If traditional gels and GUs don't sit right, try these real-food alternatives for racing fuel
All Natural Running Fuel
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When you're running for longer than an hour, you need foods that give you energy. "You want to eat something easily digestible that will give you carbs and keep your blood glucose level up," says sports nutritionist and author Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D.N. That blood sugar boost will quickly replenish your muscle's glucose stores, which serve as fuel to keep your muscles moving. This is what gels and sports drinks are formulated for, but these don't go over so well for a lot of people (and mid-run is not the time you want to having stomach stress!). Luckily, there are all-natural, digestion-friendly sports nutrition options as well. Fuel your next run with these natural and energizing foods. (And find out Why Women Need a New Approach to Sports Nutrition.)
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Nature's syrup is a fast-absorbing sugar that also contains potassium, antioxidants, and other nutrients your body uses on the go. The liquid gold sits just inside the low end of the glycemic index, which means it slowly releases glucose into your bloodstream, keeping you going for a longer periods. And a Vermont-based tapping company has put the sticky stuff in an easy-open pack, called UnTapped, just for this reason ($2; untapped.cc). (Find out more: Is Maple Syrup the New Racing Fuel?)
Nutrition score per serving: 52 calories, 13g carbs, 12mg sugar, 2mg sodium
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The nectar of the bees contains not only sodium and potassium but also fructose and glucose—the same mix of sugars you'll find in most sports drinks. Honey also has a carbohydrate profile that rivals traditional sports gels. In fact, a study from the Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory at the University of Memphis found that honey was just as effective in fueling cyclists as a more common high-glycemic sugar. Try Honey Stinger packets ($1.35 each; honeystinger.com).
Nutrition score per serving: 64 calories, 17g carbs, 17mg sugar, 1mg sodium
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High in potassium, sun-dried grapes rival conventional chews for their energizing abilities. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that eating raisins not only improved running performance over solely drinking water, but the power food also performed as well as commercial sports nutrition chews. And, unlike other dried fruits, like cherries, raisins are low in fiber, so won't give you tummy troubles mid-race.
Nutrition score per serving: 84 calories, 22g carbs, 17mg sugar, 3mg sodium
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Like raisins, this dried fruit is rich in potassium. But dates will supercharge your carb and simple-sugar intake. Be sure to take in salt or a sports drink too, though, since they don't contain any sodium. Your body needs some salt while you sweat.
Nutrition score per serving: 78 calories, 21g carbs, 19mg sugar, 0mg sodium
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There's a reason many a marathon hands out bananas on course. Research from the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University shows that the fruit aids performance just as well as sports drinks. Eat them fresh or dried for an on-the-run snack.
Nutrition score per serving: 90 calories, 23g carbs, 12mg sugar, 1mg sodium
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One large handful of green or red grapes provides the perfect amount of calories to keep you rocking for up to two miles, with plenty of sugar and vitamin C too. Try them fresh or frozen for a little extra pop.
Nutrition score per serving: 34 calories, 9g carbs, 8mg sugar, 1mg sodium