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How to Fuel Mid-Race for Endurance Athletes

Endurance racing pushes athletes to their limits, requiring a strategic approach to training and sports nutrition.

While rigorous training prepares your body for the demands of long races, understanding how to fuel your body during a race is equally important for maintaining peak performance, delaying fatigue and powering through to the end—it can make the difference between achieving a personal best and struggling to finish.

Here’s what you can expect to learn in this article:

  • The importance of mid-race fueling for endurance athletes
  • Detailed guidance on what to fuel with mid-race
  • Strategies for mid-race hydration
  • Practical tips for planning and managing your mid-race fueling


Why Mid-Race Fueling is Important

Your body heavily relies on glycogen during endurance events, its primary energy source for high-intensity activities. As these stores are depleted, both physical and mental fatigue set in, affecting your performance and decision-making. 

Here’s why effective mid-race fueling is critical:

  • Sustaining energy levels: Replenishing your glycogen stores helps you maintain consistent performance and power output throughout races. 
  • Preventing muscle fatigue: Adequate fueling delays muscle fatigue, supports your muscle function and reduces your risk of cramps.
  • Enhancing cognitive function: Stable blood glucose levels support critical cognitive functions like focus and decision-making, which help you stay sharp during races.
  • Adapting to race demands: Flexible fueling strategies allow you to meet the specific challenges of each race, like those in hot climates
  • Supporting recovery: Effective mid-race fueling minimizes muscle damage and sets you up for quicker post-race recovery.

Effective mid-race fueling is a key element of race strategy for supporting both your body and mind, optimizing your performance and enhancing your recovery. Knowing what to fuel with and when to do it can significantly impact your racing success.


What to Fuel With Mid-Race

Knowing how to effectively respond to your body's fueling signals during the race is crucial. This section discusses detailed strategies for utilizing carbohydrates, electrolytes and caffeine to maintain your competitive edge throughout a race.


Carbohydrates are vital for maintaining higher performance levels over long periods since they provide the primary energy source for high-intensity endurance activities.

  • How they work: Carbohydrates maintain your blood glucose levels and replenish your muscle glycogen stores, which are the first to deplete during endurance activities.
  • When to take them: It's crucial to start fueling with carbohydrates before your energy levels start to wane. Aiming for 60–90g per hour can help you maintain optimal energy levels and prevent dips.
  • How to take them: Consume carbohydrates in the form of gels, chewables, bars, or drinks. Whichever delivery method you choose should allow for easy digestion and quick absorption, minimizing gastrointestinal discomfort during the race.


Electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium, play critical roles in maintaining fluid balance, nerve function, and powerful muscle contractions during intense exercise.

  • How they work: Electrolytes (along with glucose) are necessary for your gut to absorb water. Drinking electrolytes will hydrate you faster and more effectively than water alone.
  • When to take them: Sip on an electrolyte-rich drink continuously throughout a race to quench your thirst. However, be cautious not to consume too many fluids, as this can cause stomach discomfort as you move.
  • How to take them: While commercial electrolyte drinks are convenient in a pinch, they often contain way too much salt, so real food options like Hydra+ are always more effective—here’s why.  

Contrary to popular belief, your body is quite good at managing dehydration. You can lose about 2% of your body weight in water and still perform well. There is growing evidence that losing some body weight through dehydration can improve performance, a process called tactical dehydration. Beyond this 2%, your performance can drop off a cliff, and this is where fluid replenishment matters.


Caffeine is a powerful ergogenic aid that improves athletic performance. It enhances alertness and reduces the perception of effort, which can be crucial in the later stages of endurance races when fatigue sets in.

  • How it works: Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant that increases the release of adrenaline, which stimulates your body and brain, enhancing alertness and decreasing perceived exertion.
  • When to take it: It’s best to start with a pre-race dose about one hour before the event—typically 3-6mg/kg of body weight. Consider multiple smaller doses during the race, depending on the event's duration, to prolong caffeine’s performance-enhancing effects.
  • How to take it: You can consume caffeine in various forms such as coffee (pre-race), gels, or slow-release tablets. The choice of delivery method should depend on your tolerance and its convenience during the race.


Mid-Race Hydration Strategies

Proper hydration is crucial for peak athletic performance, especially in long-duration events where your body continuously demands resources to continue functioning optimally. Here are a few strategies to help you hydrate properly:

  • Monitoring hydration: Learn to recognize the signs of dehydration, such as thirst, dry mouth and dark-coloured urine, and over hydration, which can manifest as nausea, headache and disorientation. Maintaining a balance is key, as both extremes can negatively affect performance. Regularly check your hydration status by monitoring the colour of your urine and your overall fluid intake compared to sweat loss.
  • Choosing the right fluids: Not all fluids are created equal. During a race, your hydration mix should contain a balanced blend of electrolytes (like sodium, potassium, and magnesium) and carbohydrates. This combination aids in quicker fluid absorption and helps maintain your energy levels. Products like Hydra+ offer a convenient and effective solution for maintaining your hydration during endurance events.
  • Adjusting to conditions: Tailor your hydration strategy to the race conditions. Hotter climates or higher altitudes may increase fluid requirements, while cooler weather may decrease them. Adjusting your fluid intake according to the environment and your body's feedback is crucial for optimal performance.


Practical Tactics for Fuel Management

Effective fuel management requires a detailed plan for how and when to intake supplements during the race to maximize their benefits. Here’s how you can prepare and manage your fueling during a race:

  • Training with your race-day fuel: To avoid gastrointestinal discomfort or unexpected dips in energy, it’s crucial to practice your fueling strategy during training sessions and use nothing new on race day. Train with the exact same supplements, fluids, and food you plan to use on race day. This helps your digestive system and metabolism adapt to your fueling plan, reducing the likelihood of race-day issues.
  • Simulating race conditions: Whenever possible, train under conditions that mimic your race, including the time of day, weather and intensity. This will give you a realistic sense of how your body reacts to your fueling strategy under similar stress, allowing you to adjust portions or timing as needed.
  • Timing your intake: To avoid energy spikes and crashes, aim to consume small amounts of carbohydrates, electrolytes and caffeine at regular intervals. Setting a timer on your smartwatch to remind you or planning your intake around natural breaks in the race, like water stations or quieter sections of the course, can help you maintain steady energy levels.


Key Takeaways and Conclusion

Effective mid-race fueling is a pivotal aspect of endurance racing. By using carbohydrates, electrolytes and caffeine strategically, and by managing your hydration and fuel intake smartly, you can significantly enhance your endurance performance and make races feel easier. 

We recommend tailoring these strategies to your personal needs and refining them while training to prepare yourself for race day.

If you learned something new from this article and are curious to know more, head to our growing list of weekly research summaries where we help you further improve your athletic performance by keeping you up to date on the latest findings from the world of sports nutrition.


— That’s all for now, train hard!


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