Endurance athletes are no strangers to, well, strange foods. We know gels and other performance sports foods are concocted in a lab and designed to deliver the maximum amount of energy as fast as possible—which is what we're looking for, right?
But there's something a little off about downing a flavored gel—especially the third or fourth gel of the session—when you have access to other "real" foods that can provide a similar kick nutritionally and energy-wise without the artificial taste.
Don't get us wrong, gels have their time and place. They're easy to store, easy to grab and take with you and easy to consume while training and racing. However, with a little extra planning, there's a number of other options we'd prefer before, during and after a training swim, bike ride or run.
We've gathered seven real, energy-packed foods for endurance athletes, from delicious single ingredients, to full-on homemade energy bars.
What are some of your go-to foods while training? Let us know in the comments, below!
There's a reason why bananas are offered to athletes at most races around the world—they're loaded with tons of potassium (goodbye, cramps!), are full of carbs for sustained energy levels and have a built-in natural storage container (aka, the peel). In case you weren't already convinced, they're also great by themselves or mixed into oatmeal or a smoothie for a more complete meal.
No matter if peanut butter is your thing or you like alternatives like cashew or almond, these butters are packed with a healthy blend of carbohydrates, fats and proteins for not just an immediate kick, but sustaining energy for longer workouts as well. Of course, these can be messy, but there are several different companies out there that make small packets of individual servings that are perfect for consuming on a run or ride.
We're not against going out and buying healthy energy bars from the store, but there's something enjoyable about making your own. Homemade energy bars give you complete control of what foods and nutrients you're putting in your body and can be customized based on the ingredients of the season and what your taste preferences are. We love this simple energy bar recipe by long distance runner Dot McMahan, as well as this classic Tahini Energy Bar recipe inspired by a 40-year-old recipe from The Bakery in New York.
They're certainly weird looking and they might be more closely associated with grandparents than endurance athletes, but don't be fooled—dates are packed with easily digestible carbohydrates and tons of crucial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Also, dates are loaded with fiber that helps a stressed digestive system run more efficiently. Eat them whole (just remove the pits beforehand) while out training, or chop and mix with other nuts for a pre- or post-effort snack. If dates aren't doing it for you, try other dried fruits, like apricots or raisins—just make sure they're not candied or loaded with extra sugar.
Celebrated by professional triathletes and cycling teams around the world, rice cakes are a must-try staple for any endurance athlete. The carbohydrate base is, of course, white rice, but the savory-ness comes from adding full fat cream cheese. Add toppings to taste—from chocolate and fresh fruits, to nuts and spices. Here's a simple recipe from EF Pro Cycling, and it also includes an easy-to-follow video.
We bent the rules on this one a bit, but as all endurance athletes know, hydration can make or break a training session or race. Instead of consuming an electrolyte-infused gel and washing it down with half a bottle of water, consider mixing your own "sports" drink. Start with water, and mix in some fresh citrus (lemons, limes or oranges work well) and salt for the electrolytes. Take it one step further and add some honey or a spoonful of sugar for extra drinkable and gut-friendly calories, too.
Fruit pouches are a not-so-adult update to those applesauce cups we used to trade at lunch, and they've been widely adopted by endurance athletes for their portability and simplicity. Made with applesauce as the main ingredient, they're available in a squeeze pouch with a twist off cap—essentially a natural "gel" of sorts. They're often 100-percent fruit too, which makes them friendly for even the most sensitive digestive systems, and they can be found infused with other nutritious options like pineapple, strawberry or mango.
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