5 Whole-Food Alternatives to Sports Products

Sport products serve one purpose: to refuel and rehydrate athletes, and in turn lead to improved endurance and performance. A plethora of ergogenic aids—substances used for the purpose of enhancing performance—are available, including sports drinks, chews, beans, bars, powders, tablets and waffles. These items contain antioxidants, quickly digestible sugars and plenty of electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium.

But there are also many whole foods that naturally contain those same nutrients and serve the same function as sports products. The following are five whole-food alternatives worth trying.

Coconut Water

This beverage has exploded onto the marketplace as a natural way to rehydrate and replace lost electrolytes. It's equipped with potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus, as well as B vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and antioxidants. It provides energy in the form of carbohydrates.

What it doesn't have: artificial flavors, sweeteners and colors. Most importantly, it's comprised of one ingredient: coconut water. The Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found coconut water to be as effective as a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drinks in promoting rehydration and supporting subsequent exercise.

More: Runners: Electrolytes and When to Replace Them

Dried Fruit

This chewy snack comes complete with a natural-sugar source and the added benefit of vitamins and minerals. The Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found that both raisins and sports chews improve running performance, with no significant differences in gastrointestinal distress. In a raisin-verses-gel showdown, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research discovered no metabolic or performance differences between the tested food items.

More: 7 Experts on Pre-Race Nutrition Essentials

Baby Food Pur?e

Baby-food pur?e offers carbs, vitamins and minerals. Many brands sell it in a convenient twist-top pouch, too. Just be sure the ingredient list is short, and there are no added sugars. Electrolytes should be supplemented with this item when necessary.

Bananas

Calorie-dense, packed with potassium, and loaded with easily digestible sugars, this old favorite stands up to its reputation. The PLOS ONE Journal recently found cyclists to have comparable performance when fueling with bananas or sports drinks. An added bonus: they're easy to carry.

More: 3 Plant-Based Pre-Race Meals for Runners

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