Why an “in-flight” upgrade may help. 

Happy October Mulletheads!

Last week, we introduced six basic principles of clean eating that I believe anyone—regardless of food philosophy—can incorporate into their daily lifestyle.

Soooo, all this focus on clean eating go me to thinking: if we strive to eat clean because we believe that doing so will keep our bodies, minds, and spirits sharp and performing optimally for the long haul—why do so many of us (including ME) kick that logic to the curb when it comes to what we put into our bodies DURING endurance training sessions or races? If we normally don’t eat highly processed food, then why should we eat it when we our brains and muscles demand high-quality fuel?  If we put processed junk into our bodies, what kind of results can we expect to achieve?

Every single half-marathon I’ve done has been fueled by gels, water, sports beans, and sports drinks of some sort.  I was so programmed into thinking that this was “just what you do” during long training sessions, that I never really stopped to realize that MANY of these products are quite processed and a bit “dirty” in the clean-eating scheme of things.

Although they offer a quick boost of energy and do help to maintain glucose levels and prevent glycogen depletion, most of the popular energy gels, bars, and “shots” are highly processed and often contain preservatives and ingredients that you simple wouldn’t find in your kitchen (such as sodium benzoate, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, carrageenan, carnauba wax, just to name a few). Plus, they tend to offer very little in the way of real nutrition.

Can we do better than foil pouches and neon sports drinks to fuel our long (ie, 90+ minute) training sessions? Lots of nutrition experts and mega-athletes think so, and it seems there is a growing push to use real food during endurance / intense workouts.

In a 2012 NPR interview, Yale physician and nutrition expert David Katz explained that sports drinks generally aren’t much better than sodas. He went on the say that “[Sports drink companies’] marketing is based on the gimmick that somehow this extra load of sugar and calories will turn you into an athlete”. In the same news piece, mountain biking legend Gary Fished said that “engineered nutrition” products keep many amateur athletes on the tubby side—with a gut that never goes away despite putting in lots of miles. Thus, for most of us mere mortals (ie, us non-Laird, non-Gabby types), continuing to pound the gels and sports drinks throughout long training sessions may not be the best strategy for improving fitness and shedding extra body fat.

There’s even an argument that densely-sugared products like engineered energy gels can actually dehydrate the body, causing overheating, bloating, discomfort, diarrhea, and a lengthening of digestion time.

Scott Jurek, a record-holding ultra-marathoner featured in the book Born to Run, uses rice balls and hummus wraps to maintain fuel during long training runs.

Resources for Easy Homemade In-Flight Fueling

Ultra-marathoner Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete offers lots of natural, easy to make recipes for real foods to consume DURING training sessions. For example, there’s Raw Lemon-Lime Sport Gel (I would personally swap out the ½ cup agave nectar for ½ cup raw local honey—the verdict on the effects of agave on health is still out, and raw local honey has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties).  Plus, in people with type 2 diabetes, honey yields a lower rise in blood sugar compared to dextrose or sucrose (table sugar).  Another recipe I’m itching to get the Mullet to try during long training session is Thrive Homemade Sports Drink.

If you’re willing to put in a little time to pre-make your own “in-flight” fuel, then do I have the cookbook for you! Enter the realm of the Feed Zone Portables. This book was created by exercise physiology an professional athlete coach, Dr Allen Lim, and professional chef and cyclist Biju Thomas. Dr. Lim makes the case for real food as a more easily digestible, higher-performance source of energy than prepackaged fuel products. The Feed Zone Portables Cookbook offers recipes that easy to make, nutritious, and designed for on-the-go consumption. In addition to some “bacon-centric” recipes (YUM!), the book also contains numerous choices for vegetarians and those following a gluten-free diet.

Last week, I made the Chocolate & Sea Salt Sticky Bites for the Mullet, and I have to admit, I had a hard time staying away from them. They are yummy enough to motivate me to train for a half-marathon just so I have an excuse to eat them. Unfortunately I have a knee injury, so I am sidelined from long training sessions and thus Sticky Bites.

If you can’t make your own…

HOWEVER, if the idea of making your own foods to eat during your long session is too overwhelming or unrealistic, there are a couple of pre-packaged options that to me are better choices than most heavily-promoted sports products. Here are three options that I like based on relative real food content and clean factor.

1.     PocketFuel—whole foods ingredients (nuts, fruits, seeds). This one may be best for ultra-long training sessions (2 to 3+ hours) due to its relatively high fat content compared to most gels / bars. I like that this brand is free of common food allergens such as gluten, dairy, soy, and corn.

2.     PROBAR Fuel—Another one based on real-foods ingredients and natural sweeteners. This one is gluten-free also. This appears to be a great option for shorter endurance (75 minutes to 2 hours).

3.     Recharge Sport Drink—available in most health food stores. Tastes great as hydrating agent during long (75+ minute) session, and sweetened naturally.

Up next: strategies for incorporating more clean foods into your life, even if you have no time to spare!

Until then: Experiment with some real foods during your training session! Don’t wait until race day! You need to feel how your body reacts ahead of time!

Why an “in-flight” upgrade may help

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