Figuring out fuel

I’d hate to jinx myself, but Friday mornings so far this fall have turned into the most perfect mix of exercise and rejuvenation. Exercise because I have a kick-butt Pilates reformer session first thing after getting kids off to school, and rejuvenation because I follow up the 50-minute sweat-fest of a class with a long trail run in the woods. It’s also the one day of my work week when I have the flexibility to get cozy with my computer at my favorite coffee shop, which happens to dish out one of my most favorite post-run meals, especially once cooler weather hits: a heaping bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.

Post-run deliciousness. The latte is a must for extra-hard workout days.

I’ve been treating myself to this breakfast for the past couple of weeks, and it’s been a huge motivator to power through the tough core workout and subsequent challenging run. It also fuels me so that I can stay on task with work—not always easy to do on Fridays, right?—so I can, when I really just put my head down and get crackin’ on looming deadlines, start the weekend with my family as soon as my kids get off the bus mid-afternoon.

If only all my post-run meals were just as healthy and filling. Yep, my name is Heather and I am a relatively slow learner when it comes to smart fueling—specifically, feeding myself well post-run and also sometimes mid-run. Before runs, I will say, I’m pretty good. Up early for the 6:53 a.m. school bus pick-up, I eat with my kids, typically a small bowl of oatmeal, peanut butter and bananas on toast, or yogurt and granola. Coupled with a few sips of coffee and I’m ready for my run a half hour or so later.

But it’s the mid-run and post-run fuel that’s most stumped me through the years. It’s not that I don’t have great ideas and intentions—I’ve talked about this lots with running friends, blogged about the different things I’ve tried, and have discovered loads of new ideas from fellow AMR tribe members—but following through with these…well, it doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. Too often, particularly after long weekend runs when I really need the fuel, I get caught up taking care of my family instead of making fueling (and sometimes a shower) a top priority. And I wonder why I am sluggish and shaky not long afterward, longing for a nap rather than savoring that good-sore kind of tired feeling because I thanked my hard-working body with hearty and necessary food.

Also, I’ll just say it: I’m not always the best planner when it comes to incorporating fuel throughout my long runs (thank goodness I have running buddies who are a bit more, um, Type A and ensure our running group has plenty of Gu Chomps, sports jelly beans and water at the ready). But, really, I should be more organized by now, given the three marathons and more than half a dozen half-marathons under my belt. I definitely learned the most while training for my first marathon, for which I hired a running coach. She taught me the importance of taking my first fuel around the 45-minute mark, or between miles five and six, of a long run. Planting water/hydration, or planning water fountain stops on the route, also was emphasized to me. Like I said, I’m getting better at this (I’m looking into hand-held water bottles, an idea that I once eschewed but now really want to try). Lisa also instructed me to enjoy an ice-cold can of Coke (not diet, the real, regular sugar deal) after my first 20-miler. Coca-Cola never tasted so good.

As I’ve trained for a half-marathon this October, I’ve been experimenting with different fuel options—and forcing myself to make sure to eat something satisfying and good within that important window of time—45 minutes post-workout--when our bodies are craving healthy carbs and protein. (Check out Sarah’s piece in Runner’s World about post-run nutrition to learn more) In addition, I’ve discovered a few new things that work well for me mid-run. Interestingly enough, what once worked fairly well for me in the past, particularly my first marathon—Hammer Gels and Gu packets—now don’t sit so well with my tummy. Here’s what’s working:

A newer fave post-long run meal: egg whites, beans, meat & whole wheat toast. And Vulcan's Fire Salt. Don't forget that.

Mid-run: all-natural granola with dried cherries (I like Michigan-based Simply Suzanne Sweet and Savory So Very Cherry Granola). I put a handful in a plastic baggie, which I carry in my running skirt's back or front pocket. Just remember to take any remains in the plastic bag out of your pocket before washing your running clothes. The dryer-cooked bag did have a nice-smelling aroma to it ...

Post-run: egg-white scramble with beans (I especially like red kidney, great white northern, and black beans). Sometimes I’ll mix in chopped chicken breast or chicken sausage if we have leftovers from the night before. And I always, always sprinkle it with Vulcan's Fire Salt from The Spice House in Chicago. Yum.

What's your favorite mid-run and post-run fuel?


14 responses to “Figuring out fuel

  1. Mid long run….cherry pie filling. It’s sweet, but not too sweet…and I am not a big fan of gatorade while running. Salt tabs are the other necessity…or pickles.

    So yeah, pickles and pie filling. Delicious.

  2. I finally found a gel that doesn’t cause massive stomach cramps. (For years I was running on 1/2 strength gatorade.) I’m still experimenting with timing and frequency on the gel. After run fueling has always been a luna bar. It will happily wait in the car while I am running, contains the right mix of protein/carbs, and I can usually tolerate it while I’m stretching, so I can take advantage of the 30-60 minute recovery window. Then I have eggs and toast after a shower.

    I’ll have to try beans mixed in my eggs. Two faves combined in one? Love it!

  3. Mid-run, I eat the Snyders peanut butter pretzel sandwiches. They work great for me. Trying to decide how many to take for my marathon. I’ve been doing 10 for my 15-18 mile runs. Maybe 15-20. Better figure it out soon as it’s just over a week – Chicago!!

    Post run I love oatmeal with diced apples or peaches, walnuts or almonds, and either dates, raisins, or craisins.

    I recently discovered a yummy (and super easy) protein pancake recipe that I’ve been eating quite a bit. 3 egg whites and 1/4 cup of oatmeal. Seriously, that is it. Cook it up just like a regular pancake. I it with a little greek yogurt and fruit. I didn’t think it would really work, but it’s good!!

  4. I love raspberry kefir after a long run. Protein, sugar, and probiotics. It’s an acquired taste but I love the little bit of fizziness in it. Before short runs I like either 2 BelVita biscuits or just a banana.

  5. Uh oh… so the snack sized Oreo Blast from Sonic was probably NOT my best choice for post-run nutrition after my 17 miler today eh Hahha… I couldn’t resist!!!

  6. I have a stash of Coca Cola in my laundry room for migraines & post-long runs. REAL Coke, from Mexico, with REAL sugar. Hits the spot perfectly!

    1. Ditto on the Mexican Coke! Perfect for post run pick me up, though i usually go for chocolate milk right after the run and save the coke for a couple hours later when I’m starting to drag.
      For mid run fuel I’m experimenting with honey and chia seeds.

      1. Yes, directly after a long run I have the chocolate milk. The Coke is for later on, post-ice bath and stretching
        when I’m a slug.

  7. Thank you for this post! I just completed my first 1/2 maarthon and I’m still new to all the different fueling techniques. I used shot blocks during my half and really liked them but prior to that I wasnt really using anything else:-( but that will soon change! After my runs I LOVE LOVE chocolate milk or a peanut butter/banana smoothie smoothie. Im going to incorcopate my tofu scramble recipe and add some beans too!

  8. Heather, I read parts of this post aloud to my husband and 9 year old daughter, and said, “When you run 20 miles, you can have a can of Coke, too!” They were amused. (My daughter often says, “You’re always ‘healthy this and healthy that.'”)

    I’m currently up to 8 miles, and a single cough drop mid-run works for me. I like the idea of granola mid-run when I have more mileage. Post-run, I will start out with an almond milk/whey protein smoothie with a half a banana and a dash of cardamom powder. Then, toast with nut butter or granola and yogurt (accompanied by a latte) is lovely.

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