Marathon Meals: Fueling on the Go

lululemon ambassador Heather Calcote shares how she learned to eat on the run

Heather CalcoteRefueling during a marathon can be quite the challenge and isn’t always the prettiest sight. Those who manage to get more water in their mouth than on their bibs consider themselves lucky. lululemon ambassador Heather Calcote shares how she mastered fueling on the go.

Running on empty

While I was training for my marathon I experimented with quite a few different fueling strategies. Nothing ever worked the magic I hoped it would and I had a hard time stomaching “food” on the go. On race day, intense nausea joined the party around mile 14 and I knew trouble was ahead.

As a dietitian I had to admit defeat. I hadn’t properly researched how to fuel for long distance runs and it certainly got the best of me. When I started training for marathon No. 2, I learned the value and importance of electrolytes, glucose, hydration and the art of planning ahead.

Energy burning science

The muscles and brain use glucose (a form of sugar) to function. As we exercise, they burn through what is readily available in the muscles & liver (stored as glycogen). That “hitting the wall” feeling results from the depletion of your body’s glucose storage and the need to be refueled.

Finding your fuel

Carbohydrate fuel sources that work the “best” to restore glucose levels will vary depending on each athlete. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Gu and gels*
  • Gummy chews (e.g. Clif Bar Shot Bloks)*
  • Snack foods (pretzels, crackers)
  • High carb Snack bars (e.g. Larabar)
  • Honey or agave
  • Sport drinks (e.g. Gatorade, Accelerade)*

*keep in mind that sport-specific products will contain electrolytes (sodium, potassium) in addition to sugar.

Don’t get stuck on empty

  • 60 minutes or less of exercise: you have adequate body stores of glucose to maintain activity and energy. Drink water as needed.
  • 60-75 minutes of exercise: aim to take in 100-250 calories, rehydrate with water and/or sport drink*
  • More than 75 minutes of exercise: take 1-2.5 sport gels (100-250+ calories) and/or 14-60oz of sport drink per hour*

*specific caloric and fluid ounce needs differ based on athlete’s weight, endurance level, the weather and amount of time spent exercising

Timing is everything

I typically take in calories every 5-6 miles (when running any longer than 90 minutes) and take water with me on every run when it’s hot out. During the winter and long runs, I drink fluids every other mile.


What works for Heather may not be your secret sauce. Use your training runs to experiment with different types of fuel, timing and amounts that work for you. Let us know what you stock in your fuel belt!


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