I have a few friends who are very talented runners, capable of running a marathon in under three hours. While incredibly impressive, their speed and endurance aren’t mind boggling to me. What does blow my mind is that they are capable of doing this without eating on the run. I don’t know about the rest of you, but any time I’m out on a course for more than 90 minutes or so, I need to ingest some calories to ensure I make it to the finish line.
Perhaps it’s because it takes me almost twice as long to run the same race, but I digress.
Most of us mere running mortals need to maintain some sort of caloric balance to sustain our energy levels while running. Just like anything else in our consumer-driven society, there are a number of nutrition products geared toward runners and endurance athletes. And just like other specialized products, they often come at a price.
A high, expensive price.
So what’s a runner who doesn’t want to shell out a ton of money on race-day nutrition do?
Easy: Look in your cabinets. Chances are, you already have some food lying around that makes a perfect substitute for training and racing fuel.
Ideally, during a workout or race that lasts at least an hour, runners will consume carbohydrates at a ratio of approximately 30 to 60 grams per hour of exercise. This, of course, varies from person to person, but that gives you a general range to aim for.
Maple Syrup: As a proud Vermonter, I had to list this one first. (And as a proud Vermonter, I must remind you that we are talking about real, pure maple syrup here, none of that imitation stuff.) No longer just a sweet topping for your waffles, maple syrup has a lower glycemic index than other sugars, so it will continue to break down over a longer stretch of time, thus keeping you fueled longer. And at just under 30 grams of carbohydrates per ounce, maple syrup is a sweet alternative to artificial-tasting gels.
Honey: A close second to the ease and convenience of maple syrup is the all-natural alternative of honey. In addition to a slew of health benefits, two tablespoons of honey provide approximately 33 grams of carbohydrates.
Bananas: Bananas and running go hand in hand for good reason. One medium banana contains about 30 grams of fast-digesting carbohydrates. Added bonus: Bananas are rich in potassium, which may stave off muscle cramps. Research shows that bananas can hold their own against brand-name sports drinks, providing similar performance and physiological outcomes. At at a cost of mere cents per banana, they are certainly more affordable than expensive sports drinks.
Dried Fruit: This includes anything from raisins to dried apricots, dates, cherries, and even pineapple. The dried, condensed versions of these foods are typically high in carbohydrates but in a bite-sized serving. Most are also high in potassium, but be warned…they can also be high in fiber, which may cause some gastrointestinal distress (and an unplanned visit to the port-a-potty). As with any race-day fuel, be sure to practice eating them during training first!
Pretzels: One of my favorite race-day snack hacks is mini pretzels. Easy to carry in a plastic baggie and surprisingly durable in your waist or hydration pack, one ounce of pretzels contains about 100 calories and 24 grams of carbohydrates. Plus, the salt on the pretzels may help replenish sodium and potassium lost while sweating. And they are a great change of pace when you near the end of a long race or run and are absolutely sick of eating all of the sweet foods listed above. A similar alternative is saltine crackers.
These are just a few examples of foods commonly found in kitchens. Of course, the possibilities for your training and race-day fueling are indeed endless. Just keep a few things in mind: remember to hydrate along the way. Drinking water will not only aid digestion but will help prevent dehydration. And, as mentioned above, remember the important rule of NEVER TRYING ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY! Always practice nutrition plans before your race to ensure you are sprinting across the finish line to a personal best…and not sprinting to find a port-a-potty.