The Best Aid Station Foods for Ultramarathoners

Do you know the #1 reason ultrarunners drop out of a race?

It’s gastro-intestinal issues.

(For more on why ultrarunners DNF, see this post from Jason Koop’s excellent book Training Essentials for Ultrarunning.)

So let’s be honest: chugging olive oil and chewing through slabs of bacon might not be ideal performance food for ultrarunning.

Ultrarunner Chris D. wrote us to ask “I’ve just started reading the new Feed Zone Portables book, and I’m wondering if there are particular recipes that Allen and Biju have found that work better for ultra distance runners. I’m looking for a good place to start adopting real food instead of gels.”

It’s important for runners to choose their workout snacks carefully because:

  • Running is bouncy. All that bouncing makes digestion more difficult for your stomach and gut.
  • Some foods feel like rocks in your gut. Foods that digest and absorb quickly will re-energize you sooner than foods that keep sloshing around in the stomach and gut.
  • Traditional portable foods are literally the worst foods you can eat during sports! Foods with low water content or high sugar content–granola bars, gels, and chews–require huge amounts of water for the body to digest them. It’s tough for runners to carry enough water to properly dilute these foods and ultrarunners are often dehydrated from sweating and breathing. (See this related post on the benefits of high moisture foods.)

Feed Zone Portables recipe Sticky Bites by Chef Biju Thomas and Dr. Allen Lim FZP

Many runners turn to sports nutrition products because they’re easy to carry. But as we explain in the introduction to Feed Zone Portables, these highly processed products often overload the gut, which dehydrates runners even more, causing bloating and discomfort, lengthening digestion time, and sometimes sending runners for the nearest public restroom tree (or squirrel.)

To be crystal clear on this, lab results show that to properly dilute a 100-calorie bar to the carb concentrations that most people can tolerate, a runner would need to wash it down with 20 ounces of water.

A 100-calorie bar, gel, or chew requires 20 ounces of water to properly dilute for digestion.

That’s a lot of water!

So it might be easy to stash a few gels in your pocket, but where are you going to put 20 ounces of water? Suddenly, most sports nutrition products aren’t as convenient as they appear.

The real food recipes in Feed Zone Portables have a high water content that makes life a lot easier for runners. Portables snacks are easier on the gut and digest more quickly–and they taste better! Runners should still drink when they eat, but the amount of water needed will be more manageable.

Choosing the best portable snacks for runners is a matter of practicality:

  • Choose real food, which tastes better, digests more easily, and requires less carried water.
  • If you can arrange for an aid station or a personal items bag, the sky’s the limit for your food choices.
  • The portable snacks need to be easy to unpack, chew, and swallow while running. Sticky bites are perfect because they are small, individually wrapped, very moist, delicious, and bite-sized. They’d be our top recommendation for ultra runners. Tightly wrapped rice cakes would work well, too.
  • Baked rice balls, if made to your preferred size, would work well.
  • The baked goods, like waffles, pancakes, griddle cakes, and cookies are strong options, too.

Here are three free recipes from Feed Zone Portables you can try on your next run:

In the Feed Zone, the menu has changed and no one can argue with the results: real food is better. Real food tastes better, digests quickly, and helps you perform at your best.

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