Committed vegan? Sworn meat-lover? Whole foods fan?
There’s a race nutrition option that’s right for you.
By Molly Newman
While you may be able to power through a 5K or even a 10K with no more fuel than a few sips of water, longer races require more strategic fueling sessions. A University of Texas study showed that cyclists who consumed 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour had better endurance, stronger performance, and shorter recovery times than those who sipped a sugar-free placebo instead. But overindulging before or during a race can wreak havoc on your digestive system, sidelining you with stomach cramps or worse.
Fortunately, modern race nutrition products can accommodate just about every body and every special diet. Just as there are many schools of thought on which training diet is the best, there are a wide variety of perfect choices whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or a clean-eating devotee. Check out the options profiled here to find one that’s right for you. We’ve rounded up some great ready-to-go choices as well as a couple of recipes for DIY fuel.
Every athlete’s body is different. Before race day, it’s a good idea to experiment with different amounts and types of food to find one that provides just enough fuel without overtaxing your system. You may discover that a traditional energy drink is enough to propel you to the finish, or that slowing down for a quick solid snack can shave minutes off your race time.
Whichever race nutrition solution you choose, remember to drink plenty of liquids. (If you choose plain water over sports drinks, don’t forget to add a little kosher or sea salt to help replenish electrolytes.)
Vegan diets include only foods from plant sources: no meat, dairy, or honey. (How do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry; they’ll tell you.)
Gluten-free diets exclude wheat and barley products, including most bread, pasta, and beer. Many people without diagnosed gluten allergies find they feel better on a low- or no-wheat diet.
Paleo or primal diets rely only on those foods our “caveman” ancestors ate: meat, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. They exclude all grains, dairy, soy, and most starchy vegetables such as potatoes.
Clean-eating diets focus on whole foods, prepared simply and with little added sugar or fat. Small portions of lean meats are OK, but most meals rely on plenty of veggies and whole grains.
Pre-Race Power Breakfast
✔ Paleo ✔ Gluten-Free ✔ Clean Eating ✔ Vegan Option
Packed with protein and electrolytes, yet light on carbs, this green tea smoothie from Caveman Cooking (cavemancooking.tv) will wake you up and get you ready to race.
In a blender, combine 8 ounces brewed and cooled green tea; 1 medium banana; 1 scoop egg white or hemp protein powder; 1 Tbsp almond butter; and 1 Tbsp flaxseed. Blend until smooth.
GU Energy Gel
✔ Gluten-Free ✔ Vegan
Precisely calibrated to deliver just enough calories to keep you on track, GU’s single-serving energy gels are a classic choice for endurance athletes. Their balance of simple and complex carbohydrates provides both a quick energy rush and longer-lasting fuel to keep you on track. For an added boost, pick a caffeinated flavor (Espresso Outrage and Jet Blackberry boast 40mg of caffeine apiece). Hate the texture of gels? Try the new Lemon GU Chomps for the same benefits in a tasty, chewy package.
KIND Healthy Snacks
✔ Gluten-Free ✔ Vegan ✔ Clean Eating
Tired of energy bars with the consistency and taste of fruit-flavored asphalt? Kind’s line of whole-food snacks, made with “ingredients you can see and pronounce,” are a treat for both your tummy and your tastebuds. Savor a fruit-packed Cranberry Almond Bar, or grab a handful of Vanilla Blueberry Clusters. All flavors are packed with critical nutrients and a healthy dose of fiber, and are free of gluten and GMO ingredients.
Steve’s Paleogoods Original PaleoKit
✔ Paleo ✔ Gluten-Free
Staying away from sugar, soy, and grains? Prefer your mid-race fuel to have a little protein power? Each vacuum-packed PaleoKit contains a mix of naturally cured beef jerky, raw almonds and macadamia nuts, and dried fruit for a touch of sweetness. While distance runners with sensitive stomachs may prefer options that are easier to digest, serious trail runners, mudders, or other endurance athletes will appreciate the PaleoKit’s sustaining mix of protein, fats, and carbs.
✔ Gluten-Free ✔ Vegan ✔ Clean Eating
If you crave curry and wasabi more than chocolate and cupcakes, Journey Bars provide a savory alternative to traditional sweet energy bars. With flavors inspired by world cuisines like Japanese and Thai, the bold flavors will make you wake up and take notice. Another bonus: With no chocolate or gooey sweeteners, these bars won’t melt and leave a sticky mess.
DIY Double Chocolate Energy Balls
✔ Paleo ✔ Gluten-Free ✔ Vegan Option
Want to control exactly what’s going into your race fuel? Try whipping up a batch of these simple, tasty treats. Their consistency is fairly soft, so you’ll want to carry them in a zip-top bag or other container to keep them intact. Not a chocolate fan? Try substituting dried cranberries, blueberries, or strawberries for the chocolate chips.
Combine in a food processor: 1 cup almond butter; 1.5 cups shredded unsweetened coconut; 3/4 cup dried figs; 1/4 cup flaxseed meal; 4 Tbsp honey or brown rice syrup; 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder; 1/4 cup protein powder of choice; pinch sea salt.
Pulse until mixture is smooth with only a few small chunks remaining. Stir in 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips.
Scoop up tablespoons of mixture and roll gently into balls. Refrigerate until firm.
Molly Newman lives in Portland, Oregon, where she hikes, walks, and runs whenever it isn’t raining—and often when it is. A contributor to Outdoor Sports Guide since 2009, she also hosts regular trivia nights and homeschools her two sons.