Mid-race fueling may seem straightforward (consume when tired, right?), but there are a few key tips regarding timing, amount, and format for consumption, that will help fuel your better during an upcoming goal race.
Two of the most common questions about mid race fueling from both avid endurance athletes, as well as those beginning their first trail or road races (whether on foot or by pedal) are “how often?” and “how much?”
How often? How much? Rates of consumption:
Performance benefits have been proven with consumption rates of 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate intake per hour, for training sessions and races lasting between 1 and 2 ½ hours1. If you’re exercising intensely, I suggest you aim for closer to 60 grams of carb. For training and racing duration over 2 ½ hours, consume upwards of 90 grams carbohydrate per hour.
Always consume carbohydrate intake proactively to avoid energy slumps, or “hitting the wall” mid-race. For most athletes refueling will begin around 45 minutes into your race/training event, and should continue every 45 to 60 minutes with total intake quantity aligning with your expected duration. For example, in a 2 hour half marathon, a runner would eat approximately 30 grams of carbohydrate at 45 minutes, and again at 90 minutes.
Your carbohydrate intake should be from a mixture of functional sugar sources such as glucose and fructose, which are easiest to digest and absorb while in “fight or flight” mode (your body’s natural state during training, as a response to the physical stress—albeit complementary).
Clean, plant-based carbohydrate options to utilize during your race that are primarily glucose and fructose include:
- Coconut (sugar, water)
- Brown rice syrup
- Maple syrup
- Agave nectar
Gels are commonly used as mid-race fuel for endurance athletes. Here are my top gel tips:
Take With Fluids:
Sipping on a gel intermittently with sips of water at the appropriately timed aid station, or along the course if you BYO (bring your own: gel and fluids) will help make it easier to swallow, and improve palatability. Often it can be hard to salivate properly mid-race, and without fluids, you may find a gel hard to consume.
Alternative uses for gels
Gels can be used in a few unconventional ways, which is especially nice if you are using one based from whole food ingredients, like Vega Sport Endurance Gel. When you use food as fuel, the options become very flexible, despite a sport-specific format.
- Use a Vega Sport Endurance Gel on toast, as an alternative to jam. Great for a pre-run/race meal, 1 to 2 hours prior to starting your run. Use sprouted grain breads wherever possible for the best net-energy gain
- Dissolve a Vega Sport Endurance Gel in water for a whole food-based sports drink that’s caffeine free. This will work best if you dissolve the gel in warm water first (shake vigorously), and then cool the water to your desired temperature (add ice or refrigerate for 2-3 hours)
- Use as a replacement for honey, date paste, maple syrup or agave syrup in raw recipes, such as energy bites. These will make excellent trail snacks for mid-workout such as a trail hike, mountain biking, or other backcountry pursuits.
Alternatives to gels
If you have tried every tip possible, and still can’t stomach using a gel mid workout, consider a carbohydrate-based sports drink such as Vega Sport Pre-Workout Energizer in a handheld water bottle or hip flask, or a Vega Sport Energy Bar in small bites along the course, or dried dates (2 to 3 in replacement of an Endurance Gel).
- Ryan, Monique. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. 3rd Ed. Velopress, 2012.