Natural Fuel for Runners to Avoid Hitting the Wall

natural fuel for runners

Natural fuel is not only good for your body, but it will also help you avoid hitting the wall. When you’ve trained and prepared so long for an event, there’s nothing worse than having a poor performance on race day because of a lack of proper fuel. The fear of hitting the wall or suffering some kind of gastric hurricane is enough to make us paranoid. We stock pile Gu, gels, blocks, gummies, jelly beans, and shots so that we are never at a loss for the energy boosts our bodies need. The problem is that some of these products contain ingredients you might wish they didn’t. While you’ll be getting the sugars and carbohydrates your body needs, you’ll likely also be getting a whole host of other things that may wreak havoc on your stomach. And we all know there’s nothing that will end a race faster than GI issues.

Ingredients aside, manufactured energy products will cost you a boat load, with some brands pricing their products at $2 a pop. Add up this up for the whole year and you’ll be wondering if you should go to the bank and apply for a loan to support your running habit. Luckily, there are natural and cheap ways to fuel your body through a long run or race. Of course, you will need to experiment to find the natural fuel alternative that’s right for you. But, once you do, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of money and unnecessary ingredients.

How much fuel will I need?

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests consuming between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrates each hour during a long run. As you can see, this is a wide range and you will need to experiment to find the amount that works for you. Personally, I eat very little during runs and often opt for foods with a high proportion of sugar. Others prefer to eat frequently and in larger volumes. While guidelines exist, only you will know what natural fuel feels right and propels you across the finish line.

Great Natural Fuel Options

Dried Fruit

Dried apricots, figs, and dates have been my natural fuel go-to companions for marathon training and racing. They contain good doses of both sugars and carbohydrates, while also coming in small, well-proportioned packages. The great thing about dried fruit is that the large variety allows for easy customization. For example, one small delget noor date will give you 20 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrate, and 4.5 grams of sugar, while a large mejool date will pack 66 calories, 18 grams of carbohydrate, and 16 grams of sugar. Go ahead and pick up some bananas, apricots, dates, raisins, apples, prunes, peaches, blueberries, or any other fruit that suits your fancy. While they all differ, they each offer a powerful punch of much-needed carbohydrates and sugars mid-run.

Baby Food
Squeeze Packs

Yes, get ready to spend time in the baby food aisle. While you’re there, be sure to ask some toddlers which flavors they prefer and if they feel that the food is giving them a proper sugar to carbohydrate ratio without overwhelming their systems with fiber and causing GI distress. Then wait ten seconds for their blank stares.

There are many options as far as these natural-food-based squeeze packs are concerned, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you can find countless combinations of ingredients, flavors, and nutrient profiles to suit your needs. Whether you want sweet potatoes, squash, bananas, pears, strawberries, apples, or peas, you’ll find many variations of the fruits and vegetables you’re looking for. On the other hand, you may have to experiment with a lot of squeeze packs to find the one that is right for you.

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If you’re not a fan of your food looking like an army of cockroaches, I’d suggest using something other than dates.

Honey

There is nothing like honey to give you the quick energy burst you need without requiring any chewing. This makes it great natural fuel for those of us that struggle to multitask and can’t figure out how to breathe and chew at the same time. With 64 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, and 16 grams of sugar in each tablespoon, honey is one of the most efficient ways to fuel mid-run. If you’re wondering how to fit a bottle of honey into your shorts, I have a solution for that. Amazon sells great little sealable bags that come in 2x3inch sizes. They make it easy to pre-portion your honey into individual serving sizes and store them, mess-free, in the pockets of your shorts or running belt. Check out the bags here.

Another downside to these squeeze packs is that they can be as expensive as your traditional energy products without always packing as much nutrient bang for your buck. Energy products are designed with athletes in mind, while baby food isn’t. It’s important to read the labels of the squeeze packs you’re buying and make sure they contain your desired amounts of sugars, carbohydrates, and low level of fiber. While it may be an expensive experimentation process, when you find the right squeeze pack for you, the natural boost of energy you’ll be getting will be worth it.

Nut Butters

I could eat an entire jar of almond butter in one sitting but, to be honest, it’s not what I crave when I’m out on the road. I’ve heard others swear by nut butters though, so I figure they deserve mentioning as a natural fuel option. A tablespoon of peanut butter has about 90 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates, and 1 gram of sugar. Nut butters are not ideal from a nutrition standpoint as far as mid-race fueling is concerned, as most of the nutrition comes in the form of protein and fat. But, nut butters can be an efficient way to increase your caloric intake without overwhelming your stomach with a large volume of food. While I wouldn’t suggest having nut butters be your primary source of mid-run fuel, they can help sustain your energy. If you’re looking for an extra boost, grab a nut butter with honey in it to increase your carbohydrates and sugars. Nut butters are another great food to use with these great 2x3 inch sealable bags.

natural-fuel

Make Your Own

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Crackers and Cookies

I know, I know. Crackers and cookies are not natural fuel. But hey, sometimes you just get plain hungry during a run and a shot of honey isn’t going to cut it. Don’t get any crazy ideas though. This is not the time to pack the double chunk peanut butter chocolate chip monster cookies. Nor is it advisable to have crackers and cookies be your main source of nutrition. I have found these foods to be useful when my stomach wants something substantial, but is not necessarily seeking a boost of energy. If you’re prone to getting hungry during a run, pack a few pretzels, Fig Newton’s, Wheat Thins, animal crackers, or Nutter Butters to snack on along the way. Be sure to pack only a limited supply of these foods so you aren’t tempted to overdo it and overwhelm your stomach.

If you’ve been doing the math along the way, you’ve likely realized you need to eat quite a lot of food each hour to reach your hourly nutrition goal. Not only is all of the chewing cumbersome and time consuming, having a large volume of food in your stomach may not be comfortable. If you’re finding this to be a problem, try making your own natural fuel.

With those handy dandy 2x3 inch sealable bags, you can puree any combination of natural foods and portion them into individual servings to bring along with you on your runs. During my first marathon, I used a recipe from Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete during training. You can find it here. Once I got the hang of it and figured out what my body needed, I was able to make additions and substitutions to produce my ideal fuel that was calorie and nutrient dense and easy to consume and store.

natural-fuel

We often get confused by technical terms such as mid-race fueling, without realizing that it serves the same purpose as eating. Your body needs food in order to function. This is no different whether you are cooking dinner for your family or racing at an event. Keep the process simple and remember that food is food. It may take some experimentation to figure out what works for you, but devoting yourself to finding natural, mid-run fuel options will benefit both your health and your bank account.

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