Any runner who has suffered from “gut rot” or bonked after hours of consuming nothing but bars and gels will tell you why they reach for the real food. It satisfies hunger on long runs, and savory flavors provide a welcome reprieve after the syrupy sweetness of most sports snacks. Here are some portable real-food options to keep you moving on the trail.
Most health-food stores stock these in the bulk bins, but they’re not hard to make on your own. Simply pulse Medjool dates in a food processor or blender, shape two-tablespoon portions into balls and roll those balls in shredded coconut. Put them in mini-muffin wrappers and refrigerate. For extra protein power, add cashews (also pulsed in the food processor) to the processed dates.
Mash up a half avocado; sprinkle with sea salt, lemon and extra virgin olive oil; and spread on a tortilla, freshly baked bun or pita pocket.
Or, get creative. Before the Western States 100 one year, says veteran ultrarunner Nikki Kimball, “I gave my crew a perfectly ripe avocado along with my other 100-mile staples of cured meats, cheese and chips. Realizing they had no plates or bowls with them, my crew scrambled for a good avocado delivery system.” The result? “A Pringle chip nestling an avocado slice,” she says, “the perfect 100-mile race food.”
Not just for the kiddos, the PB&J is another snack that, when properly prepared, can pack a nutritional punch. Substitute almond, cashew or sunflower-seed butter if you prefer, and pick jam that’s mostly real fruit.
Butter one side of a big tortilla, add cheese and refried beans (sautéed veggies are good, too) and pan fry on both sides for a nice balance of carbs, protein and fat. It’s better cold than you think.
White rice is a simple, high-glycemic food with a high moisture content that digests easily—perfect for runners. Take your rice game up a level by making rice cakes: Pair sushi rice with scrambled eggs and sausage, or mix it with honey and lime zest for a sweet treat.
Rice balls are another option. Dr. Allen Lim, a sports physiologist, founder of nutrition company Skratch Labs and co-author of the Feed Zone cookbook series, describes one gourmet option: “Cook some rice, mix in a bunch of parmesan cheese, a couple of generous squirts of Bragg’s liquid aminos and a little maple syrup, and tell me that isn’t better than an energy bar.”
If you don’t feel like chewing food, recipes for “healthy” pudding abound and usually contain avocado, cocoa powder and coconut milk. Put it in a Ziploc bag and feed yourself squeezes as desired.
When is it ever not satisfying?
Waffles or pancakes
Also good cold. Use them to sandwich nut butter, fresh berries and a drizzle of honey—or, for a savory option, hummus and feta.
Baked or roasted sweet potatoes
Like rice, potatoes provide quick, digestible energy. Sweet potatoes are chock full of nutrients and flavorful. Parboil, cut into long wedges and drizzle in oil, salt and grated parmesan cheese for a decadent snack.
Spring rolls, egg rolls or dumplings
If you can cook these at home, we want to hang out in your kitchen. If you can’t, stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s stock high-quality frozen varieties that, with minimal preparation, are perfect trail food. Adorn with soy sauce (or liquid aminos) if you like your snacks salty.