When I ran my first marathon my fueling strategy was to eat a few sport beans when I felt hungry. That worked really well....until it didn't. I had 2.2 miles to go and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to the finish line. It literally hit like a ton of bricks and I went from feeling fine to feeling like I was going to pass out. I recognized that my blood sugar likely got too low and ate whatever I could get my hands on. I ended up crossing that finish line but I learned A LOT of hard lessons that day that eventually lead me to starting my own business and helping other runners avoid those mistakes and fuel their body not just for race day but for everyday.
Here are the reasons why it's important to HAVE a fueling plan and to PRACTICE it
You're Less Likely To Have GI Issues
Nobody wants to deal with this while you're out running but unfortunately it's a very common thing and one of the big reasons that people DNF. It can range from not having an appetite to not being able to keep food down, having diarrhea, etc... I know--not fun. Using the fuel you plan to use on race day during your training runs can greatly reduce the likelihood of this being an issue. It can happen from not eating enough, eating too much, hydration/electrolyte imbalance, eating unfamiliar foods, etc.. The more practice you have the more you will know what YOU can tolerate
You're Less Likely To Hit The Wall/Bonk
There are recommended ranges for how many grams of carbs, milligrams of sodium, and ounces of fluid you should consume each hour during an endurance event. These recommendations have been widely studied( PMID: 30943823) BUT they are still ranges and you want to find where the sweet spot is for you. Just like with daily nutrition--this is not the time to just do what your friend or that influencer is doing-- you are an individual and you need to find what works for you. When you give YOUR body exactly what it needs you will feel great and cross that finish line.
You'll Be Prepared
When you practice your fueling plan you will know exactly what you need to eat and drink on race day. You will have practiced how you will carry those things with you on the course. I'm not saying to stay away from aid station food but if it's not going to have what you've been practicing with then you'll need to bring your own. I often have runners practice with specific aid station foods if they know they will want to eat that on race day.
Race Day Confidence
Instead of getting to the starting line with a few gels and prayers you will feel confident in knowing that you have practiced this. Your body has felt great during training. And you will finish the race and crush your goals. Race day is not the time to bust out a new fueling strategy. I recommend starting to practice when you start training!
Race day fueling, just like daily nutrition, is very individual and is based off your preferences, climate, terrain, tolerance, and more. If you're new to distance running or don't have a good fueling plan nailed down we can help! We have 3 different ways that you can get a customized fueling plan and there's an option for every budget:
Click on the links to learn more or send me an email and we can discuss the best option for you
Kayla Fitzgerald is a Registered Dietitian & Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and founder of Endurance Nutrition located in Charleston, South Carolina. She works with clients 1:1, through small group coaching, and self guided programs. Her goal is to help you fuel your body for whatever the day has in store whether it's a 100 mile race or getting through the work day.