You know how cranky you get when you miss a meal? Or even when you have to wait longer than expected? Now, couple that with the stresses of trail running — and being “cranky” is the least of your worries.
Next to dehydration, running out of fuel is the most common cause of unfulfilled goals for your run or race. This sensation is called “bonking” and it’s something that every athlete experiences along his or her journey.
Now, let’s break it down even further. There are two types of bonking:
- If you’re mentally crushed — but you still have energy in your legs — this sensation is usually caused by low blood sugar (similar to general crankiness)
- When your mind is still eager to push forward, but your legs are shaky and weak, you’re experiencing a lack of glycogen in your muscles — literally, you’ve run out of gas.
Most runners have enough glycogen — a quick-burning fuel — stored in their muscles to run for two hours without eating anything. However, some athletes can only go for one hour without refueling. In the end, it depends on your personal physiology. Unfortunately, this is usually discovered through trial and error (extra emphasis on error).
Both of these common conditions are often avoidable by simply eating more, eating early, and eating often.
And plan accordingly: If you’re going to run for 3 hours, don’t wait until the 2-hour mark to start fueling. It takes too long for your body to distribute the nutrients to your muscles, and you will be on the fast track to BonkTown. Instead, for a 3-hour run, start eating something small after 45 minutes, again after 1:30, and again at 2:15.
Best foods for runners
A large banana is a great source of energy — but it’s not so easy to carry. It’s best to pack highly portable, easy-to-digest foods. There are dozens of choices now, including:
- Energy gels
- Chewable gummies
- Powdered drink mixes
- Packaged food bars
- Vegan, raw, and gluten- and dairy-free options
- Fig bars (not fancy — but tried and true)
So, if you don’t want that Low Fuel Light to start flickering, eat early and often. And leave no trace: Please make sure to stash your trash!*
*A wise runner once said, “‘Tis better to bonk than to litter.”**
**I just made that up.