With the amount of time that you spend on your feet during a long run, eating while running is inevitable. The most extreme ultra marathon runners eat entire meals – usually something like a huge bowl of pasta – during their races. For most long distance runners, though, the habit is to reach for an energy gel, protein bar or electrolyte drink for a carb boost. These items do well to give the body some quick, cheap energy and they taste good, with running “candies” like Clif Shot Bloks coming in flavors like black cherry and margarita.
But these options also contain a lot of added, processed sugar – something that, over the long term, is not so good for your running. Consuming too much sugar can cause chronic issues with blood sugar levels, affecting the ability to sustain athletic performance. Simple sugars are the mainstay of competitive athletes, however large quantities of added sugar, along with artificial colors and flavors and other additives, are unnecessary for an athlete’s balanced diet. Only about 10-20 grams of sugar are needed per hour of physical activity to sustain energy. Consumed in appropriate quantities, these natural alternatives give an energy boost equal to that of processed and packaged running goods, plus the benefit of real nutrients.
Gatorade has two electrolytes: sodium and potassium. That’s great, as it’s what the body needs during a run, but each bottle also contains 28 grams of added sugar per bottle – which you can do without. Coconut water, in contrast, has all of the “big five” electrolytes – sodium and potassium, yes, but also calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. Coconut water has only 6 grams of sugar per cup and 9 grams of carbs, and no artificial flavors or colors. The body processes coconut water more easily than sports drinks, so the fuel is absorbed quicker. Brands like Vita Coco and ONE come in various flavors (all natural).
Easily broken up into small slices, bananas are also easy to chew and go down smoothly. One whole medium banana has 14 grams of sugar and 27 grams of carbs. Compare that to an entire package of Clif Shot Bloks, which contains 24 grams of sugar – and also lacking the nutritional content of bananas, which are high in potassium and vitamin B-6. Shot Bloks do win in the carb category (about 58 grams per package), but the trade off is that bananas will give less of a sugar crash and are easier for the body to process.
Dried Fruit: Raisins, Dates, and Dried Cherries
High in carbs without being filling, dried fruit is the perfect choice for a long run snack. If you’ve ever tried to down an energy gel, you know they are a sticky mess, and the energy chews can be, well, chewy. Dried fruit is much less cumbersome, as it is soft and takes considerable less mastication to consume. Dates are highest in simple sugars and carbohydrates and are also high in potassium. Dried cherries are especially packed full of carbs, but be careful as their fiber content can slow digestion. Raisins are the easiest to process and are comparable to sports jelly beans in their ability to deliver energy during an endurance workout.
Homemade Energy Bars
All-natural energy bars made right in your own kitchen are far healthier than the packaged and processed version in the grocery store. You won’t find preservatives or any artificial ingredients in nature’s pantry. Combine varieties of nuts and dried fruits using ground dates, figs, honey, and/or brown rice syrup as binders. Granola, chocolate, and other ingredients of choice can also be added. These three-ingredient energy bars are simple and simply delicious. Using this recipe as a template, you can make your own line of custom homemade energy bars whenever you need them.