Trail Running Nutrition

What do you eat during a long trail run? I get asked this question quite often and it’s a pretty loaded question. What works for one runner’s digestion doesn’t always work for another’s. I’ve talked to some runners with an “iron gut” who stop at the Kwik-E-Mart on their way to a race for gas station donuts; then another runner will chime in with “losing” the slice of dry whole wheat toast they ate two or three hours ago during their long run. As most of us know, once you start getting sick during a long run or race, it’s difficult to eat anything else until your stomach settles down. Runners are constantly bombarded with advice about every type of nutritional product. While my biggest piece of advice is to keep it simple stupid, here are some other considerations to think about before you spend a ton of money on nutritional products.

One of my favorite products is a little newer to the nutrition game: nut butter. Nut butters are produced by brands like Justin’s or Bogg’s Trail Butter. They are around 200 calories in convenient little packages, have just a hint of sweetness, and taste better to me than gel products. Keep in mind though that they usually contain more fat and protein than a gel. Not all stomachs can handle that much fat during a race, so always try them out first during training runs.

Gels are a simple carbohydrate produced by many sports nutrition companies. Some brands contain protein, some brands contain the “perfect” fat-carb-protein ratio, and most gel products contain caffeine. Gels come in convenient packaging and are usually about 100-150 calories per serving. They are convenient to carry, they work quickly, and they don’t seem to go bad. There are many flavors and brands to choose from, and I advise you to read the ingredients carefully and try different brands during training runs. Products like chews are similar to gels for me. I like them, but I think of them as expensive gummy bears. They are usually good for about 100-150 calories per serving. Another option for runners is nutrition bars. Most nutrition bars have too much fiber for a long run or race, but they could be used as a good breakfast a few hours prior. So far the only bar that I like is the Clif Kid Zbar. They are tasty and contain about 120 calories, while most nutrition bars marketed to adults range between 150 to 220 calories. Rounding out the nutrition products are energy foods – kind of like baby food marketed toward athletes.

I don’t dislike any of these nutritional options, but the more real the product, the better I like it. Which brings me to my last item: real food. That’s right, some of the best sports nutrition out there is in your own kitchen. Examples of this are homemade energy bars (Google this for some awesome recipes), peanut butter and date wraps, and Pringles; all it takes is some planning on your part. Practice consuming 250 calories per hour for long runs or races longer than two hours. Stay away from high-fiber foods while you experiment with different types of food or pre-packaged nutrition to find what works for you. // (Dave Dutro)

Dave Dutro is an avid trail runner, mountain biker, hiker, and co-founder of the Trail Maniacs. Read about Trail Maniacs events and activities at

Share this Post

Scroll to Top