It’s become painfully obvious to me that cavemen were not big runners. Training for marathons and keeping paleo is extremely difficult, mostly because so many of the gels, goo’s and fueling products are made out things that aren’t necessarily good for you. They aren’t made in nature, they aren’t from actual foods and some or most ingredients are definitely processed.
I’m not passing judgement on those of you who go that route. I’m not going to lie – the jelly beans they give away at expos or during races are my guilty pleasure. I’ll definitely will snag some of those in the heat of the moment. I follow a paleo diet probably 80 – 90% of the time. This is not to say that I don’t stray on occasion. Last weekend, on the 16-mile-long run, when I got to the water stop my running group had, they were offering those icee-popsicles. I’m sure the only thing in those things that truly exists in nature is the ice. However, I ran up all sweaty and hot, announced that “those aren’t paleo”…and then I grabbed a blue one and slurped it down like no one’s business. However, that’s really the exception and not the rule.
Fueling for, during and after runs while keeping it paleo has been a challenge for me for the last few years. Here’s the top five things that have worked really well for me:
- Honey Stinger Gels – I’ve used these now for just over a year and found them to be fairly good. They are honey based, so if you don’t like honey – definitely not for you. I like them because they are all natural and they do have several flavors. My personal favorite is the chocolate one – it’s like a mouthful of fudge. The challenge with these is figuring out when to take them. I have found that I needed to give them time to be absorbed into my system, which means taking them sooner than I feel I need them. If you try these, definitely need to experiment with timing and probably fuel more often or sooner than you’re used to. However, once I figured out timing, definitely worked well for me. I have used them for pre-run and during run fueling.
- Paleo Banana Bread – this recipe is so good, even if this didn’t work for fueling, I’d still make it. This recipe from Civilized Caveman is seriously amazeballs. It’s got bananas for carbs, eggs for protein and almond butter for some more protein and good fats. I’ve done the regular recipe, along with variations of adding pumpkin and pecans. Two modifications I made to make this a better fueling option (for me) – #1: I reduced the amount of butter. I need some fat but I’ve always felt the amount of butter in this recipe is too high and not really required. I cut it in half. #2 – I added 5 TBLs of whey powder so it has more protein. If you are allergic to bananas, I’ve actually got a pumpkin bread recipe that would work just as well. I’ve used this for pre-run and post-run – I think the carb/protein balance is on point.
- Dried Fruit – gels are all nice and fine, but sometimes you need something to chew on, either before a run or during. While I LOVE LOVE LOVE gummy bears, dried fruit is a semi-acceptable paleo-friendly substitute. You have to go find the brands that don’t add sugar or any crap – Whole Foods carries dried fruit either plain or sweetened with apple juice. I also like Steve’s Paleo Goods brand. The dried strawberries are like little mouthfuls of jam. I mostly use these during a run, but have also used pre and post-run.
- Epic Jerky – most jerky has added sugars or soy, sadly. I love me some jerky and that’s the one thing I have yet to try to make. However, the Epic Jerky brands are all natural, don’t have added sugars, are paleo-friendly and are also delicious. They have several flavors (chicken, buffalo and one bacon) and it’s a good source of both protein and salt. The downside is that they aren’t cheap. So, I try to save them for long runs only and primarily for during the run. I also only buy them right before my long runs, because they are definitely subject to SNACK ATTACKS!
- Coconut and Watermelon Water – the only beverage fueling option I use is Tailwind, which really isn’t paleo. It’s not that bad, but it’s definitely across the line. However, I don’t care. It works really well on longer runs and races – so I really limit my usage of it to those. However, what does work well for me the majority of the time is coconut water or watermelon water. I’ve drank coconut water for a few years not, but it’s really great for pre-run, during the run and post-run in terms of restoring electrolytes and a source of natural sugars. I normally drink Vita Coconut Water, but I’ll be honest. I don’t LOVE coconut water. It took me a long time to get used to the taste and even to this day, I don’t think I’d be sad if I never drank it again. However, it’s good for me and makes me feel good. What I’ve recently discovered this training season is watermelon water. It’s so delicious and you can quite literally feel it making your body feel replenished when you chug it after a run. I’m also fairly certain it would be awesome with vodka or as a margarita, but I haven’t yet confirmed. The only downside to watermelon water is that it’s also not cheap.
A few other paleo options for fueling on the run that I’ve tried:
- Salted nuts – which I still use, but since they are dry I don’t care for them as much as the jerky
- Pouch fruits – if you go into the canned fruit section of most food stores, you’ll see several brands of “on the go” pouches of a mixture of fruit and vegetables. You just have to watch fiber content on some of them.
- DIY Gels – I have yet to make my own gel with any success. I tried once for a race – it was a mixture of banana, sweet potato and I don’t recall what else. But it was NOT good. I threw it out around mile 8 because it smelled like rancid baby food. However, if you check out Mark’s Daily Apple, I believe he has some good suggestions for making your own. Definitely don’t ever, ever use banana if you try it though. Trust me.
What are some natural/whole foods based fueling options that you use? Or what are some of the ones that fall “just over the line” that you feel are better most?