The Best Portable Snacks for Ultrarunners

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

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 in 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.”

Why it’s important for runners to choose workout fuel carefully:

  1. Running is bouncy, which makes it harder to get food into your mouth.
  2. Once food is down the hatch, you want foods that will digest and absorb quickly instead of sloshing around in your stomach and gut.
  3. Running dehydrates the body quickly through sweating and breathing and it’s harder for runners to carry a lot of water.

Many runners turn to sports nutrition products because they’re easy to carry. But as Dr. Allen Lim explains in the introduction to Feed Zone Portables, highly processed energy 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. (Or in the case of ultra runners, the nearest tree, boulder, or squirrel.) Runners are especially prone to gut distress for all the reasons above; running is bouncy and it’s difficult to carry enough water to wash down bars and gels.

For example, 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 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. 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.