Trade in sugary sports drinks for whole foods to fuel up healthfully on the run.
Your mid-run snack doesn’t have to come from a foil package or a plastic bottle. While processed gels, bars and drinks can provide the energy you need to power through your workout, their mile-long lists of hard-to-pronounce ingredients may give organic-minded runners pause. Fear not, Nature Girl, experts agree it’s possible to fuel effectively with natural alternatives.
“Whole foods give you a complex matrix of nutrients and compounds that go beyond what heavily processed products can provide,” says sports dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, CSSD. “These can enhance performance and recovery, and contribute to overall health and disease prevention.”
Try sipping or noshing on the following treats to get the nutrients your body craves without any of the additives . . .
It’s crucial to pack enough liquid to hydrate properly during a run. Blatner recommends aiming for 8 ounces every 15 minutes for a run lasting one hour or more. Water is the ultimate natural option, but for long runs on hot days, you’ll need a beverage that contains carbohydrates and electrolytes (specifically sodium and potassium).
At 50 calories per cup, this natural drink will fuel you with 9 grams of carbohydrates, as well as plenty of potassium (up to 20 times that of an average sports drink). Mix coconut water with a pinch of sea salt to ensure your cells are soaking up the sodium they need to stay hydrated.
Sports dietitian Karen Reznik Dolins, RD, CSSD, suggests combining one-part fresh-squeezed orange juice with one-part water. The citrus juice provides potassium while the water dilutes the juice to prevent stomach cramps. Add a bit of salt for sodium, and you’re good to go!
During a run lasting 60 minutes or more, you need about 7 to 15 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes, says Blatner. Reach for simple, easy-to-digest carbs for a quick energy boost that won’t lead to tummy troubles. If you’re not sipping an electrolyte-filled sports drink, make sure your eats contain sodium as well.
Banana chips, dried cranberries, cherries or apples all make for great long-run treats, but Blatner’s favorite snack is dried dates. One pitted medjool date—easy to pop in your mouth mid-stride—is 66 calories and has 18 grams of energizing carbohydrates. Since dates don’t naturally contain sodium, make sure to sip a sports drink between bites.
This natural sweet is made up of both fructose and glucose—the same sugar molecules found in sports drinks. Simple sugars enter the bloodstream fast, giving a sudden burst of energy—a perfect pick-me-up if you’re lagging during a workout. For a mess-free snack try honey packets (12 grams carbs each) or straws (4 grams carbs each).
Not only does juicy watermelon provide a burst of refreshing cool-you-down hydration, but one cup contains 46 calories, plus 11 grams of carbs and some potassium. Sprinkle it with sea salt to add sodium, and pre-freeze it in a plastic bag to prevent the fruit from getting mushy on the run.
They may not be the purest form of fuel, but pretzels are a barely-processed snack, and one that Dolins recommends for runners. Easy to tote and high on the convenience scale, they not only provide carbs, but one ounce contains two to four times the sodium of sports drinks and nary any fat or fiber—two nutrients that can cause stomach upset.