Stacking on the miles and not thrilled with gel packets? Try some real food for fueling on the run.
OK, so here’s the scoop. When you are building up your miles for longer runs, there’s a certain point when you’re told you need to bring “fuel” with you. You’ll start hearing about it when your long run is longer than an hour: Most of us need to refuel while we’re out there.
Experts say we need to consume between 30g to 60g of carbs per hour, to replenish our glycogen stores. Otherwise, you risk hitting that infamous “wall,” where your body runs out of energy, your legs feel like cement, you can’t run any more, even walking feels like the pace of a slug’s ass, and you hate everything. (Can you tell I’ve been there?)
What’s this “fuel”?
These days, the usual suspects are gels, chews and sports drinks.
A gel is a foil packet of sticky goop. Once you open it, you pretty much have to suck the whole thing down and throw the packet in a garbage can right away. I’ve tried eating just half of it and carefully carrying the opened half-full packet in my hand like a precious baby chick. But of course I was running, so it got me all sticky anyway.
A chew is basically like gummy candy, but scientifically engineered to glue your teeth together and never dissolve. Funny how it’s called a “chew” when that’s the very thing you can’t friggin’ do to it. Oh, they’re also conveniently the exact right size to block your windpipe. So good luck with that when you’re running.
Sports drinks are alien water. How else do you explain those colors they come in? That shit does not occur naturally on our planet, and the only answer is: aliens. (I’m also pretty sure their leader must be some round-headed little gray man named Monopotassium Phosphate, because they print his name on all the labels.)
The advantage of the gels, chews and sports drinks is, of course, they’re easy. They come in individual packaging, are carefully engineered for the purpose, and take zero prep time.
But if you find those products give you *ahem* digestive problems, or you have trouble with the texture of gel, or you simply don’t like the idea of eating processed ingredients you can’t pronounce, you’re in luck! It turns out there are some real-food options out there, that other runners have tried and love.
The key is keeping the simple carbs high, to quickly replenish your body’s glycogen stores, without too much fiber (which can have you counting the steps to the next bathroom). Here are some real food ideas for fueling during your run:
What, you don’t think bees are endurance athletes? Ha! Think again, sister! 50 squillion bees can’t be wrong. Honey has the right natural sugars to be quickly absorbed by the body. In fact, honey is so well-suited for this, Runner’s World is calling it “the perfect running fuel.” If it was good enough for athletes in the Olympic games way back in ancient Greece, it’s probably good enough for me.
How to carry: Easy straws, sticks or packets
2. Sweet potatoes
It’s not just about the carbs with sweet potatoes. Oh, no. They’ve got your back in many ways. Besides about 60g of carbs per cup, they’re also packed with Vitamin A, C, Beta Carotene, and Manganese to help your eyesight, protect your skin from sun damage, and fight free radicals.
How to carry: Mashed! Spoon into a Ziploc bag, then tear a hole in the corner when ready to eat.
Did you know you lose potassium when you sweat? Yuuuup. Bananas can help replace potassium while you fuel, and they contain a small amount of fiber to moderate that glucose absorption and avoid hypoglycemia. You’ll see them at the finish line of many races.
How to carry: Try freezing a whole banana, or mashing and carrying like sweet potatoes (above).
4. Fig cookies
Yes, the original energy bar was a Fig Newton cookie! To this day, they’ll refuel your run while taking it easy on your grocery bill. If you’re looking to eat clean and reduce the number of unpronounceable ingredients, you can also check out the fig bars made by Nature’s Bakery, which are dairy free, kosher, cholesterol free, and non-GMO.
How to carry: Fig Newtons have 11g carbs each, so drop several in a Ziploc baggie. Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars come in their own wrappers.
The salty part replaces the electrolytes in your body, while the crunchy part is full of simple carbs. Pretzels are a great alternative if you get tired of fueling with sweet foods. Just remember you might need extra water, since they’re pretty dry.
How to carry: 20 of the mini pretzels have about 25g carbs, so grab a big handful for your Ziploc, and away you go!
6. Homemade energy bites
I love love love energy bites. They’re fast, yummy, and they’re no-bake, so even easier! Here’s my favorite kind, which I keep in the freezer, handy to throw in a Ziploc for a long run. Not overly sweet, super delicious and easy to eat. Here’s the recipe:
Runner Mama’s Homemade Energy Bites
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 Tbsp flax seeds
1 cup pumpkin puree
4 Tbsp honey (or maple syrup)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or freezer paper.
Get out one big bowl and throw all the ingredients into it. Mix it up, pressing it together with your spatula. Then take a spoonful in your hand and form into 1″ round ball. Repeat, repeat, repeat, lining them up on the cookie sheet. Chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
You can keep them in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for longer. (I don’t know how long, because they always disappear!)
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