Marathon Fuelling

Written by

William Howell

May 26, 2022

10 Surprising Mid-Run Snacks (And Drinks) To Fuel Your Marathon

Everything you need to know about mid-run fueling and hydrating – and the best snacks for runners.

Runners grabbing a drink mid-run.

Lacing up at the start line of an epic marathon race is a feeling like no other. Shaking off the nerves and anxieties, soaking up the buzz that bursts from the crowd, double checking your laces are the perfect tension and setting your watch to timer mode as you get ready for the starters orders. But soon after you set off, another feeling usually enters the fold: the rumble in your belly. 

But mid-marathon hunger is a different beast. It’s a feeling that takes over as your energy levels fall off a cliff, leaving you with weak knees, nausea and blurry vision as your mind starts thinking exclusively about food, despite not knowing whether you’ll actually be able to keep it down. That is what makes mid-marathon snacks such a challenge to get right. You need something that’s packed full of energy, yet easy to digest.

The answer? Fast-working carbs. 

The reason for this is simple: the best high carb snacks for runners are packed full of sugars that will enter your bloodstream quicker than Paul Radcliffe can reach the finish line, giving your fatigued muscles an extra boost of fuel right when they most need it. And the best part? Because the snacks we have picked out are so low in fiber, you’ll also reduce the risk of muscle cramps. 

While you run, the body converts stored glycogen into glucose, providing your muscles with the necessary energy to move. As the body generates more heat and expends energy, it craves rapid sources of fuel to keep up with what you're demanding from it.

So with all that said and done, here are the most surprising mid-run snacks to eat the next time you pound the pavement for longer than an hour, at a rate of up to 60 grams every 60 minutes.

A runner having a snack mid-run.

The 5 best mid-run snacks for runners

When it comes to a mid-run munch, you want something that will pack a punch. Something that’s going to give you a steady release of energy as you take on the next set of miles. That’s where these mighty morsels really come into their own:

1. Bananas

Okay, this one probably isn’t surprising per se because almost everyone knows that bananas are epic. But what's surprising is just how epic they are. Get a load of this: just one average-sized banana contains approx. 27 grams of fast-digesting carbs, making this curved, yellow fruit just as effective as a high carbohydrate drink when it comes to your performance, blood sugars and oxidative stress. 

And here’s another surprising fact: the browner they are, the simpler the sugars. Translation: the quicker they will be absorbed into your bloodstream, which could be exactly what you’re after when facing the midway wall of a marathon. (Complex carbohydrate snacks are great for you, but mid-run you need something more fast-acting).

2. Raisins and dates

In the same way you’d probably never snack on raisins or dates in normal day-to-day life, they are one of those things every runner should snack on during a long run. First up, raisins, which are super high in calories yet don’t actually feel like you’re eating anything, making them ace for any runner that has lost their appetite as well as their energy. 

As for dates, these little energy-boosters are packed-full of natural sugars and potassium, so not only will you get a sweet snack to chew on, but you’ll feel an incredible burst of energy as you continue on your hunt for the faraway finish line. 

3. Isotonic energy gels

Once again, not that surprising until you delve into the secret behind this staple among marathon runners. You see, the way energy gels work is by replenishing your depleted carbohydrate stores while running. This is all thanks to each hit boasting an incredible amount of energy and electrolytes in the form of fast-acting carbs, sodium, potassium and magnesium.

In layman’s terms, most leading isotonic gels are able to quickly deliver carbohydrates to you during your long run, while also minimizing the need for water so there’s no risk of crossing the finish line more bloated than a scared puffer fish. With the right snacks, you can get ready for the performance of a lifetime. 

4. Jelly beans

Jelly Beans. Gummy Bears. Percy Pigs. Jelly Babies. Wine Gums. Haribo Starmix. Haribo Supermix. Haribo Tangfastics. OK, you get the point: jelly-based sweets are a great energy-booster for those running a marathon thanks to the fact they are packed full of sugar, yet have almost no fats or fibres to slow down the rate at which your body absorbs them. 

