On Course Nutrition

On Course Nutrition

in Race Prep by

I’m at the top of my training arc for the TCS NYC Marathon which means my weekends are taken up with long runs and cross training and thoughts about what race day are going to be like. Part of my training means reminding myself how to take on calories and hydrate on those long runs.

I learned what works for me and almost as important, what I like, by trial and error. There are tons of products to choose from on the market – gels, bars, blocks, beans and chews (just to name a few). What will work for you? You need to sample different products to find out what tastes good, what you can stomach and what you can carry during your event. Pro tip, don’t do this on race day! Use your long runs not just to condition your body for the race you’re training for, but to determine your optimal hydration and calorie strategies.

Here’s what works for me:

On Course NutritionOn Course Calories

When racing, I like to use a product I don’t have to chew, is small (easy to carry) and easy to open and eat. I want to pull it out of my pocket, tear it open and squeeze the calories into my stomach with as little effort as possible.  After about four years of trial and error, I landed on GU Energy Gels. GU Gels come in small, 100 calorie packets and offer easily-digested and long-lasting energy. Gu is a mix of carbs, amino acids and electrolytes – all important nutrients while you’re burning calories during a training run or race. A few flavors even have caffeine (which I’ve been relying on the last few years).

Calorie Consumption

  • Marathon – every six miles up to 18 miles then every two – four miles as needed.
  • 13.1 – at mile six and potentially again at 10 depending how I’m feeling.
  • Sprint distance triathlon – after the swim, as soon as I get on the bike.
  • Olympic distance tri – one when I get on the bike and another as I’m getting off the bike.

The trick to taking on calories when racing is to eat before you’re hungry. Once you feel hungry, it’s hard to feel satiated without overeating. And overeating will make it difficult to continue racing. If you overeat you can end up with GI issues and find yourself racing to the Port-A-Potty rather than the finish line.

Taking on calories while racing has not only kept me from bonking, but helped me finish races in times that I never thought I’d be able to achieve.

On Course Hydration

Of course calories aren’t the only important aspect of on course nutrition, hydration is just as, if not more important and should not be overlooked. I don’t carry water with me while running and rely on the race organizers and sometimes the kindness of spectators to make sure I stay hydrated during a 13.1 or marathon.

On Course Nutrition

Hydration Consumption

Again, I use a simple formula.

  • If the weather isn’t too hot, I hit every other water station and switch off between whatever energy drink is being served and water (assuming the stations are two miles apart).
  • If it’s hot and humid, I hit every water station, while again switching off between energy drink and water.
  • And if it’s miserably hot and humid, I’ll hit every water station and apply the “Drink One, Wear One” method. That is, for every cup of water I drink, I’ll toss one over my head (note, don’t do this with the energy drink  I’ve made this mistake a few times and it’s not fun). I’ve only had to do this a few times in my short endurance sports career, but it makes all the difference.
  • When on the bike I carry two water bottles with me. A good rule of thumb is to consume one 20oz bottle every hour and like running, I switch off between an electrolyte solution and regular water. Thankfully, there are more and more choices for on-the-go electrolyte supplements. I don’t like anything too syrupy sweet and have been using Nuun tablets for almost 10 years. I can carry them in my jersey pocket and just pop a tablet into my bottle when filling up.

Got tips or strategies of your own? I’d love to hear them in the comments.


  1. Hi again – I know NYRR will have Gatorade Endurance along the course. I’ve been using regular Gatorade Thirst Quencher. All the advice is to practice with what you’ll use on the race, but the Endurance version isn’t readily available in stores. Are they similar enough that knowing I’m used to Thirst Quencher I can be pretty sure I’ll be OK with the Endurance version? Thanks so much.

  2. You should be fine, while I don’t know the exact formulas, they are similar enough that as long as you can stomach Gatorade from the store you shouldn’t have any problems with the one on the course.

  3. Hi – what about if you use the Generation Ucan product does the rule still apply of 1 gel pack every 6 miles, and then 1 every 2 to 4 miles? Thanks

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