Fueling during a marathon/ironman is important in order to maintain energy levels and thus peak performance throughout the duration of the event. About fifty percent of energy is supplied from carbohydrates. As your body’s quick energy reserve (liver and muscle glycogen) starts empty, it becomes more reliant on the sugar in our blood to provide energy for our muscles and brain. For shorter training sessions, lasting less than 60 minutes, typical eating habits should be sufficient. Longer events, lasting multiple hours, paying attention to your fueling habits can increase energy and enhance stamina. Foods you choose to consume during your longer events/training sessions should mostly consist of carbohydrates. Reason one, these foods help to keep blood sugar levels normal, and prevent that “hitting the wall” feeling. Reason two, foods consisting of simple carbohydrates are easier to digest than foods with higher amounts of protein and fat. With higher intensity workouts, such as running a marathon, you may find that you can only tolerate energy gels and sports drinks. Lower intensity workouts, such as walking a marathon or hiking, may allow for the incorporation of standard foods. Figuring out what foods work best for you is key.
Research has shown that there is no difference in performance benefits between sports gels, beans or chews. All three contain similar amounts and type of simple carbohydrate. Finding whole food products, that can be tolerated at higher intensities, can be a bit more tricky but not impossible. Your best bet may be to consume a mix of sports products, such as gels and chews, and natural foods. When consuming a variety your body will have access to different forms of carbohydrates that may lead to improved overall carbohydrate digestibility and absorption, thus lower GI discomfort and more energy.
Next time you go out for a practice training session bring along several different foods to try. Examples of good carbohydrate options are gels, banana, mini pretzels, gummy bears, dried fruit, and fig newtons. Pack a belt loop with one of two options of your choice and see how they are tolerated. May take several tries before you find what works best for you!
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