Packages of recovery powder, hydration tablets, bars, gels, and oatmeal on red backdrop
Chris Wellhausen

Best Race-Day Fuel for Marathoners and Triathletes

Marathon season is nearly upon us, and while the 26.2-mile footrace is over 120 years old, long-distance races have been around since the ancient Egyptians. Thankfully, shoe advancements are akin to strapping rockets to your feet, and nutrition options have become way more forward-thinking. After all, superior race-day fuel yields speedier race times—it’s science.

“An athlete’s ability to ingest larger amounts of carbs while running at a high rate makes the difference between having an okay day and smashing it out of the park,” says Scott Tindal, performance nutrition coach and co-founder of FuelIn. Because running jostles your gut, it can wreak havoc on your GI system, which makes practicing and perfecting your race-day nutrition paramount—as does choosing clean, high-quality fuel.

“Aim to consume 60 and up to 120g carbs per hour when the session duration and intensity requires it (that’s three to four gels per hour), or a “feed” of some sort every 15 to 20 minutes of your race and training runs. “This amount depends on how fast you run, your ability to consume high amounts of fuel and your body’s ability to utilize the carbs.” We can’t say it’ll guarantee a personal best, but you’ll surely beat the bonk. Here’s the best race-day fuel to consume before, during, and after your race.

Tailwind Nutrition Recovery Mix

Consuming a recovery bev within 30 minutes post-race or training can mean the difference between feeling wrecked and rested. Mix this powder with water or any type of milk in a shaker bottle. If you want an athlete’s chocolate milk, go for the classic Chocolate flavor—or opt among Vanilla, Salted Caramel, and Coffee (caffeinated); all are creamy and craveable. Each has up to 11g complete protein (3x more than whey protein isolate per gram to better rebuild muscle), 43g carbs (to replenish glycogen stores) and 440mg sodium and electrolytes (to rehydrate).

[$39.99/15 servings; tailwindnutrition.com]

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Nuun Sport

Losing too much sodium via sweat has real consequences: Your blood volume and pressure drops, making it difficult for your heart to get enough blood to your brain.That’s why it’s so important to consume electrolytes mid-run (and begin your races well-hydrated). Nuun tablets dissolve in water and pack 300mg sodium—plus minerals magnesium, chloride and potassium— with just one measly gram of sugar. Drop a half-tab into 8oz of water or a whole tab into 16oz pre-run or race, and sip throughout for sustained electrolyte balance. Choose your flavor; we love Strawberry Lemonade.

[$7.49/10-pack; nuunlife.com]

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Maurten Gel 100

Utilizing unique hydrogel technology, this carbohydrate supplement has an .8:1 ratio of fructose to glucose that bypasses the stomach and goes straight to the intestines where they’re quickly absorbed for fast fuel (up to 100 grams of carbs per hour) and minimal GI distress. While some gels run sticky and syrupy, Maurten is similar in consistency to Jell-O and is sweet without being saccharine. The Gel 100 delivers 100 calories, 25g carbs and 34mg sodium. For an energy jolt, try Gel 100 Caf 100 for 100mg caffeine (1.5 espressos).

[$43.20/12 servings; maurten.com]

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Clif Bloks

For those who want something to sink their teeth into mid-run, Clif Bloks are soft gummy squares. They come in easy-to-open tubes you can access with one hand and tear open with teeth so you don’t lose your stride. Three chews (half serving) boasts 24g carbs, 50mg sodium and 12g sugar. Our top choice, Salted Watermelon, doubles the sodium with 100mg per serving. Consume half a packet 15 minutes prior to activity, followed by one to two tubes per hour of training or racing. Unlike Maurten, you need to chase these with water to help deliver fuel to muscles.

[$2.60/tube; clifbar.com]

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Bob’s Red Mill Oats Organic Classic Oatmeal Cup

This single-serving cup of oats is like a comforting hug before a grueling effort. Nourishing and palatable, just nuke in the microwave or add hot water from a hotel room coffeemaker if you’re doing a destination race (these can be found at grocery stores nationwide). Tindal suggests adding a scoop of whey or vegan protein powder to up the 7g protein to somewhere around 30-40g. Add more wholesome carbs by adding half or a whole sliced banana and fresh blueberries. Depending on your size and your ability to digest fats, consider a handful of almonds or a drizzle of nut butter. Ingest 90 to 120 minutes before your race or run.

[$2.99; bobsredmill.com]

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Skratch Labs Sport Superfuel Drink Mix

If race-day jitters make eating in the early morning hours close to impossible—or you’re gearing up for an Ironman or ultramarathon, this powder’ got you covered. Mix seven scoops with 8oz water, shake and sip. The powder is made with Cluster Dextrin—carbs that digest steadily for slow-release energy. Finish your bottle and you’ll be raring to go with 400 calories: 100g carbs, 100g sodium and 8g sugar. Bonus: The water you’ve mixed it with ups your hydration.

[$39.50/8 servings; skratchlabs.com]

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