Running-Advice.com -- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Training: Wow, you eat a lot when you run!

Last night I overheard some of my runners at the track talking about something that I had written. In my Sunday training diary, I had listed out some of the foods that I had eaten during my long run (a 36 miler). Out of the corner of my ear, I heard someone say: “Did you read about what he ate during his run yesterday? He eats more during his runs than I do on most days!”

That may true. I do eat a lot. But even more importantly, I burn a lot.

When you’re running long distances, your two main challenges are keeping yourself well hydrated and well fueled. If your hydration status starts to fall, you’ll experience anything from feeling cold and shaky, to getting muscle cramps, all the way to heat stroke and heat comas. With your fuel status, on the other hand, the major issue is that if you run out of fuel you’re going to bonk, or hit the wall or stop running – however you want to refer to it.

People “hit the wall” in every marathon. You see them at mile 20 or 22 and they just can’t seem to run any more. They walk for awhile, start to run, and after a few steps they start walking again. The problem is there is no gas in the tank. Actually, there may be some gas in the tank, but it’s slow burning fuel that comes out in little bursts, which is why they can only muster 50 yards of running at a time.

My point of this discussion is not to write a treatise on nutrition. There are great books out there on the subject. Check out Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Marathoners, which just came out in a new edition for instance.

What I did want to do is sketch out why I eat so darn much on a long run. And I don’t want any of you to be scared off by the term “long run”. If you’re a slower runner that is training for a marathon and you’re spending four, five or six hours on your feet on Saturday, you need to be eating a lot as well. The big mistake I see in beginner-level runners is that when I ask them what they’ve eaten they say, “I had a gel back at mile 7” and they think this is enough. (It’s not.)

Let’s look at both the caloric burn and calories that I put in the tank this weekend as an example.

Typical calories required as a baseline in a day: 190 lbs. body weight x 10 calories = 1,900 calories
Calories burned in regular daily activity: 1,900 / 2 = 800 calories
Calories burned per mile (36 miles) = 115 x 36 = 4,140
Total calories required: 6,840

Let’s see if I came close to adding enough food into the tank:

Calories consumed
Pre-run:
1 bagel = 300 calories
1 12 oz bottle of juice = 300 calories
1 banana = 130 calories
Total: 730 calories

During run:
6 peanut-butter and honey sandwiches = 300 x 6 = 1,800
3 Odwalla Bars = 3 x ~200 calories or 600 calories
8 Gu packs = 8 x 100 calories or 800 calories
1 4 oz package of beef jerky = 80 calories
4 servings of potato chips = ~150 x 6 = 600 calories
2 bananas = 130 x 2 = 260 calories
Total: 4,140 calories

Post-run:
12 oz rib-eye steak = 720 calories
Potato Salad = 400 calories
Coleslaw = 50 calories
Sub-Total: 1,170 calories

Total Calories Required: 6,840
Total Calories Consumed: 6,040

(See, I ate all that food and I’m not a total pig.)

So the point of all of this is to illustrate that you need to think about how much food you need for your long runs. You can use the math that I used to estimate your needs. There are also great resources on the web that you can use to find the caloric content of foods, such as http://calorielab.com .

Eat more during your runs and you’ll be much happier. I promise!

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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6 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. david June 19th, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Thanks for posting this. This kind of info really helps people like me who have never done more than a half marathon.

  2. 2. dabigleap June 20th, 2007 at 9:20 am

    I guess the only questions I have about this are logistical. Basically how do you eat that much during your run? Where do you carry it? When do you eat? How do you actually have time to run when you are eathing that much?(just kidding) Do you stop to eat or eat on the run? I’m already running with 60oz of water… I don’t know if I can carry another 10lb of food too…! Any suggestions?

  3. 3. coachjoeenglish June 20th, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Great question from “Dabigleap”. I’ll be answering this shortly!

    Coach Joe

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