting for something to digest. For pretty much anything under 12-13 miles I am happy to just get out and go, but this really can depend on what I’ve eaten the day before, how far I’ve run the day before or if I have weight trained, or even hormones during stages of my cycle which affect my appetite too. If I know I’m going to be doing around 12 miles and heading out early without time to eat beforehand (ie. parkrun long run sandwich) then I will try and eat a bit later the night before and have a small bowl of oats or something similar in the evening before I go to bed.
For longer runs I will tend to have some oats, chia seeds and nut butter for breakfast and wait a 1 1/2-2 hours before running. Sometimes with longer runs if I don’t have time I just head straight out and then eat on the run. I don’t do this regularly though, and it really is just if I’m really short on time and have to be up super early for a long run anyway. I haven’t noticed any adverse effects from doing this in terms of how I feel on the run or recovery. If anything I’ve had some of my best runs while doing them in this fasted state and I have much less digestive issues later on during longer runs.
So what do I like to eat on the run? I’ve never been a big fan of gels or anything like that, I just find them sickly sweet and likely to upset my stomach or make me feel sick. In the past I’ve used a lot of dates/nakd bars or similar which are two things I still really like to use. I also like to use 33Shake’s chia gels, they are kind of like chia pudding, made up of just chia seeds, coconut sugar and Himalayan salt in a pouch which you add water too and shake together, I find they work really well for me.
I also like savoury snacks to mix things up, roasted and salted almonds, pretzels or tamari roasted cashews are favourites. Lately on my longer runs I’ve been taking out pittas/tortilla wraps filled with nut butter and jam, to practice race day eating, these have worked really well, but I was getting some weird looks running along the street while nibbling on a pitta. I also like pre-cooked sweet potato/potatoes, I took some in my pack for the SDW50 last year, and though they were totally mushy by half way, they did make a change from the sweeter stuff. Nut butter sachets are also really handy, Pip and Nut’s sachets are great, but recently I’ve really been into Mindful Bites nut butter sachets, the texture is really good for while on the run and the sachets have kind of a straw feature to them so they are easier to use.
I would say especially for longer stuff go with whatever you fancy during the run and what works best for you personally, but it’s important to have tested out your nutrition strategy and eating on the run prior to race day. I’ve had issues in the past when using things like shot blocks and clif bars on runs which have not agreed with me at all, I’ve either felt really ill or got a stitch from them, so I tend to avoid them now, but I know they work fine for lots of people.
I have found I need a lot less than I did previously as my body has adapted to running longer mileage. I tend to have my first snack whenever I feel a little peckish- usually somewhere between 8-9 miles, then I’ll just have a nibble of something every couple of miles, it can take me 5-6 miles to get through a nakd bar, but again I try and go with how I’m feeling and whether I feel I need a bit of a boost. I prefer having smaller bits, as it sits better with my digestion, rather than shoving loads in at one time, and I feel like it’s a slow drip of energy throughout the run.
I always pack quite a lot of food for races, and find I am still carrying most of it at the end unopened, so for my ultra next weekend I am going to pack a lot less. I know from doing a Centurion race before, I will be able to get plenty of vegan friendly stuff- from trail mix, fresh fruit to peanut butter wraps/sandwiches, so I will pack a few things I fancy, and then take an empty freezer bag which I can load up with food at the aid stations, and snack on while I’m walking up those endless hills! My pack is quite small- Ultimate Direction Jenny pack- so I need to be quite selective with what I take, as there is a required kit list, and water takes up most of the space anyway, I’ll be packing things that are a a bit different to what’s on offer at aid stations and a few things I think I will fancy on the day to help me get through the miles.
I will do another post soon about what I like to eat after runs, so keep an eye out for that.
Favourite running foods for before/during runs?