The trick is understanding how to fuel your body with jelly sweets, a science that starts with understanding that most marathon runners will struggle to consume any more than 60g of carbs per hour. To put that into perspective:

  • Jelly Babies contain 4g of carbs per sweet
  • Percy Pigs contain 7g per sweet
  • Jelly Beans contain 1g per sweet
  • Wine Gums contain 4.6g per sweet
  • Haribo contain roughly 4g per sweet

5. Honey sandwich

To contradict everything your mum told you when growing up, white bread is among the best snacks for runners (and especially if you're running long distances like a marathon) thanks to those sweet, sweet carbs. Now slather on some honey and what you have is a delicious way to send a lot of simple sugars directly to your calves, quads, hamstrings and every other muscle that is aching and throbbing and aching some more.

The only hurdle to overcome is portability because, let’s be honest, carrying a honey sandwich in your bum bag isn’t exactly ideal. Nor is hiring a butler to run alongside you with a silver platter. Luckily, a simple switch from white bread to plain flour tortillas (and rolling them up into easy-to-bite snacks) will make this issue disappear. 

A runner drinking water.

Top 5 best drinks for runners

We get it. When your belly starts to rumble at the 13-mile mark, the only thing that is going to work is a snack. But fluids have their own role to play, quickly sending nutrients and energy into your bloodstream – and for that purpose, the drinks below are the best. 

1. Coconut water

When you run 26.2 miles, there’s a pretty huge chance you’re going to sweat, and when you sweat, your body is actually sweating out some pretty important electrolytes, like sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium. That’s what makes coconut water so good – and one of the best marathon drinks out there (and running drinks in general).

Not only does it replace the four electrolytes we just mentioned, but it’s also packed full of good old phosphorus and carbs. In fact, just one standard-sized cup of coconut water contains around 10g of carbohydrates. That’s a punchy amount of energy. 

2. Pickle juice (a.k.a. gherkin juice)

Move over, Gatorade, there’s a new all-natural beverage in town: pickle juice.

Yep, that's right, pickle juice is one of the surprising things marathon runners drink. As we mentioned above, long-runners tend to sweat out a lot of salt. When those salt levels drop off, dehydration tends to creep in. Cue: gherkin brine. 

Sipping just 2 ounces of this stuff can give you a 200mg hit of sodium, quickly replenishing the body’s lost electrolytes, while scientific research also proves gherkin juice blocks the neurological signal that triggers muscle cramps. So if you’re running for more than two hours, try sipping on gherkin juice mid-run to keep hydrated, energized, and cramp-free.

3. Iced green tea

According to numerous studies, indulging in EGCG – a component found in green tea – while pounding the pavement will help to improve your endurance and increase VO2 max. That’s the good news. The bad news is: you’d have to sip on an awful lot of green tea to get the same results as taking EGCG capsules. 

As for those looking to enjoy a cheeky little mid-run cocktail, mixing honey into your iced green tea will give your body a delicious kick of potassium, which is known to improve muscle function and reduce muscle soreness, making it a great mid-run tipple for long distances. 

4. Fruit water

H20 is great. No one can deny that. But if you want to take your water game up a level, try adding some fruit slices, berries and herbs for an extra hit of nutrients and, you guessed it, carbs. Need some ideas? Try those:

  • Mint, lime and cucumber.
  • Strawberry, basil and lemon.
  • Pineapple, orange and ginger.

Whatever takes your fancy, fruit-infused water is one of the best drinks for runners. It's super easy to make, nutritious, and refreshing, while actually improving the way in which your body takes on both the added sodium and water.

5. Sports drinks

We all have a favorite sports drink. Gatorade, Powerade, Nuun, Nooma, OTE, the list of fluid replacers goes on and on.

Sure, the best thing to drink is water if you’re running for less than an hour, but anything over and these sports drinks can drastically improve your recovery and performance. In fact, research suggests that runners who swig on sports drinks improved their time by almost 4 minutes over the course of a marathon when compared to drinking just water. Turns out they’re not just placebos after all. So, if you're wondering what to drink during a marathon, sports drinks might be a pretty good option.

Thanks for reading! For more running insights, inspirations, stories and techniques, follow us on Instagram and Strava.

And, if you're looking for the perfect marathon plan that adapts to your preferences, fitness, and schedule, check out our personalized marathon plans. There's no better way to level up your running game than using a training plan that's been specifically created for you – we guarantee it.

A woman giving water to a runner.

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