Fuel Options: Food for the Trail

I was really surprised (admittedly pleasantly surprised) when I transitioned from road racing to trail racing at the difference in food choices at aid stations.  No longer was I limited to choking down a gel every hour or so as is common on the road.  Upon running into an aid station on a trail race, it is very common to see actual food like pb & j sandwiches, quesadillas and boiled potatoes in addition to the standard gels, chews and electrolyte drinks.  This opened up a whole new world of options in terms of fueling choices during runs, and to be honest it was a little overwhelming to know what I “should” be eating.  So what should you be eating during your runs?  This is a very personal decision as there is no exact handbook listing what you should eat, but let me introduce the idea of “how” you should eat:

  • Food is fuel.  Consider the caloric breakdown of what you are eating to make sure you are intaking enough calories per hour.  If you want to know a basic starting point of how many calories you should be eating per hour, start with AT LEAST 100 calories for a 120 lb person and add approximately 100 calories for every 30-40 lbs.  You can use your longer runs to fine tune your exact needs.  

  • Once you have a handle on your caloric needs, play around with different types of foods based off of your taste preference, accessibility and your body’s ability to tolerate.  

  • Don’t make the mistake of not eating anything because you don’t feel hungry.  Often times by the time you “bonk” due to under fueling it’s too late to pull out of that, especially in marathon distance and shorter races.   

  • What works for one person, doesn’t always work for the next person.  Often times nailing down what works for you is a matter of trial and error so be patient with yourself.

For what it’s worth, my favorite road running foods are gels like GU brand and liquid EFS as well as GU brand Stroop Waffles.  They are easy to digest during high intensity runs and convenient to carry.  For trail, I usually prefer more solid foods if I have room in my pack so I eat things like beef jerky, quesadillas wrapped in tin foil, Uncrustables sandwiches and Swedish Fish.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.


Coach K