How to Carry Your Calories While Running

Breaking down the options on the best ways to manage this important tactic.

We’ve likely all struggled with deciding how to carry our fuel while running. 

Sometimes the struggle comes outside of runs when we’re just trying to decide which options to use and sometimes the struggle comes during a run when you’re just so sick of your current option.

Have you ever been halfway through a 2-3 hour run and all you wanted to do was ditch your handheld or vest and never see it again?

Yeah! It’s frustrating. I feel ya. 

It’s important to figure out and nail down the best options for you so when the race day is upon us everything is dialed it and you have a plan. I see it too often online that a runner is a month out from a marathon and wondering if they should carry a bottle, use a belt, a pack? This is something that should have been selected a month or two ago!

With my clients, it’s something I remind them of throughout the training campaign. I’ll often ask what they did for all of their food and hydration for during the long run, we’ll chat about what worked and what didn’t. 

There’s often a big range of preferences when it comes to what people like, so let’s go through some of the options.

Just don’t take anything with you.

For easy runs under an hour, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need any hydration or calorie.

Even in the morning before breakfast or over your lunch run in the heat of the day, if you head out for an easy 30-45 minutes you will likely be a-ok without any hydration or calories during the run. 

If we’re running anything hard or longer than, say, 90 minutes, you’ll likely benefit from taking something with you.

Minimal Nutrition, No Gear.

This is what I typically will do if I perform a road run here in town.

If I’m going out for a long run find that taking a few gels with me and keeping them in my hand or in a SPIBELT (https://amzn.to/2yGzS8i) works super well if I know I’ll be able to hit up a few water fountains along the way. 

Yes, that means I have to actually stop running for 30-seconds to get a drink, but that’s something I’m willing to do so I don’t have to lug around a bottle of water. If you don’t have any reliable h20 sources handy during your long run or you’re running far enough to want something with you, let’s move on to the next section!

The Handheld

There comes a time in every runner’s life when they purchase a handheld bottle. 

We have three real options here.

  1. Normal-sized bottle
  2. Small bottle
  3. Soft Flasks

I want to start at the bottom, with those soft flasks, as you may not be super familiar with them. They’re basically a strong bag with a normal bottle top. The nice thing is that as you sip the water the “bottle” gets smaller, this is kind of nice. The negative is that until more recently these typically don’t have any extra pocket, but I do see that Amphipdod does actually have a soft flask with a pocket! (https://amzn.to/2JSZK3b)

Moving up the list, we come to small bottles in the 12oz range. This is my preferred option for most of my long runs as it’s generally enough for a sip every mile but it’s very comfortable to have in one of my hands. The Nathan (https://amzn.to/2JU5gmg) that I have even comes with a pocket large enough (barely) to hold most smaller smartphones. If the weather is not crazy warm and/or I know I may be able to top it off once during the run, this is a nice option.

But if we want enough hydration with us for the full run it cannot hurt to go with a 16 or 20oz handheld. For all of these, but especially the larger options, I’m a fan of flatter bottles compared to your normal round ones. Amphipod was one of the first to make these popular and are still fantastic options (https://amzn.to/2Xp4o0M). 

Picking a Belt

I used to always run with my phone in an armband, I even had one of those fancy 100% waterproof ones that you can swim with!

And then one day that all changed when I got my first running belt. I gave away the armbands and have not looked back!

Your belt options range from something super simple that may just carry your gels to something that can even hold hydration. Let’s break down some of the differences.

  1. Belt + Pocket
  2. Giant Pocket
  3. Belt + Bottles

The option you select may change based on the run, weather, etc and I admit it’s nice to have a couple of these. I have all three and tend to use all of them over time. 

SPIbelts are likely the most popular in the category that I would label as “belt + pocket” since it’s an elastic belt with one or two pockets. (https://amzn.to/39UkFxy) These are fantastic options and pretty minimal. Everything is kept right upfront and easy to get to. 

Now the “giant pocket” is something like the Flipbelt (https://amzn.to/3aXPVNs) that is basically a…well…giant pocket! It’s a tube and you can store items in it anywhere along the length of the belt. These can be good for storing multiple gels as you could put two up front and two in the back. Since these have no hard plastic buckle they tend to chafe the skin less however as they are made of more fabric they tend to soak up more sweat. 

Finally, you have likely seen belts that can actually hold bottles. I’ve used a few different options and prefer ones like this one (https://amzn.to/3aZ0G1N) that have two to even four small bottles vs fewer larger ones as I find the small bottles simply bounce less. That belt is nice because it holds 20 total ounces and the pocket is large enough for most phones. 

Hips or Chest?

Depending on your training runs and location the belt may just not be enough. You may need more hydration for those hot days or maybe you’re heading out for a 3-hour trail run and want to have everything with you that you could possibly need. 

In cases like these, we may use a vest or pack to safely and comfortably store anything you may desire if you’re 1-2 hours one way from the trailhead. 

Primarily, you can select from a vest or a pack. The pack is like your traditional Camelbak and more like a backpack designed for running. A vest is going to be more form-fitting and will often move the hydration to the chest instead of having it on the back. 

Sometimes the line between the two is pretty blurry and the only real difference may the shape of the straps. This Osprey, for example, is basically a pack but built into a vest. (https://amzn.to/34mrGpI). The nice thing about vests is that they spread out the weight a bit better and they may feel more comfortable and bounce less, however, there is generally more material against and touching your skin because they are oftentimes actually vests. 

I think the main benefit of a vest is that, like this Ultimate Direction one (https://amzn.to/3aYAK6u), it moves the bottles to your chest. They’re easier to get to and many find more comfortable up front. You can use the rear storage for an extra jacket or your phone and you can even store gels up front against your core a bit…again, I find putting the weight here is often best. 

In the end,

Having multiple options is best. 

Your tool kit may expand over time as your running volume and needs expand. 

With myself, it has very much come down to experimentation. I’ve given away many options that I realized I had not used in months! 

I’ve already been through the entire decision making and experimentation process. That along with having access to a big network lets me ask questions and find answers when I need to do some research. 

These are the sort of decision-making processes I take my clients through all the time. 

With you, it may be how to best carry your calories and maybe next month we jump on a video call to chat for a half-hour on different options for what those calories may actually be. 

It’s nice to have someone who has been through it to tell you what the options are and to actually just talk you through them. If you’re serious about this sort of thing and want to learn more about how we can work together to dial your running in, I suggest you schedule a time to chat about working together here.