Aid Station Fueling Solutions

June 15th, 2024


You roll up to the start line of your race and realize that the fueling options they have at the aid stations on-course aren’t products that you’ve been training with and your fueling plan involves relying solely on the aid stations because you want to keep it light with what you’re carrying. Sound familiar? I’ve been there too. There’s good news though!

This is a very avoidable situation and as someone who is a runner, a Registered Dietitian who works with runners, and a trail race director, I can safely say that I’ve seen this scenario through many different lenses. In this post, I’m going to walk you through some things you can do if you find yourself in this situation that will have you crushing those race goals and help you fuel up without making any costly mistakes… You know–the kind that leaves you scrambling to find a bathroom or tree every 10 minutes.


1. Find foods at the aid station that are similar to what you trained with

This one does require having a tiny bit of nutrition knowledge going into it but I’m going to break it down and make it super simple for you. There are a few different categories of foods that you’re going to find at most aid stations:

  • Salty: chips, pretzels, crackers, potatoes, pickles
  • Sweet: candy, cookies, fruit
  • “Heavier” snacks: granola bars, trail mix, PBJ
  • Meal foods: quesadillas, hot dogs, burgers, pizza

Example scenarious:

You normally train with: Snack bag of Goldfish that contains 19g of carbs and 240mg sodium

At the race they have: Snack bag of Lays potato chips that contains 15g carbs and 170mg sodium

Both of these snacks fall under the salty category and are interchangeable. I don’t expect you to get to the aid station and do math and figure out a perfect swap but if you stick within the same category of snacks you’re going to get something pretty close to what you’ve trained with.

You normally train with: Sour Patch Kids which contain 27g carbs in 12 Sour Patch kids

At the race they have: Gummy Bears that contain 23g carbs in 13 bears

Both of these snacks fall under the sweet category and are very similar in terms of nutrition—grab a handful of candy and get back out there.


2. Look out for foods that are known to cause GI issues 

There are 3 things that I highly recommend limiting with the foods you’re eating during your race: fat, fiber, and sugar alcohols. Listen, I know after you’ve been eating and drinking all the sweet stuff during your race that a juicy burger can look really appealing and I’m not saying that you can’t eat it. But–you want to be mindful of how much of that burger you’re going to eat. The reason for this is that foods like burgers and lots of other “real foods” that you’re going to find at aid stations are higher in fat. Fat is not a bad thing but it does take longer to digest which isn’t great during a race for a few reasons:

  • It sits in your stomach longer which means it’s not readily available for energy like carbs are 
  • It sits in your stomach longer, it can cause GI issues–not fun

If you’re going to eat some “real food” from an aid station and you’ve never practiced eating it on the go before I highly recommend starting with smaller portions so maybe have half of that burger and see how it settles in your stomach. Another very unpopular option (but one that works really well) is to slow down for a little after you eat something heavier. Give your gut a chance to digest this bigger hit of food before you start sprinting away from the aid station.

Fat isn’t the only ingredient to look out for though. Fiber can wreck your race really quickly. I’ve been pretty lucky and haven’t seen too many high-fiber foods at aid stations but the 2 most common foods you’re likely to find them in are: beans in those tasty refried bean wraps and bars. This doesn’t mean every bar has fiber, but in an effort to be “healthy” there are lots of bars out there that are higher in fiber. Take a look at the wrapper real quick and avoid anything that has 3+ grams of fiber.

Just like fat, fiber takes longer to digest and therefore can cause GI issues. It’s great during your daily life (as long as you’re not eating it right before a run) but let’s skip it on race day.

And the last ingredient that will have you running for the closest bathroom is artificial sweeteners/stevia/sugar alcohols. I would hope there wouldn’t be sugar-free candy at a race because your body needs that sugar but I’ve seen crazier things! With this category of foods the most common places you’ll find them are bars, gels, chews and even some hydration mixes. Take a peek at the ingredients on the label and if you see any artificial sweeteners, stevia, or sugar alcohols (usually end in -ol) think twice. That’s one of the biggest reasons I love Skratch—they use sugar and for good reason. You can read more about it here in one of their blog posts. And if you want to keep your carbs separate from your drink check out their Everyday Drink Mix.


3. Find out what they will have on-course before you go

Some races do a fantastic job of telling you exactly what they will be offering at their aid stations. It’s probably in all of those pre-race emails I know all of you read :) For the ones that do not—you can always reach out to the race director, post in online groups, or find a running friend who ran the race before. If you can find out what foods/drinks they’ll be offering at the race you can plan and train with those things. I’ve worked with lots of runners and triathletes who completely switched up their usual fuel choices so that they could train with what’s on course to avoid having to carry that much with them on race day. For most runners, these are some general guidelines for fueling during your race:

  • Carbs: 45-90g/hour 
  • Sodium: 400-600mg/hr 
  • Fluid: 16-20oz/hr 
  • Protein: 5g/hr if your race is 4+ hours
  • Fat: While I don’t recommend aiming for a certain amount of fat every hour, it is important to be mindful of fat intake because of potential GI issues while running (see the above section!). For example: If you have a bar that has 14g fat, I would recommend eating half of it at one time and the other half an hour or two later. This is definitely something to practice in your training runs because we all tolerate things differently.

To learn more check out this blog.


4. Rely on yourself and bring your own nutrition 

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise but I am a big fan of bringing my own nutrition to races. After spending months training for the race the last thing I want to do is hope that the aid stations will have what I need to make it through. Bringing your own nutrition that you’ve trained with just brings a sense of confidence and eliminates a lot of worry. There are pros and cons of course:


  • You know that you have enough fuel
  • Less likelihood of GI issues because you’re familiar with it
  • No worrying about what’s at the aid stations


  • You have to carry it with you
  • Spending money on your own fuel vs eating what’s at the aid stations
  • Time spent packing/preparing race nutrition

If you do decide to bring your own nutrition to your next race, be sure that you start using those products in training in the months leading up to it. There are things that may come up that you didn’t anticipate like maybe it’s cold during your race and those gummies froze and were impossible to chew or even logistical things like making sure everything you need will fit in whatever you’re carrying it in. Give yourself the time to figure these things out before race day.

Wrapping Up

Whether you like to plan ahead, rely on yourself, or just head out on race day and wing it—you can still crush it and hit your goals if you know what you’re looking for! There are so many different ways to fuel up during a race and it’s important to find what works best for you.


Kayla Fitzgerald is the owner and Registered Dietitian at Endurance Nutrition where she works with runners and athletes at all levels to help them fuel up not just to crush workouts but also to have the energy to live their lives...and feel good doing it! She is an ultrarunner and combines her own personal experiences with her knowledge in nutrition science to achieve this. Check out her content on Instagram!

She is also the owner and race director for Palmetto Ultras, a trail race company that puts on events in the Charleston, SC area with distances from 5k-100 miles. Our mission is to get people outside and onto the trails and show them a good time!

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