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Energy Nutrition For Marathons and Other Endurance Sports

If you like to participate in events like marathons, triathlons and long distance cycling you know how important it is to manage the energy reserves stored in your body. This is not an easy thing to do, quite simply because on any given day we don’t really know how much energy we actually have.

How we store energy

The food we eat every day provides us with the energy nutrition we need for our regular daily activities. When we consume complex carbohydrates like bread, pasta and rice the body converts them to glucose, which is used to provide the energy we need. The excess glucose not needed immediately is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles. Extra glucose is stored as fat.

How we use energy

When we exercise, the body uses up its available energy quite quickly. It then draws on the stored glycogen reserves, which is what helps to keep us going in endurance events. Unfortunately the body’s ability to store glycogen is limited. As glycogen stores decrease the body turns to stored fat for it’s extra energy. Converting this fat into energy takes some time and it is not as efficient as glycogen. This is one reason why athletes tend to slow down in the later stages of the event, especially if they are trying to burn energy at a faster rate than it can be produced.

How far can we go?

An athlete weighting 150 lbs can store approximately 1800 calories as glycogen. This is good for 2 – 3 hours of effort depending on the intensity. Many marathoners for example, hit the wall around miles 18 – 20 because they have depleted their glycogen reserves. This is why training is so important – it conditions the muscles to store more glycogen. Endurance training also accustoms the body to burning fat for energy as the available glycogen decreases.

Nutrition supplements

Many athletes use power bar bars and gels to supplement their energy stores during an event. Depending on the sport, these may or may not work for you. As a runner I have a hard time digesting things like power bars or even gels during a marathon. You certainly need to try these out during your training. Newer products like FRS and Hornet Juice are becoming more popular. They definitely seem to provide the athlete with more energy and are easier to digest.


No product can act as a substitute for proper training. If you have missed some key workouts don’t expect to be able to do your best just by taking energy nutrition supplements. Experienced endurance athletes also know how to pace themselves properly. Go out too fast at the start and you will inevitably use up your available energy long before the finish line! If you have done the training, and you use an appropriate nutritional supplement during the event, you should be able to achieve your best on that particular day.

Mike is a marathon runner with 27 marathons completed. He publishes a popular website on Marathon Training. You can find out more about FRS and energy replacement on his web page Energy Nutrition for Endurance Athletes.


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