Fuel your DISTANCE

How to fuel your run and differentiate between distances.

Easy 5, 10km, 21.1km and Marathon. Let's talk before - during - after.

Using a road trip as a metaphor to your run, here is the breakdown on fuel for distance.

Let's say the starting line is PRETORIA.

Pretoria to Johannesburg

A 5KM run. Your purpose for visiting might be business or pleasure, just like your run can be a hard session OR just an easy 5.

For your business trip (hard 5) you will have to prepare a bit.

  • Before: Have a small carbohydrate-rich snack or drink (pre-workout according to instruction)

  • During: No need for anything. Your body has enough to fuel you.

  • After: Rehydrate properly.

For an easy 5, just go about as normal and enjoy. Remember to hydrate afterwards.

Pretoria to Bloemfontein

Your 10KM (off scale). Packing for Bloem requires a bit more planning. When completing a 10KM in an hour (approximately), there is no need to fuel during the run. Your body stores enough energy in the form of glycogen and will provide a steady release of energy for the duration of your run. But you can increase your available energy levels before the run.

  • Before: 30 minutes before. Carb rich snack or drink (15 – 20g of carbohydrates)

1 slice of toast / energy bar / 2 rusks and coffee / 200ml Game energy drink / 1 slice banana bread / 1 banana

  • During: No need for any nutrition support. If the outdoor condition is very hot or humid, carry water or an electrolyte drink with you.

  • After: Recover with a small protein-carb rich snack within 30 minutes of your run.

Pretoria to Graaff-Reinet (following the N1 to the coast)

Half way to Cape Town = half marathon.

Going the distance means stopping for a re-fuel, a Wimpy breakfast and definitely a water or two to hydrate during the drive

Real life tip: water intake is important when driving long distances as our extremities (hands and feet) tend to withhold water causing our hands and feet to swell up.

When running a 21.1 you can start preparing your body 36 hours before the offset of the run, especially if you are running a race or competing in an event.

  • Before: Carbo-loading starts 36 hours before your race, thus you should consume a high carb meal two nights before the race. This strategy elevates muscle glycogen stores and has been found to increase endurance and exercise performance (Burke, LM. 2011).

  • Pre-event breakfast: Ingestion of a pre-event meal is important for events that last longer than 60-90 minutes (Kreider, RB. 2010). Easily digestible carbohydrate. Try oats / toast and jam or honey / flapjacks and syrup / energy bar and fruit.

  • During: As mentioned before – The rule of thumb for fueling during exercise starts at the 60-minute mark. Your body metabolises approximately 60g of carbohydrates per hour. In stead of depleting the carbohydrate stores in your body you can feed your body with extra energy. The aim is to ingest 10-15g of carbohydrates per 15 minutes. When competing in an event there is usually a water/nutrition station every 3 km (taking approximately 15 - 18mins to reach between the stops). Fueling with a small cup of coke or any drink high in sugar, provides the perfect amount of carbohydrates to fuel you for the next leg.

If there are no water stations, you need to plan your support. The following things are easy to digest, light-weight and high in sugar. Avoid high fibre and fat.

- Game energy drinks (200 ml in 1 hour)

- Enerjellies (2-3 jellies per 15 mins)

- Wedgewood FastBar (1 bar in 30 mins)

- Banana (1/2 banana at a time)

- Energy gel (1 sachet)

  • After: Replenish your body with enough carbohydrates, protein and water. Carbohydrates are especially important and should be ingested within 30 minutes after exercise in order to achieve higher glycogen levels (Rodriquez et al. 2009).

Pretoria to Cape Town

And let's go all the way to the south - Pretoria to Cape Town is your Marathon.

Stanley flask for a caffeine-kick when you depart. Snacks, breakfast, snacks, water, lunch, water, snacks, water, dinner, water. Checking fuel meter, water, oil and tires along the way.

And when you arrive, a BIG recovery dinner. Well-deserved.

  • Before:

- Loading phase. Start carbo loading 36 – 48 hours before the event. Add 1 exchange of carbs to every meal and snack. An easy way to add carbohydrates to a meal is to have 250ml of juice (aim for 100% fruit juice). Easy digestible carbs such as flapjacks, white/brown bread, potato, pasta are good ideas.

- Pre-event meal: 3-4 hours before start. Have a high carbohydrate breakfast. Do not have something that you have not trained with. Eat familiar foods that are easy to digest and low in fibre to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort.

- Pre-event snack: Consume a small amount of carbs 30 mins before the start of your run. This increases immediate energy availability. If you know that your body reacts better to a liquid, consume a small amount of energy drink or a gel sachet. Alternatively, choose a solid.

  • During : Following the same phenomenon as the half marathon, fueling should take place every 15-20 mins. You can start including more solids as snacks, to provide something more substantial (if you have trained with solids!). You can also increase the intake to 80-90g per hour.

  • After: Restore energy. Recover muscles. Rehydrate.

Restore: Consume high carbohydrate meals and snacks (High/low GI)

Recover your muscles by consuming protein every 3 hours to recover muscle and avoid catabolism of muscles.

Rehydrate properly. Consume enough water and add an electrolyte drink to help with rehydration. Rehydrate SPORT is a popular option.

For ultra-running – a detailed plan must be developed according to individual requirements.

For optimal performance, always fuel your body the right way. Concentrating on ALL aspects is very important. Train hard, sleep well, eat right, gear up.


  1. Burke LM, Hawley JA, Wong SH, et al. Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2011;29(S1):S17-S27

  2. Kreider RB, Wilborn Cd, Taylor L, et al. ISSN exercise and sport nutrition review: research and recommendations. Int J Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:7

  3. Rodriquez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(3):509-527

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