Paleo running fuel – a subject I’m asked about often! And it’s funny, because even now that I’ve been eating paleo for almost two years and am currently training for my third “paleo marathon”, I still feel confused discussing this topic. Probably because I know that no two people are the same when it comes to nutrition in general, let alone fueling for marathon training with a way of eating that’s relatively new to them.
That said, I am very happy to share what currently works for me and what has worked for me over the past couple of years or so when it comes to paleo running fuel. I’ve changed my preferences over time and have experimented a lot, and at this point I have a good sense of eating in a way that keeps me replenished and feeling well during my runs and in general. I don’t believe paleo, or any diet, is a “magic pill” for running well, keeping weight off, or even maintaining optimal health. But, I do think it can help some people feel their best, just as it has for me!
I think that above all else, the most important thing to remember when training, is that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right FOR YOU. There are plenty of runners who feel fine and run to their potential eating all sorts of diets and there is certainly no one “right” way to fuel. We ask A LOT of our bodies when we train for and then complete a marathon, and we need to be mindful to treat them how they are asking to be treated, regardless if it fits into “guidelines” or “rules” of any kind. I’m only preaching because I feel like I’m constantly facing this and learning it for myself, again and again!
Today for WIAW I’ll walk through meals and snacks that are typical for me on any random day during marathon training (this was Monday), plus show you some of my choices for long run fuel recently.
If I’m not heading out for a long run I don’t eat at all before running. I run at about 5:45am and my stomach is not ready for food at that time. In the summer, I usually drink water or coconut water (if I have it) to replenish fluids when I walk in the door, then shower, then eat breakfast around 7:45.
Breakfast is sometimes my biggest meal of the day and by 7:45 I’m really hungry. This was some fresh spinach topped with about 3-4 oz pork sausage (leftover from dinner Sunday) with half a plantain fried in coconut oil and two eggs also fried in coconut oil. Lots of fat, protein, and some carbs here to round out the meal.
That breakfast keeps me full for 4-5 hours pretty easily. For lunch, I fried the second half of the plantain, threw in some spiced ground pork (maybe 3-4 oz again?) a small avocado, kalamata olives, and more spinach. Spinach and I are good friends lately as I said last week.
Of course this has zero to do with fueling, but I drank my kombucha as usual because it’s just awesome. I’m also in the midst of brewing my own and crossing my fingers that it will come out well!
Of course I made a new flavor of fudge! This one is vanilla maple nut and it’s a winner. I ate one square of this while taking pictures in the afternoon. I also had a banana but forgot to take a picture. Bananas are eaten daily when marathon training, usually more than just once too.
For dinner I roasted a bunch of sweet potatoes, made beef and lamb low FODMAP meatballs and cooked them in my favorite sauce – Rao’s Homemade Sensitive Formula Marinara Sauce after browning in bacon fat. I could probably just be happy eating nothing but bacon, ground meat, and various potatoes while marathon training – those are my biggest cravings!
Laura said the basically the same thing in a comment earlier in the week, which completely validated these cravings for me! Salt cravings seem to take over and I definitely find myself “generously sprinkling” my sea salt all over the dang place lately. That need for salt would also explain me standing over the pan eating leftover oil and sauce with a spoon while cleaning up the kitchen! Followed by that “OMG I’m thirsty and need water now” feeling.
A blurry picture of my “dessert”, eaten at about 8:30 – super exciting strawberries and dark chocolate. Actually, the strawberries were particularly sweet and delicious and that did excite me at the time. Happy at bedtime is a good thing 🙂
Paleo fuel on the run
A few of my favorite fueling options for long runs are:
1) Baby/toddler squeeze pouches! – yes, seems a bit odd, but they are awesome and really my go-to now. There are TONS of varieties nowadays since they’ve become super popular and there are even some with superfoods like chia added. Plus my kids think it’s hilARious that mommy eats these while running.
2) Bananas. Bananas are a runner’s best friend I think. I learned the hard way though that mine need to be pretty ripe to be digestible enough before a long run.
3) Coconut water. I think you either love or hate this. I love it! I usually drink some before a long run and then after, I don’t bring it with me since I don’t want it messing up my hydration pack.
4) Dates or raisins. If you can digest these well during a run they are awesome and easy fuel!
