As Team Stonyfield begins to prepare for the Boston Marathon, we need to think about the fuel we feed our bodies during the race. We know that Stonyfield will be there at the finish and provides the best recovery fuel available, but how do we prepare for the race itself?

In the nutrition section of my book, See Mom Run-Every Mother’s Guide to Getting Fit and Running Her First 5K, I write:

“No matter what you do, you can’t outrun a bad diet..In truth, there is no secret eating methodology, no ancient potion, and certainly no pills that can ever supersede a simple, healthy lifestyle for you and your family.”

It’s true. We all wish that there was that magic pill that whisked away excess pounds or fortified us without the time it takes to eat correctly. The irony is that it really doesn’t take any longer or cost much more to bite into an apple than it does to open a squeeze pack of applesauce. It just isn’t always as accessible or as portable.

That thought however, goes away and convenience rules when it comes to fueling yourself during a run. As you begin to train for longer runs (especially those over 90 minutes), it’s necessary to replenish the calories and electrolytes lost so that you can continue to run strong and recover well. In this instance, convenience and digestibility wins. While some athletes can tolerate whole foods such as fig bars, PB&J sandwiches or bananas while running, most digestive systems prefer simpler foods that are easier to break down and absorb. Thankfully, sports nutrition companies have developed hundreds of products in every flavor, form and package to satisfy even the most discriminating palate or sensitive gut. There are even options that are organic, all-natural and vegan.

As you prepare your body to run long distance, you must also prepare your digestive system. Training your gut is as important as training your legs and cardio system. The most preventable mistake made in half-marathon and marathon training is not training to eat while running. You should begin to add your race day nutrition as soon as your run becomes longer than 75 minutes. Practice, practice, practice. Most athletes need between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour to run longer distances. This is equivalent to 120-240 calories/ hour; a big variable that is dependent on your size, how fast you are moving and how well your body processes the fuel. Don’t wait until race day to figure out which side of the spectrum you fall, experiment early and you will benefit on race day.

Personally, I like to start taking fuel in on my training runs within the first 45 minutes and then drink or eat something every 15-20 minutes until I have completed the workout. Here are a few tips that will help you train your gut so that your head stays in the race and your legs move forward on race day.

  • During training, try carrying a Fuel Belt with at least two bottles and a carry pouch. This allows you to keep about 2 hours of fuel with you so that you don’t have to stash fuel along the route. I typically run the first 45 minutes without fuel then plan to pick up my belt for the rest of the run by looping back to my house or car. If a race belt isn’t in your budget, try these tips from the editors at Runner’s World on how to carry fuel with a few safety pins and plastic bags.
  • Find out what fuel and hydration is provided at the race. Typically a half marathon or marathon provides fuel on the course and it is accessible every few miles. The best solution would be to train your body with the same products that the course has to avoid carrying your own on race day.
  • If after a few runs your body isn’t tolerating the race designated fuel, then begin experimenting with others. It will be necessary to carry your own on race day which makes the practice of carrying a belt during training runs important. Don’t choose race day to learn how to carry fuel.
  • Aim for a small bit of fuel every 15 minutes. This will allow your body to absorb the fuel slowly and leads to less GI distress. I like to rotate my fuel every 15 minutes—4 ounces sports drink, then water, then Cliff Shot Bloks, water, sports drink and so on. Setting your watch to beep every 15 minutes can keep you on target. Rotating your caloric needs with water on the course will help your gut absorb the caloric fuel.
  • Make notes of what worked for you on your training runs. Did you feel sluggish, have GI issues or did you finish strong, as if you could keep running? Keep track of the hourly caloric intake so that you can plan your race day strategy accordingly.
  • Finally, sometimes no matter how much you plan, your gut decides to go south on race day. If you start to feel queasy or your stomach starts to sour, stick with water for a few of your nutrition intervals and your situation will likely improve.

Practicing your race day nutrition during your weekly long run will help train your gut and taste buds to tolerate the fuel and just as the running becomes routine so will your food plan. If you have to eat out of a package, reserve it for race day!