I am a huge fan of sports drinks and gels … until about mile 17 of a marathon. Then my body craves something solid, more substantial, and not quite so artificial.
I’m not alone. Some runners find that natural food options fuel their bodies just as well as chomps, chews, and gus made for endurance athletes. An added bonus? Real food options are usually lighter on the wallet.
Give some of these natural foods a go on your next long run:
- Bananas. During the final third of a marathon, many races hand out bananas at the aid stops. This is likely because many runners, like me, want real food by this point in the course. Bananas are fairly low in fiber, easily digested, high in carbs, and high in potassium – a vital electrolyte that’s lost through sweat. For better portability, slice the banana up still in its peel and pack the pieces in a baggie. Peel each piece right before you eat it.
- Baby food. Most baby food pouches are simply pureed fruits and vegetables. Since it’s pureed, it’s digested more easily than whole fruits and vegetables. Pouches are portable, re-sealable, and come in dozens of flavor combinations – try to choose one that contains potassium and sodium.
- Dried fruit, such as raisins, dates, cherries, and apricots. Dried fruit is high in calories and sugar, and easy to chew and carry, which makes it one of the best choices for natural mid-run fuel. Dates may be a runner’s best bet because they’re higher in potassium than most other dried fruits.
- Pretzels or saltines. When I started running over a decade ago, before I knew anything about proper fueling, I used to crave salt at the end of a run. So, I carried saltines on me and munched on them as soon as I finished up a run. Saltines and pretzels are a good choice for running fuel because they’re high in sodium and typically made with white flour, so they won’t cause digestion issues. Just make sure you have water handy because dry foods like these can be hard to swallow.
- Nut butter and jelly squares. My husband relies on pb&j sandwiches to fuel his 50+ mile bike rides. The trick is to use more jelly than peanut butter, since you don’t really need fat and protein mid-run (plus, sticky peanut butter can increase thirst). Choose a thin white bread and cut the sandwich up into bite-sized squares. The squares are easiest to carry in the pocket of a fuel belt. If pb&j isn’t your jam, sub another nut or seed butter and honey.
- Homemade energy bars. If you don’t experience digestion issues on the run, energy bars can be a great choice for fuel. While delicious and portable, store bought bars tend to be fairly pricey. Luckily, many energy bars are easy to make at home. Try these no-bake energy bars or these homemade protein bars.
- Candy, like jelly beans, gummy bears, or Swedish fish. OK, candy isn’t exactly a natural option. But it may be more readily available – and cheaper — than traditional running fuel. Plus, some runners have an easier time digesting sugary candy over dried fruit since it contains no fiber.