5) Quick bites like Yummari can work for some people especially on very easy paced long runs. For “technically paleo” bites larabars can be good – I ate these on my long runs while training for Boston 2014.
Right now the squeeze pouches are my favorite long-run fuel since they digest quickly and don’t taste too sweet or give me heartburn. They’re also super easy to twist open which is something I highly value on a long run! I stick to the basics and go with sweet potato or banana flavors.
What’s your best piece of fueling or nutrition advice for marathon training?
Reader Reviews & Comments
Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine says
I think the hardest part for me with marathon training and eating paleo is that I want to eat all these filling, delicious meals but I don’t have the energy to make them! I am all about eating whatever is easiest and quickest. I’ve learned so much from you and focusing on paleo has definitely helped me to improve my nutrition shifting my focus to eating unprocessed foods, fats, and plenty of protein along with lots of healthy carbs:)
I think it’s easier to make/cook a lot of food since I’m doing it anyway with my kids, so basically I’ve just surrendered to the kitchen!
The Cookie ChRUNicles says
I love raisins as my long run/race fuel. Especially the big raisins from Trader Joe’s! I haven’t trained for a marathon but I do know that my weekly mileage definitely demands a lot of food and extra salt even though I am a sweet tooth 🙂
Yes, I thought of you posting about those! Your weekly mileage is the same as my marathon training!
Yay Yummari! I’m obviously not Paleo, but I can imagine that it can be dificult at first to find things that work for you. Totally ignorant, but what about apple sauce pouches? Same idea as the baby food?
Totally same idea. They just puree everything nowadays and stick it in a squeeze pouch!
Skinny Fitalicious says
I have heard so many people including my mother say baby food is good and that they eat it regularly. I need to look into this!
Squeeze pouches are all the rage with baby/toddler food! I discovered it as fuel by accident when I ran out of my gels and took one in a pinch. If you need a basic puree though it would also work well!
Laura @ Mommy Run Fast says
Awesome long run fueling tips! I am all about helping people see there are more options than gu. 🙂 I eat at least 1-2 bananas daily when marathon training, too!
I just can’t do the super sweet gels, they’re too much for me! And yes, so many options 🙂
Thanks for the shout out! I definitely notice that eating more fat like nuts and avocados helps me during marathon training, but in the words of Ron Swanson, all the bacon and eggs. I’m not paleo, so I’m also eating my fair share of oats, but I’ve been leaning away more from breads (except sourdough) and wheat-based foods. Also, your fudge looks delicious!
Of course! Interesting that you’re leaning toward the bacon eggs and potatoes! They are super flavorful, as is sourdough bread 🙂 And thanks, just eating some of it again now!
Emily @ My Healthyish Life says
The squeeze packs are a great idea! I might try those for my long runs this training cycle. I think I mentioned that I typically use dried fruit and while I don’t have digestive issues with those, I wonder if I was actually getting enough fuel.
The squeeze pouches are so much less sweet and just fruit/veggies purees so as long as you can carry them, they’re worth trying 🙂 I think if you feel well fueled enough and aren’t bonking, that’s a good sign you’re getting enough.
I need my bananas to be pretty ripe too, otherwise they don’t sit well with me. These are great tips! I just wish I were able to go running to take advantage of them!
Learned the banana thing the hard way before a race! Won’t make that mistake again.
Sam @ PancakeWarriors says
Dave is having some crazy stomach/intestinal issues so I’m putting him on a as paleo as possible diet to try to see what in his diet is causing these issues (he’s also got a doctors appt soon). But I just used all your pictures to make him excited for trying this new eating style. Thanks for breaking down the day of eats!!
Aw, hope he can figure it out soon and start feeling better! Paleo + low FODMAP might be something to try since things like onions, garlic, and a lot of fruit can be rough.
Dried fruit is definitely a great choice for me when it comes to fueling during my long run – sometimes I’m lazy and will just cut up a Cherry Pie Larabar and stick it in my SPIbelt if I feel like I need it. I can definitely relate on the salt intake – even though I’ve been upping my water intake since I’m in “training mode” as well, it’s important to keep electrolyte levels balanced. This means I salt EVERYTHING, eat a banana or avocado for potassium and then take Natural Calm for magnesium before bed. Cramping is the worst!
