Originally published on Aug. 22, 2010
Good fuel is as essential to a nice long run as quality shoes. And, just as there are seemingly endless choices for running shoes, there's also choice after choice for on-the-go fueling. Bars, gels, chews, beans, sports drinks — the list goes on and on.
But have you ever taken a good look at what that expensive, prepackaged fuel has for ingredients? If you flip the package over and start perusing the ingredient list, there's a good chance that you'll see some ingredients that sound like they belong inside your the soles of your shoes rather than in your stomach. For example, here's the actual ingredient list from PowerBar Performance Energy's Apple Cinnamon bar:
C2 MAX CARBOHYDRATE BLEND (ORGANIC EVAPORATED CANE JUICE SYRUP, MALTODEXTRIN, FRUCTOSE, DEXTROSE), OAT BRAN, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, RICE CRISPS (MILLED RICE, RICE BRAN, ROSEMARY EXTRACT), BROWN RICE FLOUR, APPLE POWDER, CANOLA OIL, AND 2% OR LESS OF: NATURAL FLAVOR, VEGETABLE GLYCERIN, SALT, CINNAMON, NONFAT MILK, ALMOND BUTTER, PEANUT FLOUR. MINERALS: CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, FERROUS FUMARATE (IRON). VITAMINS: ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), VITAMIN B6 HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMINE MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1).
I'm sure you're saying to yourself, "Mmmmmmm, I love soy protein isolate and vegetable glycerin!"
Or, maybe not.
Same goes for most of the sports gels out there on the market. Just check out the ingredients for Hammer Gel's Apple Cinnamon flavor:
Ingredients: Maltodextrin, Filtered Water, Apple Juice Concentrate, Energy Smart® (Fruit Juice, Natural Grain Dextrins), Ground Cinnamon, Malic Acid, Vanilla Extract, Potassium Sorbate (as a preservative), Salt, Amino Acids (L-Leucine, L-Alanine, L-Valine, L-Isoleucine), Potassium Chloride.
Again, don't potassium chloride and malic acid just sound too tasty to believe? If you're like me, well then, probably not. And it's not that a PowerBar or Hammer Gel every now and then isn't a good idea. They're products that are scientifically tested to work for athletes. But that's just it, they're products — not foods.
So why not take a chance and make your own running fuel from real, live food? It's not difficult, and it's actually both tastier and cheaper than buying prepackaged junk.
On the Web you can find all sorts of energy bar and gel recipes, but here are the two I come back to over and over again. The first is a recipe for energy bars that is sweet and satisfying thanks to a combination of dried fruit and fat from coconut and nut butter. It's a very versatile recipe that can be made with whatever you happen to have in the pantry and its shape can vary depending on your preference. I find rolling the dough into balls instead of cutting it into bars works best for me, but do whatever works for you. Also, you may have a hard time confining these to your workouts, as the balls taste great on their own as a snack or even dessert. My son loves them and thinks they're the best afternoon snack ever invented.
The second recipe is one I got from "Coleen 'Lil' Big Hawk' Voeks":http://runningonstrawberryhill.blogspot.com/. It's a recipe for a gel that is perfect for sustained energy on a long run. I confess, I've only made it once because it makes so much! I have a little 5-ounce Gu bottle that works really well for carrying it on a run.
Energy Bar Balls (adapted from "The Natural Health Circus":http://naturalhealthcircus.blogspot.com/2005/09/healthy-energy-bar-recipe.htm) 1 cup dried apricots 1 cup dried figs (I use calimyrna, but you can use a different type) 1 cup dates (medjool are best) 1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries or dried cherries 1 cup unsweetened coconut 1/2 cup almond, cashew or peanut butter 1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
Put apricots, figs, dates and raisins in the food processor and process until sticky (a good indicator that it's done is if it forms into one big ball). Put the dried fruit mixture into a bowl, breaking it apart a bit. With a wooden spoon, mix in coconut. Next, add in nut butter and honey and stir until well-combined.
I like to roll them into 1-inch balls and put them in a pan, but if you want a true "energy bar" you can also press the mixture into a shallow glass dish. Once you've used the mixture, place the balls or bars into the fridge to firm up. The balls can be stored in an airtight container for further use. To store the bars, cut them once they are firm and then store in an airtight container with wax paper between the layers if you decide to stack the bars.
Coleen's Goo Recipe 3 ounces brown rice syrup 1 1/2 ounces honey 1/2 ounces blackstrap molasses 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 1 teaspoon warm water Mix together and consume! (The warm water isn't strictly necessary but it loosens everything up enough to mix well.) Feel free to add coffee or whatever else tickles your fancy!