Q: Should I fuel with raisins and nuts rather than gels during runs?
A: No, I would use caution when using real-food options during runs. When we start exercising, blood is diverted away from our digestive systems and to our working muscles. Because they digest slower, limit foods that contain protein, fat and fiber when exercising. While a little protein might be OK and even beneficial, taking in too much fat and fiber can cause serious gastrointestinal issues. So unless you want to add on some bonus bathroom mileage, I suggest using low-fat, low-fiber, low-protein fueling options.
What about gels?
Gels aren’t without issue either. Our intestines have different sugar transporters in them for different types of sugars like glucose or fructose. Too much of one type of gel or sugar source can cause our intestinal system to become overloaded, and—you guessed—tummy troubles. The other issue tends to stem from the sweetness of the gels and feeling a sort of “sugar fatigue” from eating too many of them on longer runs.
If you are looking for more real food type fueling options, I would consider Spring Energy Gels, which are not really gels, but real food blended into a baby-food consistency. They’re made with athletes in mind, so there are some electrolytes included and come in several different formulas with varying flavors and caloric values.
Get your whole-food fix
And, finally, if you want to get creative and make your own real food options, it can be done. Again, keep things simple (this is not the time to get fancy with avocado toast) and be sure to include carbohydrates. You will need to purchase a reusable flask in order to transport your food blends with you. Keep in mind the downside to doing this is that you do not have the calories, carbohydrates (and particular carbohydrates) and electrolyte information for these concoctions unless you have access to nutrient analysis software.
Maple Apple Cinnamon Food Blend:
Makes: 2-3 Servings
Puree 1c unsweetened applesauce with 2tbsp maple syrup, 1/2c water, and a pinch of salt. Add more water, 1tbsp at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Store up to three days in the fridge.
Do you have a question for our RDN? Send your trail-running-nutrition quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kylee Van Horn is a licensed Sports Registered Dietitian and competitive trail runner.