Gels...chomps...bars...sports drinks...for high-level athletes, these are a staple. But even athletes can easily tire of these pre-packaged convenience supplements. While they are easy to carry and eat, many of my athletes would just rather eat real food. There is nothing magical about sport supplement products. In fact ,a study just published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that in male runners, there was no greater performance benefit to using chews versus raisins. Both raisins and chews promoted higher carbohydrate oxidation and improved running performance compared to water only. Running performance did not differ between the raisins and chews, and there were no significant difference in gastrointestinal (GI) effects - GI disturbance was mild with either option. So, aside from dealing with some of what I call the "aesthetic issues" - ease of carrying, opening packaging, and eating - natural food is just as beneficial as commercial supplements. Though, like everything else, it is important to practice with these foods first. While I love raisins, there is no way I could eat those on a run - too difficult to chew and swallow while also attempting to breathe. Other runners, however, love using raisins.
Here are some great whole-food alternatives to fuel your training and competition:
Instead of gels...
Instead of chomps...
-Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, blueberries, etc.
-Graham crackers or animal crackers
-Bananas, apples, oranges
Instead of bars...
-PBJs, peanut butter & honey sandwiches (can use bagels vs. bread too)
-Larabars (all natural)
-Trail mix (dried fruit & nuts)
Instead of sports drinks...
-100% fruit juice diluted with water + 1 pinch salt
Instead of protein shakes...
-Low-fat chocolate milk
Citation: Too BW, Cicai S, Hockett KR, Applegate BA, Casazza D, Casazza GA. Natural versus commercial carbohydrate supplementation and endurance running performance. J Intl Soc Sport Nutr. 2012; 9:27. Published: 15 June 2012