ADVERTISEMENT

The Best Real Food for Trail Running

All opinions are our own and never influenced by brands. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here's our process.

Real food for trail running…

What are the best options out there and where do you start?

Why consider real food and not gels (or similar)?

ADVERTISEMENT

Having now run a good number of trail marathons and a few ultras, I’ve become increasingly interested in ‘real food’ alternatives to sports gels for fuelling long runs (typically runs over 4 hours in duration).

Gels are great for a quick boost of energy when you are running a shorter distance at a higher intensity than an ultra. But after a few hours I have found a few problems with relying on just gels or shot bloks:

  • You get sick of the sugary sweetness
  • The quick boosts are followed by a ‘sugar crash’ that then needs dealing with
  • Sometimes what your body needs is not just sugar, but salt
Food for trail running
Gels and Shot Bloks are great but I find only appropriate for shorter distances

So yes, while you can run an ultra on just gels (I managed more than 8 hours on the c.46k Transgrancanaria Marathon with around 11-12 gels) I wouldn’t recommend it.

Bananas: nature’s perfect running food?

After working that out, I moved on to bananas, or a combination of banana and gels. Bananas are my first choice of real food for trail running. A banana-gel combo works, as bananas are nature’s best runner-friendly energy food (in my opinion, not a proven fact). However, I don’t really like eating bananas, and eating nothing but bananas and gels for hours on end is not the best way of fuelling a long run. There must be a better, more diverse real-food alternative?

Asking the experts for suggestions

To gather the top recommendations for the best real food for trail running, I polled my network of trail and ultra-runners on Twitter, and they well and truly delivered… even Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon Man, offered some tips

ADVERTISEMENT

[Thanks to everyone who responded with such great advice!]

These aren’t all foods I have tried, however, this doesn’t really matter given everyone is different and will have different preferences and things that work for them – so I’m sharing what a cross-section of other long distance trail runners have told me are their favourite foods on-the-go, and hopefully a selection of some of these will work for you, too.

Real Food for trail running: the list

With that in mind, here is an unbiased summary of the top recommendations from all the responses:

Requiring some advance preparation/cooking

  • Wraps, mostly with a form of nut butter (peanut, cashew and almond were all recommended)
  • Wraps with other toppings (such as salty butter, dried fruits, or Nutella)
  • Bagels with nut butter
  • Croissants with ham or jam
  • Sweet potato brownies
  • Sushi rice, filled with anything from nut butter and jam to humous and olives

Bought read-to-eat

  • Nak’d bars (I personally like the peanut and cashew crunch varieties)
  • Malt loaf (recommended by many people)
  • Fat Coke (ideally flat)
  • Baby food pouches (‘Ella’s Kitchen’ fruit varieties are a popular choice)
  • Crisps
  • Lots of nuts (cashews, almonds, Brazil, walnuts…)
  • Jam tarts
  • Sugary donuts
  • Cheese
  • Meaty items: chicken wraps, salami, pepperami
  • Chocolate milk
  • Coconut water
  • and… don’t forget the aforementioned bananas

Other good liquid nutrition alternatives to real food

Both come in a powder form that mixes with water and are designed to be sipped as an alternative to water during your long run – providing you with energy and an electrolyte source.

Many people run with just Mountain Fuel or Tailwind and don’t necessarily need to eat real food, although in my view, if you can get it down you, it’s good to have that variety. I’ve had success using Tailwind on a couple of recent 4-hour runs, alternated with the odd piece of banana.

Some other portable suggestions

These specific brands were also recommended by folks in our Twitter poll, so may be worth a try, too:

  • 33 Shake
  • Tribe bars
  • Primal Pantry
  • Active Root ginger

Summary

I hope this has helped provide a clear summary of real food to try eating to fuel your long runs, and look forward to hear how you get on with trying some/all of them out!

See also our other food-related posts in the Advice section of the blog, such as our ‘Race Day Breakfast‘ post for suggestions on what to eat before a trail race.

Call for comments

Over to you! What real foods do you choose for long runs? Have you tried any of these recommendations? I’d love to hear your views on what works, how you carry your food (as some are not the most portable!) and also if we’ve missed any great options you swear by!

spot_img

Thanks for reading! For more authentic independent adventure journalism direct to your inbox, including gear guides, reviews, training tips, plant-based lifestyle advice, and how to become more self-sustainable in your day-to-day, join thousands of others in subscribing to our Newsletter today. SIGN UP HERE.

READ THIS NEXT

LARQ Pitcher Review: A Purifier & Water Filter Pitcher For Your Home

This LARQ Pitcher review shares everything there is to know about this at-home filter & water purifier pitcher, including how well it works in real life.

Best Ski Socks For Men And Women

Buyers guide to the best ski socks that will be warm and comfortable for skiing and snowboarding, plus recommendations from top sock brands.

Best Ski Goggles For Skiing and Snowboarding

Read our buyer's guide to the best ski goggles for skiing and snowboarding, for men and women in all snow conditions.

What to Wear Skiing & Snowboarding

This men's and women's ski gear checklist covers what to wear skiing (or snowboarding) so you don't forget to pack your ski trip essentials.

The Best Reflective Running Vests For Running At Night

Wearing reflective running gear such as a reflective running vest or belt over your running clothes can help you stay safe running or walking at night.

10 Sustainable Gifts For Eco-Conscious Outdoor Enthusiasts

Looking for sustainable gifts for him or her? These eco friendly products for outdoor enthusiasts are environmentally sustainable and practical.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

ADVERTISEMENT
spot_img
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT Sunbasket healthy meals