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Why Do Runners Keep Underfueling During Races? The Hunger Games of Endurance

Published on February 14 by Anna

Many runners, from seasoned veterans to enthusiastic newbies, fall victim to the dreaded "bonking" - hitting the wall mid-race due to inadequate fueling. But why does this seemingly simple practice remain such a challenge? Here's a deep dive into the reasons runners underfuel and strategies to overcome them:

Misunderstandings and Myths:

  • Fear of weight gain: Runners often associate fueling with weight gain, neglecting the crucial role carbohydrates play in providing energy for muscles.
  • Confusion about timing and types of fuel: Misunderstanding the optimal timing and types of fuel sources for different race distances and individual needs leads to confusion and inconsistent fueling strategies.
  • Gastrointestinal concerns: Worries about stomach upset from gels or sports drinks can lead to underfueling, despite advancements in sports nutrition technology.

Psychological and Behavioral Factors:

  • Distraction and focus: During intense races, runners can become so focused on performance that they forget to fuel, leading to depleted energy stores.
  • Mental barriers: Some runners associate fueling with weakness or a lack of mental toughness, creating a psychological hurdle.
  • Social pressure and comparison: Witnessing others underfueling or experiencing GI distress can create a fear-based reluctance to fuel properly.

Practical Challenges:

  • Logistics and accessibility: Carrying fuel during long races can be inconvenient, and accessing water or aid stations might be limited, especially on trails.
  • Personal preferences and taste: Finding palatable and easily digestible fuel sources that align with individual preferences can be tricky.
  • Trial and error: Experimenting with different fueling strategies takes time and effort, and failed attempts can lead to discouragement.

Breaking the Cycle:

  • Educate and empower: Understanding the science behind fueling and its impact on performance is crucial. Seek guidance from coaches or registered dietitians.
  • Individualize your strategy: Experiment with different fuel sources, timing, and quantities during training to find what works best for your body and race distance.
  • Practice mindful eating: Train your body to recognize and respond to hunger cues during long runs.
  • Fuel early and consistently: Don't wait until you're depleted to refuel. Start early and maintain consistent intake throughout the race.
  • Find palatable options: Explore a variety of gels, chews, drinks, and even real food options to find what sits well with your stomach.
  • Fuel with confidence: Remember, fueling is not a sign of weakness, but a strategic tool to optimize your performance and enjoy the race!