Real Food on the Run

I need to apologize. I wanted to get this out yesterday, but I was a little preoccupied. You may (or may not) know that I’m training for a 50 mile race…and it’s just under three weeks away. Three weeks? Eek! So my mind is consumed with doubt and running. Did I mention doubt?

Anyway…here’s the post I promised, though not as in depth as I hoped. We’ll continue this discussion throughout the summer, and I do have a few product reviews and recipes that I’ll be sharing…but I’ll likely reference them here. Again…my apologies.

Running fuel manufacturers…I’m not pointing fingers or naming names here…will all tell you the same thing.

You need to replace calories while running…especially on the long run and during races.

This is true. Naturally…or not so naturally…they are hoping you’ll use their product…gels, chews, electrolyte replacement drinks, fizzy tablets, and pills. Go to any half or full marathon, and you’ll see a race course littered with foil packets and and a sticky mess surrounding the water stops. These products seem to be the staple around such events. They all use primarily sugar, and sometimes honey, to fuel the body until…the next gel. They spike your blood sugar, which is great for a surge in energy.

The problem is two-fold. First, you need to keep adding sugar to maintain that surge. And second, the after-effects can range from a serious post-sugar crash to GI issues both during and after the event. Yuck!

I find it funny. Many of these athletes wouldn’t indulge in such sweetness in their regular diet, but while running, they down these products like…well…candy. And I was no different. It wasn’t until I was training for my second marathon that I realized this fuel wasn’t going to cut it. The feeling would creep in around mile 16. I was HUNGRY! And I wanted more than that sloshing stomach and the immediate trip to a portable toilet after the race. I wanted food. Real food. Something I could chew. And something that tasted good.

So I started doing some research.

This will likely come as no surprise to my trail-running readers.

You can eat real food while running.

I know. Shocking. It’s true. But what? And here’s the problem. Almost anything will work…but you are what you eat, right? And you get out what you put in? I know this local doc, and he says something like this…

If you want muscles like Twinkies, go ahead and eat Twinkies. I’d rather have muscles like broccoli. So I’m going to eat more broccoli.

And, of course, he’s right.

I started with prepared foods because it was the easiest. Convenience isn’t always bad…but you have to be careful. Fig Newtons (yes…cookies) have a similar nutritional content to a gel. They have a few more calories and carbs, but they still have potassium which is necessary for runners. The main source of energy is still sugar, but it was a good start. Cheaper too.

I need to mention timing before we go any further. Gels and chews are mainly carbohydrate. The one benefit of their composition is that digestion starts in the mouth, so you feel that surge quickly. When you start eating real food, you will need to allow for some digestion time. That means eating early and often. A few bites, here and there. Practice. That’s the only way you’re going to learn how soon to start and how much you can keep down and still move. It’s an adjustment, but its worth it.

Ok…back to food. Cookies are great. I still have dreams of Pringles and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies I found in an Aid Station box during a group run once. Yummy! Trail runners will eat anything…but I digress.

The thing is, I’m not going to tell you what to eat. Remember, I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician. I am going to suggest a few things to try, but please, do some research on your own. Don’t take my word for it. You should know what you’re putting in your mouth!

Real food running fuel as used by myself or other experienced runners:

Bananas – harder to carry, but easy at aid stations. Also great in cookies (recipe in a later post) Potassium!

PB&J – you ate it as a kid…and it’s just as tasty on the run. Whole grains can be tough for some to digest while running, so experiment with bread choices.

Raisins, Dates & Figs – easy to carry, natural sugar.

Nuts – Protein! I like almonds best, followed by peanuts…get the unsalted unless you are the kind of person that gets cramps. I’m a salty sweater and get plenty of sodium!

Pickles – tested cramp preventer! Even mid-cramp pickle juice can help release the muscle. I start eating them during the taper, and always have them on hand during a race.

Potatoes – a favorite during ultras because they have MORE potassium than bananas. Often served boiled and salted. Sweet potatoes are ok, but they do have more fiber and significantly more sugar. White potatoes are NOT bad for you…just don’t fry them…or load them up with butter, cheese, sour cream, and bacon! Pringles are good too (stick with plain since the flavored have MSG)!

I said I would talk later about a few products that I do use, but I wanted to mention them here.

ENERGYbits (Spirulina) – a great vegan source of protein, vitamins, and energy without caffeine. Low calorie, so make sure you’re eating other foods too. You can read my review of this product in an earlier post.

AMRITAbars – vegan, raw, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free. These bars taste amazing. Energy bars in a variety of flavors for use during exercise filled with fruit and seeds, and a recovery bar that tastes like a fudge brownie! Review coming soon!

Try something. Try everything. Just make sure you’re reading the labels. Isn’t your performance worth the research?

So tell me…what are you eating?

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