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natural food alternatives to sport drinks and gels

Episode 46: Natural Food Alternatives To Sport Drinks And Gels

When it comes to marathon training, proper fueling for long runs and races is critical to keep your energy levels high and to avoid “hitting the wall”, or “bonking”.  With so many people using sport drinks and gels as a fuel source for long runs, is natural (or traditional) food an option to avoid “high sugar” engineered foods?  In today’s episode we answer a listener question from Sara on how to use natural foods as an alternative fuel source for marathon training.  Then, later in the show, Sara asks about marathon training on treadmills and the impact it may have on her training, especially with the cold weather she is facing in Minnesota.

Here is Sara’s first question:

“Hi Steve, I would like to hear some information about energy on my long runs. I’ve been doing Gu and shot blocks for my half marathons but want to try something more ‘natural’ and whole based for my marathon training. I tried dried apricots and my stomach handled those well, but wondering what other foods can replace my glycogen stores and keep me pushing past ‘the wall?
Well, this question is a great one because, yes, you can use traditional food as a fuel source.  It just comes down to convenience and your ability to make sure you are timing your intake of traditional food as well as quantity to ensure you get the proper amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes needed to stay fueled.
Some of the natural food options I shared are:
  • Animal Crackers (Back when I had little ones, these were all over the house)
  • Combos (pretzels with peanut butter filling and a great source of sodium)
  • Home made Sweet potato Chips (Get the recipe here)
  • Natural Bars and Gels (see your health food or running store, but watch the labels!)
  • Homemade energy bars (check out Matt Frazier’s No Meat Athlete Blog and recipe – awesome!)

When cutting back on gels and sport drinks you run the risk of not getting the electrolyte replacement benefits that engineered food and drinks provide.  One alternative is electrolyte replacement tablets. This is important to prevent cramping, headaches, early dehydration (sodium helps cells hold on to water), and early fatigue.  Here is what I use to help battle electrolyte loss:

Finally, find out what to look for (and avoid) when it comes to natural food alternatives to sport drinks and gels by listening to the podcast.

The last topic I cover, is another question from Sara regarding cold weather marathon training and the use of treadmills.  Here is her question:

Hi Steve! I’d love to hear more on your podcast about running long runs on a treadmill versus outside. I’ve been forced to run more on the treadmill this training season due to the extreme cold temps we’ve had in Minnesota. I even did my 11 mile long run last weekend on the treadmill. Other than my lower back hurting the next day, I fared pretty well for those two hours. Of course as I increase my mileage, I hope the weather gets warmer as well. However, will I be at a disadvantage come race day if I’ve done most of my miles on the treadmill vs outside on the pavement? I’d love your advice and thoughts on this.
Thanks again Sara!   Well the answer is “Not Really”.  If outdoor running cannot be done safely then the treadmill is a viable option.  While not exactly the same as outdoor running, the treadmill will still allow you to get runs in, elevate your heart rate so you can train in the appropriate heart rate zone, as well as teach your body to be efficient at using energy.   Certainly run outside as much as possible to build the muscle adaptation and your body’s response to hard surfaces, but getting runs on a treadmill is fine and for short periods of time, you should have no adverse effects of training indoors.  In the podcast, I provide more details on why this is.

Also mentioned on the podcast:

  • I will be speaking at FitBloggin ’14 June 26th-29th with Adam Bate from The Lifestyle Accountability Show on the topic of podcasting.  If you are in the area or attending, let me know and we can meet up for drinks and/or a quick run. If you have not checked out Adam’s podcast, please do so.  It is all about healthy living and accountability.
  • Here is the link to get a free audiobook just for trying out Audible. If you don’t like it, cancel and keep the book. This is a great program for listening to something while you run. A lot of great running books out there too!

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Happy Running!

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Steve is a RRCA and USA Track and Field certified running coach and club director for Run Fit Running Club in Central Ohio. He is the host of the Start Running Podcast and Marathon Training Podcast which can be found in iTunes.

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