Why have I not thought to cut up a larabar? I’ve brought them on runs but always in the package. I also salt everything but don’t seem to retain water at all, which I’m taking as a sign that I need the salt!
Amanda @ .running with spoons. says
Love what you said about no diet being a magic pill. Something that drives me crazy is when people claim that whatever diet they’re on is the be all, end all, and that everyone needs to follow it. Uhm. No. It doesn’t work like that. It would be nice if it did, but it’s always going to be something different for everyone. I’m glad you found what works for you 🙂
There are a lot of people who think they know what’s best for everyone in EVERY area of life, diet just scratches the surface, lol 😉
Practice practice practice. I never understood why people said my training runs should include fuel, even if I don’t think I need it. But learning what your body can and cannot digest while running is important. I also find that if it’s humid/really hot out, what I can take in is different from when I’m running in cooler temperatures.
What I can’t and cannot digest seems to change every time I marathon train it seems! I’m the same with the hot weather – it has to be really gentle and minimal while in the winter I can eat solid food even while running.
You do really love spinach lately…Holy cow! Lol Fruit and chocolate is my go-to dessert too!
Haha yes! Fruit and chocolate are just too good – perfect to end the day with 🙂
danielle saucy smith says
I’m totally on the salt wagon lately! Im making myself this carob pudding at night and even add a pinch of salt to that, along with other weird stuff 🙂 tomorrow I have yet another of several oral surgeries.. So that means food will be more about texture for a bit! No wonder I’m obsessed with sauces heehee
Sounds like a lot of us are salt monsters lately! Good luck with your surgery! And if there’s anyone who can eat well on purees alone it would be you, you’re the sauce queen!
Strength and Sunshine says
For real, before I used to go on my runs, I would have to eat a mango 😛 (skin and all of course)!
So refreshing, yum!
Thanks for the idea of the toddler squeeze pouches. I’ll have to try that on my next long run. Good luck brewing the kombucha! I started my own batch a few months ago. While I haven’t gotten it to taste quite as good as the GT’s, I still really like it and am saving a bunch of money!
Not for everyone, but something to try out if gels are too sweet/heavy for you! Really glad to hear about your successful kombucha, I’m excited about mine 🙂
These are great tips to read for someone who can’t do the usual running snacks. Most of my NP friends in marathon training eat a lot of either the half-bagel or toast with PB (which I guess I could eat GF toast, but that with PB is not a stomach friendly fuel pre-run for me) or bars like Larabars which also were not friendly to me, as I found out this year during the NYC Half! I think the squeeze pouches of fruity baby food might actually be the trick for me.
I can’t do nut butter before a run either, too heavy. It has to be very light easy carbs and then AFTER I can load up on everything! Definitely try the squeeze pouches – basic banana or sweet potato work well, the kind for the under-6-month-old crowd 😉
That all looks so good – especially the fudge! I could eat bacon all day and I’m NOT marathon training. Ha! You need to make a bacon fudge! 🙂
I’ve seen bacon chocolate and I’m just too scared to try! One day I’ll give in and give it a shot!
Julia @ Lord Still Loves Me says
I am beyond excited for this fudge recipe!
I’m so into fudge lately and can’t stop with these recipes!
That fudge looks so good! I am not paleo but would happily eat any and all of these meals 🙂 I have never trained for a marathon but I did eat a lot of dates and bananas when I was half-marathon training!
Thanks! Just ate some fudge now and it’s definitely a keeper, next Tues recipe will be up 🙂
I love how even though you’re paleo, you don’t follow the low carb dogma and aren’t afraid to fuel up for training! I know that intense salt cravings can be a sign of magnesium deficiency, so it might be worth looking into some sort of supplement of you like!
