Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fuel for the Long Run

As I've mentioned in other posts, I try to fuel myself and my family with real food as often as possible.  It comes as little surprise, then, that I carry this same philosophy into fueling while running.  I've spent many a naptime Googling the best natural fuels to carry on the run, and I thought I'd share what's worked well for me.

For the vast majority of my long runs, I rely on raisins or dates to keep my energy levels on track.  Before you click away thinking I'm out of my mind, hear me out.  I know raisins sound like a counter-intuitive choice, but they really work wonders.  On one of my first long runs, I encountered some GI distress around mile 4, which was the time I had planned to eat some raisins.  I did not want to eat any, for fear of making my angry intestines even angrier, but I was hungry and 4 miles from home.  I reluctantly ate a few, and the GI discomfort disappeared almost immediately.  I'm not sure if the raisins actually helped the GI problem, but I know for a fact that they did not exacerbate the situation.  I've fueled with raisins on countless runs since that time and have never experienced GI rumblings as a result.

My longtime long run companion.

I like raisins and dates because they are easy to carry and they keep well.  I dump some into a snack size Ziploc bag, slide the bag my pocket, and head out the door.  They get jostled around during the run but are no worse for the wear.  And they are small enough that I can nibble on a few while still running.

For longer long runs, I get a bit tired of dried fruit and venture out into other options.  I love eating a banana to fuel a run, though transportation is obviously an issue.  Sometimes I plan out my route so that I can stop by my house and grab a banana.  When I don't want to stop by home, I've learned that I can carry half of a banana in a small bag in my jacket pocket, and it keeps well enough for the first few miles.  On such runs, I am sure to eat the banana first (usually around mile 4) because I'm not sure how long it will last in an enclosed bag getting jostled with every footfall.  After 4 miles, it's usually a bit banged up but still tastes good to me.

A newcomer to my fueling plan, but one that's going to stick around.

During last week's 15-miler, I added in another food option: sweet potato.  I had baked several mid-week for dinner and had a few left over.  On a whim, I put half of one (without its skin) into a bag and added it to my stash.  I first reached for the sweet potato around mile 8, not too sure what to expect.  After my first tentative bite, I was hooked.  It was soft and easy to chew, and it instantly gave me the energy jolt that I needed.  I'm planning to keep sweet potato in my long run rotation.

"These foods are all well and good," I hear you say, "but how do you schlep all of it around?"  Obviously, toting around a kitchen's worth of food isn't the simplest task.  From fall through spring, I wear a vest with loads of pockets, so I have plenty of places to stash my fuel.  I also have a SPIbelt that I used to carry the sweet potato and raisins/dates last week.  The belt works great for me.  It doesn't bounce at all and is so comfortable that I quickly forget I'm wearing it.  The environment is the biggest casualty in my transportation plan.  I haven't figured out reusable ways to carry my fuel, so I use a fair number of Ziploc bags.  No plan is without flaw, right?

Do you use real food to fuel your long runs?  What are your favorites?  Have any recommendations for a reusable way to tote food on the run?