Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday's Training and Food Review

Sunday plans were shifted around and I got the chance to sleep in! Well, 6:45am sleep in. Slow and steady waking up, having breakfast and heading out for the second long run of the weekend. 18 miles along the soggy trails of the nearby park. The rain really did a number on the dirt, which was much softer and thicker than normal. My legs appreciated the forgiving ground as I made my way up and back twice along the route.

42 miles of running this weekend made me pay more attention to what I was eating. The pace I'm running at is not fast. It's a 5 on a 1-10 scale of speed (and, being a "5" I don't even have to define whether 1 or 10 is fastest on that scale). But, being out there for multiple hours still requires some form of calories. Here's a quick review of some of the products I have used in the past, and which I'd recommend for endurance events.


Gel packets filled with frosting or pudding-like substances. Flavors ranging from fruity (strawberry, orange...ect) to desserty (chocolate, mocha, vanilla). Most runners refer to these gels as Gu, whether or not they mean that actual Gu brand, or another - Hammer Gel, Honey Stingers, Clif Shots any some other almost-liquid energy gels.

The pros of using a gel are many. They are easy to carry. They require no chewing (which is a benefit when you are so tired that you don't want to waste your energy moving your jaw -- this is how I felt in Alaska). They come in a variety of flavors.

I don't use gels anymore, though. The high fructose content is GU and Clif Gel specifically can upset my stomach. My body doesn't want to digest that stuff. I've used Hammer Gels, which don't contain fructose. They are okay, too. But overall I prefer the challenge of having to run and chew at the same time. I think there are better fuels out there.

Clif Shot Blocks

These gummy squares are a favorite of a lot of my teammates. And on occasion, I eat them too. They are a cross between hard jello and a soft gummy bear, and like the gels, they come in many flavors. Strawberry, Cranberry and Lemon-Lime are my favorite. Margarita and Pina Colada are not.

The pros of using Shot Blocks are their calorie content (200 per package), their texture - if you like gummy things, and their sweet flavor. I find they they usually provide me a good shot of energy 5-10 minutes after I take them. Sure, that might be psychological. But I think the sugar has something to do with it, too.

The cons are that they can get stuck in your teeth for a couple of miles after you take them. Now, this can be a pro if you are looking to distract yourself from the run. But if you took one that you didn't like (Pina Colada, for instance), you are stuck tasting that flavor for a while. Be careful, and with all of these products, find something you like.

Jelly Belly Sport Beans

Made my the Jelly Belly company, these little beans come in packets of about 10-12 and in a bunch of flavors - Cherry, Orange, Blue Raspberry, Watermelon, Lemon-Lime, Fruit Punch. The packets themselves are a little bigger than gel packets, and each contain 100 calories. Jelly beans are my go-food when I am running long. I usually carry 3-4 packets of them on me.

The pros of these beans, for me, are they they don't upset my stomach at all, and I digest them quick enough for them to be an effective boost of energy. My favorite flavors are orange and lemon-lime. I think the watermelon one has a weird aftertaste, not unlike expired poison. They taste slightly salty, too, which balances out the shock of sweetness.

There are drawbacks, however. The first of which is the fact that they only deliver 100 calories per pack, meaning you have to carry more of them than some gels. Also, after taking 3-4 packs in one run, the sweet taste tends to get a little gross. Combine that with drinking something sugary like Gatorade, and you'll never want to drink sugar drinks again. These beans, too, challenge you to chew when you'd rather not be. But they are less prone to getting stuck in your teeth than the Shot Blocks.

Real Food

I know many endurance athletes prefer real food over "running food," and for the most part I agree. But when you are challenged to carry the food with you on a run (as opposed to having it there for you at an aid station), sometimes you just having to go with what's most portable.

My favorite real foods to eat are peanut butter cracker sandwiches (the little Ritz ones) and pretzels. I eat pretzels by the handful when they are available. Mild, dry and nonthreatening to the digestive track, I think pretzels are the perfect running food. Peanut butter is up there, too, and the fat content in it is a plus for ultra running (you start burning more fat when you run out of glucose in your blood around 20 miles), but because it's heavier as a substance, it can challenge your stomach a little more. Both snacks, however, provide a little salt to an otherwise sugary running diet. I'm okay eating M&Ms, Skittles, Starbursts, too. During the second Goofy race, I devoured two mini chocolate bars like my life depended on it.

I avoid bananas, oranges and grapes (upset stomach), and I've never been a fan of trail mixes even though I like the saltiness. Complex carbs like (running food) Clif Bars are usually an end of race treat, not a mid-race one.

Most importantly, I get a lot of calories and electrolytes through liquids - I use electrolyte powder in my water, and I sip on Powerade, Gatorade and sometimes Accelerade to keep my body going.

My reviews are not meant to be hard-and-fast recommendations. As with all nutrition advice, you have to figure out what works for you. And it's taken me a couple years to find out what my body responds to best. Some people can eat 8 Gu gels during a marathon. Others can't even look at it without a stomach cramp. The key is to experiment well before race day. Use your long runs to try out new foods, and pick the one that helps get you to the finish line.

Today's a day of rest on the workout side of life. I'm waiting for my appetite to really kick in after the weekends events. I hope the lunch they serve today at work is tasty (it usually is).

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