You’re motivated, feeling strong, energised and then all of a sudden you ‘hit the wall’ – figuratively speaking of course. Preparing in advance by eating the right foods before your run is the best way to avoid this energy slump, but what do you do if it does happen?
We’ve all been there, it’s frustrating and often demotivating, but it is possible to boost your energy and get back on track while running simply by eating and drinking the right food
Firstly let’s understand why your energy can fail you
If you run for less than a hour, you’re unlikely to need to eat or even drink during this time as most of your energy will come from glycogen stored in your muscles. However, for longer runs, especially those over two hours, you might need to top up your fuel.
Your body has a limited supply of glycogen available to fuel your muscles and these reserves typically only last for up to 2 hours. During the first hour of exercise, most of your energy comes from stored glycogen in your muscles.
This all depends on the intensity of the exercise. In high intensity exercise, glycogen stores can be depleted after 20 minutes and in low intensity exercise, they can last for up to 90 minutes. However, in a training run, you are unlikely to need to refuel during a 1 hour run unless the first part has been very high intensity.
After this, your muscles start to get their fuel from your blood sugar, which again comes from stored glycogen, but this time from your liver. The glycogen from the liver is also a limited source (unless refuelled) so once it’s been used up, your blood sugar level falls and so too does your energy.
Ways to boost your energy during a long run:
There are several things you can eat and drink during your longer runs to help prevent you from running out of energy and help boost your performance. Eat 30 minutes into exercise so that later in the run the energy is already there to be called upon – be PROACTIVE rather than REACTIVE.
Eat to beat fatigue
If you’re prone to energy dips during longer spells of running, carry with you and eat small amounts of foods that are full of energy and easy to digest. High-GI carbohydrates are best at this time as they will top up your blood glucose quickly, fuelling the muscles that need them.
High GI foods which are energy boosting and also portable include energy bars, raisins, pretzels, gummy sweets and even sports jelly beans, which are formulated to help fuel the body during intense exercise.
Dehydration usually only occurs on runs lasting more than an hour, so you may find that you don’t have to drink during runs of less than an hour. However, if you do, plain water is a good choice.
If you’re running long distances or running in hot temperatures, it’s very easy to become dehydrated and consequently fatigued. That’s why staying hydrated is so very important as it helps to replenish the fluid lost by your body through sweating and also to maintain your endurance.
If you’re running for longer than an hour or taking part in more intense runs such as a marathon, you may also need to replace electrolytes, which are lost when you sweat. Electrolytes help you retain fluids, maintain hydration and also prevent muscle cramps.
Sports drinks are popular with long distance runners as many contain electrolytes, whereas plain water doesn’t. Sports drinks also provide an extra energy source in the form of carbohydrates. Studies have found that sports drinks, as opposed to plain water, can significantly enhance performance and in turn, improve your running time.
Don’t like sports drinks? Coconut water also contains electrolytes, making this a more natural substitute or you can add water-enhancing electrolyte tablets or powder to your refillable water bottle.
For longer runs (over 1.5 hours) and races such as marathons, isotonic energy gels are a combination of water and food and are ideal for providing fast energy boosts. They provide glucose directly into your bloodstream and are an easily absorbed form of carbohydrates.
They are also more portable than a water bottle as they can be easily stored in pockets. However, a point to remember is that some gels are not isotonic and therefore you must drink water with them to absorb them in your gut.
How do you boost your energy during a long run or race?