Building off last weeks post about fueling for obstacle course racing, I wanted to talk about intra-race fueling in this weeks post. Just like diet, each person is going to have their own fueling strategy that works best for them. In this post I am going to discuss what I do as far as intra-race fueling and also discuss other options you can try yourself. Ultimately though you will need to experiment with your own fueling strategies during training to find what works for you.
When To Fuel?
One of the benefits of being “fat adapted” is reducing your dependence on glucose to fuel your training and racing. Personally I do not find that I need any intra-race fueling, besides water, for events less than 2 hours. I can easily run an aerobic pace (even slightly above) for that long without needing to take in any calories. If you plan on running for 2 hours at a pace that is not mostly aerobic then you might want to consider taking in some fuel along the way as you will be relying more on your glycogen stores. Again you will want to experiment with how much to take in during your training.
If you are going to be running more than 2 hours, whether aerobic or not, you will want to start to think about taking in some fuel during the race. Your next question might be how often do I fuel, once I start eating? If I know I am going to be racing for longer than 2 hours, I start taking in fuel around the 1 hour mark. From that point on I generally go by feel. There is nothing wrong with taking in fuel on a schedule if you want, it all depends on what works best for you.
What To Fuel With?
Here is what I personally do as far as fueling during a race.
I use a Salmon S/LAB SENSE ULTRA 8 SET when I am running. In the two flasks I put the following
That gives you a nice mixture of all of the macronutrients in a very easily digestible form. With the fuel being in your water flasks you are getting a bit of fuel every time your hydrate, so it is almost like a constant drip of calories. I also like to carry some solid food with me for those times where you really feel like you need something in your stomach. I love to bring nut butter packets with me. The Justin’s Honey Almond Butter is my favorite. I also carry an RX Maple Sea Salt bar with me as well. I will use these as the mood strikes throughout the race.
There are plenty of other clean fuel options out there for you to try as well.
Recently someone told me about Muir Energy, a Paleo friendly “Gu”. While I have not tried these out myself, I am going to experiment with them soon. I have tried them when not working out, and they taste pretty good. They are all Paleo friendly and they offer both “fast burning” and “slow burning” options.
Another popular fuel option is UCAN, which is a slow burning carbohydrate that does not spike blood sugar. Lots of people swear by it. Personally I am not a fan of it. Not sure I can describe why, something about it does not sit well with my stomach. I believe the starch they use is derived from corn, which in general, does not sit well with my stomach, perhaps that is why. They offer a powder to mix into your water bottle as well as bars.
Vespa is another option that you can use to mix into your water bottle. I have never tried it but many people seem to like it.
FBombs is another “Gu” option I have heard good things about.
Finally there is the make your own option. People like to combine their favorite ingredients in baby food pouches and use that as fuel during the race. Sweet potatoes, avocados, bananas, coconut butter/oil, MCT oil, etc can all be blended together and put in these pouches.
My friend Lindsay Taylor has a good Instagram post detailing her favorite baby food pouch recipe
GUs and Such
While I prefer you use the cleanest source of fuel possible, I also realize that this is a race, and the objective is to perform the best you possibly can. If that means using GUs, drinking gatorade, having some soda, or any other kind of traditional sports nutrition supplement I am ultimately fine with it. Is it the best for your health? Probably not, but in some cases we can sacrifice some health for performance gains. Also if you are ultimately a healthy person, some offensive ingredients occasionally should be fine. I would encourage you to at least experiment with some of the fueling options above to see if they might work for you.
Electrolytes might also be something you might be concerned about depending on your diet and the weather. My strategy when it comes to electrolytes is to take in some the day before and morning of if you know it is going to be very hot. If it is a really long race you can also take some in during the race as well. What brand? Thorne Catalyte is NSF certified. Nuun is very popular. LMNT is another new brand that I have heard good things about.
Fueling is very individualized, luckily there is no shortage of options available to find what will work for you. The keys to figuring out the right fueling strategy is experimentation during training. Do not try anything new on race day or you risk having a sub-par race performance, or even worse, dropping out of the race all together.