I've been running long distances for years and I can honestly say I have probably made all of the mistakes you can make. From using the wrong gear to eating the wrong things before a long run, you name it I've probably done it. I think the most important lessons I've learned have to do with nutrition. Dialing in my nutrition and supplementation has enhanced my performance tremendously and simplified my routine for the better.
Here are three of my favorite nutritional tips for endurance athletes.
1. Dial in your electrolytes- For years I would get my electrolytes from Gatorade and/or Powerade mixed with water to dilute the disgusting syrup-y sweetness of that stuff. Figuring out how to carry that plus plain water was a pain in the butt, not to mention the stomach ache that always came with it.
The solution.... electrolyte capsules! Here is why these are better: First off they actually have all your electrolytes in them (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium), sports drinks just have sodium and potassium. Secondly, they are incredibly easy to carry with you on long training events or races. Simply pop one every hour or so, possibly more if you're a heavy sweater. The capsules have the proper ratio of each of the electrolytes taking the guess work out of it for you. There are several versions of this out there, but I've used SaltStick for years and have been very pleased.
2. Find the fuel that works for your body: I really believe every person's chemistry is different on this so during training is the time to experiment with what works for you. When we push our bodies to extremes as many endurance athletes do the digestive system can get a bit "shaky" to put it nicely. The reason is when we put our bodies under long periods of stress almost 90% of the blood is directed away from the digestive system and into the proper muscles, thus creating poor digestion.
If you're doing a long event (anything over 90 minutes) you should be getting a source of calories from something. For a long time I would just suck down a GU because that's all I knew and that's what everyone did. They're easy to carry and supply a good amount of glucose to fuel you during long endurance events. The problem was I always had some digestive issue, until I figured out it was the sugar in GUs that did not agree with me. Not sure exactly which sugar source, but my guess would be maltodextrin is the ingredient that did not work for me and I would guess many others.
The solution....I've used Honey Stinger Chews for many years and I have never had an issue since. The company offers many products that use more stomach-friendly ingredients and are almost 100% organic. They taste awesome and are easy to carry.
3. Skip the pasta party the night before: You've heard it before...."carb load the night before". Most of us do not eat massive bowls of spaghetti on a daily basis (although I would love to). The reason this is a bad idea is that you're giving your body a lot to digest and you might be eating foods and quantities that your digestive system is not used to. The problem is the next day you feel heavy and your digestive system is strained from the night before.
The solution....eat something you know digests well for you and eat until you're full, don't make yourself uncomfortably full. My go to meal is chicken thighs or breast, steamed veggies and brown or wild rice. Really simple, really easy to digest for me and not too much food.
The best thing you can do is do plenty of "dress rehearsals" with all of these suggestions. Race day is never a good time to try out something new!