I don’t see the benefit in being specifically low carb if there’s no medical reason to be. That said I love my fat and protein of course 🙂 I wouldn’t say I have intense salt cravings but I do prefer savory most of the time and don’t limit salt. I will look into magnesium though!
for a while for snacks late afternoon i have been having fruit….usually with a string cheese or bit of nuts, but was thinking that i feel so hungry just a bit after. i noticed that it seems like you are eating fruit later in the day and i was thinking…hmmmm maybe that would work better for me. sweet treat at night (which i CRAVE) and who cares if it doesnt fill me up or causes a spike in blood sugar since i will be going to bed. so i was telling my BF about this and all excited that maybe i figured something out on my never ending quest to figure out what works for my body and he was like “well then what do you eat for a mid day snack” and i just looked at him….i’m like well i didnt get that far : ) moral of this long story is i need to pay better attention to your snacks !
how do you keep yourself to just eating 1 piece of fudge ? i feel like i would eat one row at minimum. lately my sweet tooth is out of control.
Ive only half marathon trained. and during long runs i actually like gu but half a pack at a time. i pre-game with a buckwheat waffle with some pb and maybe a little jam. but if i do that i gotta wait a bit to run. after i like cocounut water or really watered down sports drink. maybe a few pretzels dipped in pb, banana or something like that eaten VERY slowly. and a bit later a small protein shake w almond milk.
For some reason I always leave the fruit for night – probably because I’m not really hungry at that point and just want something sort of sweet and refreshing. When I’m actually hungry I usually want more of a meal! Sometimes I’ll eat a little bit of leftovers from some recipe I made, lately I’ve been having fudge, which has sugar but is also really high in fat since it’s full of nut butter and coconut oil. Nut butter and a banana are easy too! And I don’t always eat one piece of fudge! But it’s actually pretty filling so you really don’t need a whole lot to feel satisfied.
The best fueling advice I’ve received for a > 10 mile run, including the full marathon, is to eat every 5 miles. At mile 20 I NEVER want something but I force it down and it has helped tremendously. I do not eat anything after mile 20, though 🙂 I also don’t take all the fuel in at one gulp. For example, I’ll start a GU or something at mile 5 but I might not finish it until 6 or 6.5.
I messed up during my last marathon and sucked the whole pouch down too quickly not once, but twice, and had terrible heartburn! So I think fueling slowly is really smart and I need to make sure to do that in training and for this marathon.
Arman @ thebigmansworld says
I love reading this and what fuels you as opposed to all the people I know who run marathons- So different but you all do well at it so clearly sticking to what you know works wonders 😀 And don’t get me started on the fudge…I just finished shooting a new batch. It must be an addiction!
Definitely an addiction. Once one batch is gone I miss it too much and think up another!
Margaret @ Youngandrungry says
Like you, I focus a lot on refueling after a long run or a speed session. If that is neglected, your recovery will suffer and your next run isn’t going to be pretty. But this can be very fun! This morning I found myself dipping dates into almond butter and unsweetened cocoa powder. After 12 miles I needed all the fun recovery food I could get!
I agree the refueling after the long run is fun 🙂 Fueling during – I honestly wish I didn’t have to because that’s not fun at all!
Morgan @ Morgan Manages Mommyhood says
Your dinner, though, I really want meatballs now! I have a love/hate relationship with WIAW because it makes me crave ALL THE FOOD.
I’m that way with Pinterest!
Jessica @ Balance and Thyme says
I am with you. No food before early running or anything really. I made that mistake once and I will not make it again! I will have to look at those squeeze packs. I’m sure they are cheaper than Gu!
Yes, they are! I always feel better saving most of the fueling for afterwards, running while eating is tricky.
Organic Runner Mom says
Baby toddler squeeze pouches are definitely great for long training runs! I use them all the time during longer workouts! Your meals look delish especiallyannything with fried eggs or avocado!
I knew I couldn’t have been the first to discover this!
You have to eat what works for you. I applaud any food plan with a focus on whole foods. I’m not a big supporter of those same plans which also deny you specific whole foods. Whole food hating just isn’t in my wheelhouse.
Your day of eats looks fantastic.
Thank you! Can’t hate on whole foods! Expensive packaged crap is another story, that I find quite annoying 😉
Kristen Briglia says
OMG! This was super helpful. I love the kid squeeze punches idea! I’m going to try that as my guy doesn’t like the sugars in all those gels. Thank you for this post. ??
Lucas Ward says
I couldn’t stop worrying after seeing your recipe. I ran to the kitchen to take care of bob the robber as I quickly left the unfinished business. I’m quite impressed; make more dishes so people can find out more about you.