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How I'm learning to use whole foods to fuel my runs...

Posted Apr 26 2013 11:07am
After posting yesterday about my tips and tricks for a successful Whole30 , I got thinking about the fuelling side of things.  One of the tougher sides of my recent Whole30 challenge was figuring out how to fuel properly before, during and after long runs.  The book It Starts With Food gives a little insight for heavy exercisers but not a whole lot of specific direction.  It was definitely one of those things that took a little bit of trial and error.

Before Whole30 my typical eating plan was something kind of like this
  • Night before: healthy, not-too-heavy meal of protein, veggies and usually rice or pasta
  • Morning of: peanut butter and jam sandwich and yogurt, raisins and granola
  • During run: Jelly Belly Sport Beans and Gatorade taken in small quantities at every walk break
  • After: Chocolate milk right away and then a salty, carb-rich, filling meal 
It always worked well for me and left me with a nice settled tummy during my runs.  But during Whole30 you are restricted from a lot of foods we runners think of as traditional carb-loading type foods - namely grains, pasta, bread, potatoes etc.  Pre-run fuelling has therefore changed from granola and sandwiches to a nice hearty breakfast of eggs, vegetables, some protein and a decent helping of yams.  It sounds super heavy but it's surprising how well it sits in my tummy on long run days.

As for the mid-run snacks like gels, goo and jelly beans they're definitely out because of all the added sugar (even though it was added for a specific purpose).  And Gatorade, well, let's just say that's definitely out for a variety of reasons.


So what does that leave you with mid-run?  Whole, natural foods of course!

I started by experimenting with nuts and dried fruit to eat and just plain water to drink.  It can be difficult to find dried fruits without any added sugars or sulphites but they do exist and it was actually only the dried apples that upset my tummy.  The nuts were okay but seemed a little dry.  The rest of these options were easy to carry, went down easy and didn't upset my tummy in any way:
  • Dried cherries (these are my favourite)
  • Dried apricots (a close second)
  • Raisins
  • Dates
I've used them for awhile now and I can honestly say my energy levels on my long runs have been great.  But I was still curious to know how the fruit actually compared to more traditional fuelling options so I did a little comparison...
Compared to my two favourite dried fruit options:

Now I'm by no means a nutritionist or an expert on this stuff in any way but did you notice how similar the cherries and apricots are to the nutrition supplied by the sport beans?  They're all within 20 calories of each other and within 3 grams of carbohydrates of each other.  I was surprised at how similar they were.  The two pics above show the serving size for the fruit so you can imagine those compared to the volume in a package of sport beans or chews...

But what about the sodium?  The jelly beans definitely have the dried fruit beat in that department.  However, many runners and ultra runners I know choose to consume their salt and calories separately anyway so that says to me you should be able to make up your sodium through your beverage or salt tabs.  

So what about that electrolyte beverage anyway?  Well I did a bit of research last night and let's just say I won't be using any commercially prepared electrolyte drinks anytime soon.  We can all agree we need some sugar but in the quantities added and with all the other crazy chemical ingredients added I just don't think I have a place for them in my running anymore.  There are some brands on the market that use complex carbs rather than just plain old simple sugar and have far fewer additives and harmful dyes so I could see giving those a try but in the meantime, I made a batch of this!


That's right, homemade electrolyte drink!  And believe it or not, it actually tastes good.  Kinda like watered down lemon-lime Gatorade...yum.

Homemade Electrolyte Drink
  • 32 oz water
  • 1 orange sliced and squeezed, peel left on
  • 1 lemon sliced and squeezed, peel left on
  • 1/4 tsp of Himalayan or other sea salt
Easy peasy and although I admit to being a bit afraid to try it, it actually tasted very good.  Very clean and refreshing, especially when ice cold.  I've used it on a few long runs now and I honestly don't feel any different than when I was guzzling Gatorade.  Hmmm.  I've even seen some recipes where you can substitute cucumber for the lemon so that might give it a different fresh flavour.


As for the after fuelling and recovery meal, as long as you keep your 4:1 carb to protein ratio in mind, it's pretty easy to fill up.  I definitely miss that chocolate milk right away but instead I try to make sure I have some nuts, fruit and a bit of protein right away to tide me over until I have that first full meal.  

Anyhow, like I said, I'm not an expert in this field and probably a lot more in depth research and calculation needs to be made in order to truly compare how dried cherries and homemade electrolyte drink actually compare to gels and Gatorade.  However, my simple comparison leads me to believe you can get pretty darn close to consuming the same kinds of calories, carbohydrates and sodium that you would get using commercially prepared products.

And when it really comes down to it anyway, race fuelling is totally a science of trial and error and whether using whole foods or commercially available supplements, we all need to practice and experiment until we find the combination that works best for our bodies and activity levels.  Thankfully I think I've figured out a regiment that works pretty darn good for me right now and I don't feel guilty about consuming any of it.

Have you ever used any homemade energy snacks or drinks?  Did you like them?  Did they work?

(In other news, I'm trying something new and linking up with @RunningBloggers for Fitness Friday - you can follow the link below for other interesting fitness posts today...)

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