I remember when a marathon was a chocolate bar and snickers were what could be heard if I said I was going to run 42km. Now, I'm going to run a marathon and I'm free to choose from snickers bars, chocolate drops or jelly beans to fuel my way.
Long runs require regular sugar top-ups and are the perfect way to eat forbidden treats absolutely guilt free.
What exactly does a running body crave? How many calories are needed? What are the best snacks to keep going? What happens when running on empty?
What does a running body crave?
A runner's body craves carbohydrates because they contain glucose. Glucose is a sugar that is essential for muscle, brain and nerve function. The body stores a small amount in the form of glycogen, which is found in muscles. Running will deplete glycogen stores if they are not replenished. Frequent carbohydrate consumption is necessary to prevent hitting the wall and burning out.
How many calories are required?
Depending on the size of the runner, between 100 and 250 calories/25 to 60 grams carbs per hour is enough to keep going strong. Consuming too much risks bloating or cramping. Take care to choose snacks, gels or drinks that are best for you. The body stores enough glycogen to fuel a 75min run. Anything longer than that and stores should be topped up regularly starting from around the first 40min.
What are the best things to eat?
The body needs sugar, and it is up to you to decide in what form you will take it. The natural option could be bananas or dried fruit. For indulgence sake mini Snickers, Mars or Milky Ways are a handy treat. Sports products are a convenient option. Energy gels are easily absorbed. Drinks such as Red Bull or Gatorade power up but could slosh around.
TIP: Drinking or eating sugary things while the mouth is dry increases the risk of tooth damage. Drink water with every pit-stop.
What happens when running on empty?
Once all the glycogen reserves have been used up the body and the brain become fatigued. With nothing left to burn it is extremely difficult to continue. This is known as 'hitting the wall'. When the body has no carbohydrate to burn and the runner manages to continue, the body moves on to burning fat. This transition is what causes the euphoric, sometimes hallucinogenic state known to all runners who have broken through the wall.
Running fuel; the just desserts