This is third post on my efforts to maximize and improve running performance while honoring a guiding principle that defines sustainability for me: “live simply so that others may simply live.”
As noted…This is being shared for informational purposes only and not intended to be preachy or judgmental, as neither is my style. We all have different backgrounds and resource demands in our lives, and I’m the first to admit there are many things I can improve!
I grew up eating home-cooked whole food, much of it homegrown organic, and eat exclusively organic whole foods sourced as locally as possible now, and fuel my runs the same way. When I trained for and ran my first race, a marathon, in 2000, so-called energy bars, gels, etc. were emerging and unknown to me. Oatmeal with nuts and raisins worked well enough for me to train for and finish that marathon in 3:39:30.
Clif bars greeted me at the finish line and I had two jobs that routed free samples my way so I started to eat them periodically before long runs and longer races (with the trusty oatmeal) and later added Clif Shots/Bloks/Moons for some long runs and races. After deciding to save my trash for a year in 2006 (then deciding not to send anything to a landfill) and realizing the wrappers made up quite a bit of my waste, I made a tote bag from the wrappers, returned to just oatmeal and started making my own energy gels (Lundberg organic rice syrup, local organic honey, organic molasses, organic cacao powder, Redmond’s Real salt –provides key electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, with an initial kick and sustained energy from sweeteners with different glucose/fructose ratios).
All ingredients are from my food co-op’s bulk section, except rice syrup (jar), making for 100% organic shots with no packaging waste for 20 cents each versus $1 or more for packaged ones. I mix with water and put in plastic bottles (#2), not ideal but haven’t found a workable metal one yet. They’re simple to make, flavors can be customized, no need to take water separately and squeeze bottle is easier, faster and cleaner to deal with than packets. For caffeine, add instant coffee or eat coffee beans or chocolate-covered coffee beans.
After running a marathon (3:11:07), a trail 50k (4:53) and some shorter races (10-mi 1:04:30; hilly 6 mi 38:22) fueled by these, generally improving (NB: times listed for context, not self-promotion), I can say they work as well or better than store-bought. People have different needs and preferences. Check sweetener composition (gel recipes, too) and nutritional data to find what works best.
For solid food on runs, there are lots of energy bar recipes online and many long-distance runners eat real food for training/racing and share info online. (Scott Jurek’s a good one to follow: blog, twitter.) Pitted dates stuffed with cacao nibs and nuts are an energizing snack, and a cheaper, no-waste version of a Clif Nectar or Lara bar.
Beyond my anecdotes, there’s plenty of evidence that no-frills sustenance suffices. Before special ‘performance enhancing’ products existed, elite runners performed incredibly well with real food, honey, water, salt tablets and the like. Today, the Tarahumara, made famous in the book ‘Born to Run,’ still stay fueled with cornmeal and water and hold their own against technically-fortified elites. The book birthed a growing barefoot running movement, but didn’t ignite an all-out embrace of what one might call “organic” or “au natural” running. Curious, since the Tarahumara don’t rely on any of today’s must-have synthetic, miracle-laden “food,” drinks and gear.
For those not inclined to make gels, organic products such as GloryBee’s Liquid Gold and Clif Shots and Blocks are good options. Liquid Gold is 100% organic and comes in a #5 plastic reusable bottle that can be recycled in some localities. (This gel recipe looks close to Liquid Gold. Regular molasses works, just use more to get the potassium level you want and reduce honey accordingly. I found this too sweet and energy was less sustained than rice syrup.) Clif Shot is 90% organic and Bloks are 95% organic, with packaging that generally isn’t recyclable locally, though they have a recycling program for bar wrappers.
Water + Drink
I never got into bottled water and drink unfiltered tap water since local supplies have good testing reports (free, public info – check them and save the cost and waste of filters). For pre- and post-race water, I bring my own filled, reusable metal bottles since some races have only bottled water. I used to run with a reusable plastic water bottle but switched to stainless steel for my larger sizes to avoid toxins that leach from plastic and eliminate petroleum-based materials. I still use plastic bottles (#2) for smaller sizes and should get metal replacements. No need for a special ‘hydration pack’ – these fit in an old money belt/waist pack, shorts pockets or pockets I sewed on my running top. For those who like handheld bottles, ponytail holders, large produce rubber bands or a loop of elastic work with less weight than a special bottle holder.
I don’t use sports drinks but for those so inclined, organic powdered mixes like Clif Bar’s electrolyte drink mix are a good option, choosing the bulk canister versus packets.
All for now…happy trails!