Eat Real Food on the Run

Eat real food on the run. Dried figs are a great alternative to power gels.

It seems that people these days (especially athletes) are more concerned about what they’re putting into their bodies. People are choosing to eat real food again and avoid things that are overly processed or genetically modified – even if it’s more expensive. When I was training for my first half marathon, other runners in my training group were taking these GU gels on the long run. They didn’t look very good, but they all said it gave them a much needed energy boost. I always wore a fuel belt full of Gatorade so I thought that was enough.

This Stuff Better Work

I was hesitant at first, but I bought a few that tasted like coffee and ate one about 45 minutes into an 18km run. I didn’t think it could make that much of a difference, but about 10-15 minutes after taking it I felt totally re-energized! The next week I bought some other flavours of these GU gels (triple berry, chocolate, etc.) to see which ones I liked the best. I actually didn’t mind the taste of them, the only thing I didn’t like was that I had to take them with water. I made sure I always took a gel or two if the run was going to last more than 90 minutes and my fuel belt had 2 bottles of water and 2 of sports drink. During a half marathon (and every one since) I usually go through about 3 gels and maybe chug some Gatorade at the last water station. I did well, but I was afraid that I was becoming too dependent on this sports “stuff” and concerned about what was really in it.

Forget It… I Want to Eat Real Food!

I haven’t bought a gel in about over 9 months, and the fuel belt is hanging in the closet. What happened? Real food happened. As my running improved, naturally so did my diet. I was always looking for natural, unprocessed foods that would benefit my running. I spent a lot of time walking the aisles at the Bulk Barn and started experimenting with foods I could easily hold in my hand on a run. I tried raisins (both chocolate covered and plain, dates and figs. I was surprised to find out that 2 figs have the same amount of carbs as 1 GU gel (26g). Plus, they have natural sugar and don’t have to be taken with water. I would pack a ziplock bag full of treats and fill an 8oz bottle with water (if the weather was warm enough.) Not sure how much of it was psychological, but I didn’t notice a decrease in my performance and found I actually felt better at the end of a long run. I refuel at the same time I would normally take a gel and take a sip of water every 20-30 minutes to stay hydrated.

Training With Real Food

It’s now February and I’m in the middle of training for my second full marathon. An hour before I head out for the run, I drink a glass of juice made with the Nutri-Bullet (spinach, pineapple, mango, banana, greek yogurt, almonds, wheat germ and green tea) followed by a cup of coffee or espresso. This hour gives me enough time to wake up, fuel, go to the bathroom, and do a 15 minute dynamic warm up and maybe stretch out on the foam roller. An hour into the run I’ll eat 2 or 3 figs and continue that pattern every 45 minutes until the end. I’ve been doing this for awhile now and I feel great after 2 plus hours of running – even if I add speed intervals to the mix.

I talk about figs because I found that’s what works best for me. Raisins were too awkward to dig out of my pocket and dates stuck together too much. Plus, buying a big package of figs from the grocery store is also a lot cheaper than buying gels every week. Remember, everyone reacts to food differently, so keep experimenting until you find something that works best for you.