During extended runs (generally 90 minutes or more), runners need additional fueling in order to maintain energy levels, optimize endurance and stamina, and prevent bonking. There are many sources of fueling available, such as whole foods, energy gels, sugars, energy bars, energy chews, powders mixed in liquids, and more. There is no right or wrong source of fueling. You can choose what you want to consume based on your food/nutrition philosophy or your dietary preferences/needs. In addition, choosing fueling sources that work with your gut is equally important. You don’t want to end up with an upset stomach or discomfort during the run.
Even with all these fueling options, many runners have started focusing on using whole foods during runs. Whole foods have many benefits besides just providing carbohydrates. They have vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Some runners claim whole foods are easier to digest than some of the synthetic, sugar-heavy products. On the downside, whole foods take time to plan and prepare, which can be additional work, and are not as easily accessible or packaged like a pre-made product. Here are some whole foods fueling options for runners, and why they work!
Bananas have a higher concentration of fructose (naturally occurring sugar) per serving size. A 7-inch banana has about 30 grams of carbohydrates, which is a good source of energy for a long run. They also have potassium and magnesium to replenish electrolytes.
Dates (the fruit, not the evening adventure) are also packed with carbs (about 20 grams of carbs in one Medjool date). They’re easy to pop in the mouth and eat. They’re even smaller than a banana, making them more convenient to carry. And, they are rich in potassium and iron, too. Iron is important for bringing oxygen to your muscles during a run.
Raisins are small and easy to consume while running, and they are packed with carbohydrates. A Louisiana State University study found that when cyclists ate raisins, they had the same energy and perceived exertion levels as when they ate Jelly Belly Sports Beans. This can also be applied to runners in regards to the endurance aspect. Raisins have iron and can boost our bone strength.
Sweet potatoes (skin removed to decrease fiber intake during a run) provide a good source of carbs for energy in addition to Vitamins A and C, which are good antioxidants for boosting the immune system and reducing oxidative stress. If you want to give them a try, try roasting sweet potatoes in the oven first. After roasting, remove the skin, sprinkle on some salt (for sodium replacement during the run), and put them in a bag or container to take with you on the run.
Remember, not every fueling source will work for you. Make sure to test a food during a training session to make sure it feels right and there are no undesirable side effects. If a specific food causes distress, do not consume it while running. Choose another option. There are plenty out there!