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What Should You Eat While Running? 10 Whole Foods to Carry During your Next Race

Wondering what you should eat while running? OCRWC Nutritionist Melissa Boufounos lists her favorite whole foods for fueling up mid-race.

What should you eat while running an Obstacle Course Race? Choosing whether or not you need to pack fuel for a race is dependent on how long you’ll be out on course for. When it comes to an event like Obstacle Course Racing World Championships that involves mandatory obstacle completion, this can slow down the average recreational athlete. If you’re trying to keep your band and you attempt an obstacle multiple times, you could be on course longer than a typical 15 km event.

It’s important to note that during steady exercise at moderate to high intensity, you can burn through your stored glycogen in less than 90 minutes. So, if you’ll be racing for longer than an hour, or there’s a chance you might be, I always suggest carrying some sort of fuel.

While there are hundreds of gel and powder options on the market, many athletes experience gastrointestinal distress or don’t like the taste (or price) that comes with these products. As a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, I look for the most natural options possible that aren’t packed with low-quality ingredients, heavily processed sugars, fillers, artificial colors, artificial flavors or artificial sweeteners.

Here are 10 great whole food options to eat while running an obstacle course race to fuel your next adventure.

1. Coconut Water

coconut water what to eat while running
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Coconut water will provide hydration, carbohydrates and electrolytes. For longer races, I always carry one flask of coconut water. If you don’t like the taste of coconut water, there are some naturally flavored options. I personally mix an essential amino acid powder into the coconut water.

2. Whole Fruit

strawberries what to eat while running
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Fruit such as bananas or berries. You could also carry a flask of diluted juice. One cup of orange juice will provide you with 30 or more grams of carbohydrates.

3. Maple Syrup or Honey

honey what to eat while running
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Maple syrup and honey are both easy to digest. There are brands of energy gels that are maple syrup based or you can buy honey sticks at the store. Alternatively, you could buy your own squeeze pouches and fill them up with maple syrup or honey. Kick it up a notch by adding a bit of sea salt to your homemade mix. The sea salt will help you to replace some of the sodium you are losing in your sweat.

4. Dried Fruit

dried fruit
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Dried fruit such as dates, apricots or raisins. Just 4 Medjool dates will provide you with 72 grams of carbohydrates!

5. Energy Balls

energy balls
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Energy balls or bars are an easier way to eat some of the foods listed above. For example, date-based or oat-based balls and bars with added dried fruits, nut butter, chocolate, salt and whatever other ingredients you like. You can find whole-food based bars or energy balls or make them yourself. Here’s a recipe for my Chocolate Truffle Protein Balls. The same recipe can easily be made into bars!

6. Rice

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Rice will provide you with 45 grams of carbohydrates per cup. You can find recipes for rice balls that are easy to pack for endurance athletes or just fill a sandwich bag with some rice and eat it straight. Stick to a low-fiber option.

7. Potatoes

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Baked potato or mini potatoes especially mixed with some coconut oil and salt.

8. Pickles and 9. Olives

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Pickles or olives will provide you with another source of salt for a longer run and are a welcoming change to all the sweeter, carbohydrate heavy foods. Many athletes also like to carry mustard packs with them in case they start cramping.

10. Beets

Photo by Natalia Fogarty on Unsplash

Beets are another source of carbohydrates and several studies have shown that eating whole beetroot can help improve running performance. You could opt for beet juice or a beet powder in your water instead. Ideally, you want to consume beets 60 to 75 minutes before the event to experience the full benefits, but for a longer race it’s not a bad idea to have a few more beets mid-way through.

While eating a bit of fat (about a tablespoon or two) before and after exercise is okay, you should try to avoid eating fats during a race because they are more difficult to digest. When you are running, your digestion is already not functioning optimally, so you don’t want to give your stomach more than it can handle. This is because exercise shunts blood away from the gastrointestinal tract, to the muscles, and raises your core temperature

As for protein, you only need about 5 grams per hour during competition. This is why I carry essential amino acids in my coconut water during races. They are easier to digest in a liquid form.

Of course, all you’re really trying to accomplish is getting enough carbohydrates to not hit the wall and enough fluids and electrolytes to stay hydrated. This could look very different from athlete to athlete and from event to event.

Whatever option you choose, always make sure to test out your fuel and hydration strategies during training scenarios that mimic racing conditions. It’s never a good idea to try something new on race day.

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The OCR World Championships is the first truly independent championship event designed to celebrate the athletes in the burgeoning sport of Obstacle Course Racing.

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