There are many options for mid-run nutrition, and most of them are, regrettably, quite terrible. I’ve been told by people who do this sort of thing often that “you just get used to them, eventually,” but as our runs got longer, I was starting to worry that I hadn’t yet found an energy option to eat during a run that I could stomach.
As advised by seasoned race-runners, Don and I have been experimenting with nutrition options to eat during the marathon to keep our energy and electrolyte levels up for optimal performance. Options for during-activity nutrition come in a variety of forms like powdered drink mixes, gummy chews, and gels. Gels are the most common of these options, and unfortunately most of them have either a weird snot-like texture that is hard to swallow or a strange chemical flavor that initiates my gag-reflex- or both the gross texture and flavor making them doubly impossible to stomach!
Don has found some flavors of the popular GU brand of energy gel that he likes; his favorite is the Salted Caramel. I like both the HoneyStinger gels and the Hüma Chia gels. Neither of us could stand PowerGel (we tried two flavors, strawberry banana and chocolate and both were beyond gross), and I was disappointed because I was a big fan of the original PowerBar- remember that flexible, flat, brick of a bar that somehow managed to be both gummy and grainy simultaneously? I loved them- even the banana flavor that nobody else liked! The PowerGel truly is gross, and, as much as I wanted to like them out of loyalty to the crumpled banana PowerBars of my youth, I just couldn’t. We have, sitting on our kitchen counter, two packets of the chocolate flavor, and, since I can’t seem to be able to offload them onto anybody else, I’ve been toying with the idea of mixing them with some confectioner’s sugar to try and make an icing that I could maybe spread on brownies. Brownies can make anything palatable, right? I could start carrying them around in my purse to give to the next homeless person who asks me for money for food (I give food items over money since I never seem to have money but I always seem to have food; I guess we know where my priorities lie), but that seems like a cruel joke to play on someone.
I don’t like the GU gels, and I think it is because they have caffeine in them. I drink coffee only rarely- I’m an Earl Grey gal- and soda even more rarely, so the weird chemical flavor that I taste in the GU could be whatever they use to make them caffeinated. Don, who loves his caffeine, found the Espresso Love flavor to be tolerable and the Salted Caramel quite tasty. He sampled a non-caffeinated Root Beer one yesterday and declared that it was fine, but that he wouldn’t buy it again because he wanted the caffeine. The texture of the GU was better than that of the PowerGel; a little easier to swallow and a lot less reminiscent of having post-nasal drip.
The gels I prefer are coincidentally either all-natural or organic and do not have caffeine. The HoneyStinger was quite sweet and had a sticky texture that I assume comes from it being made with honey. It was easy to swallow and not bad at all. The Hüma Chia gel (I had the mangoes flavor) was delicious. The texture, because of the chia seeds, was similar to applesauce or baby food and it tasted like mango jam. I’m looking forward to trying the other flavors on offer and was actually sad when I finished my packet during yesterday’s run. I opened it at the halfway point, put it to my lips with some apprehension after my PowerGel experience, and was delighted by the taste; it is good enough to spread on toast for breakfast.
We’ve tried both the Gatorade Chews and the Clif Shot Bloks and liked them. They both have a texture similar to that of organic fruit snacks, and taste fine. I like them as a pre-run pick-me-up if I need one, but prefer the gels for eating while in the midst of a long run because they are easier to take in; spending the small amount of energy it takes to chew seems counterintuitive when I’m struggling to keep one foot landing in front of the other. Don liked the Mandarin Orange Tailwind drink mix, but, while I liked the flavor, I found it gave me too much of a tail wind, if you catch my drift. I really wanted to like the Hammer Perpetuem drink mix because it has protein in it- something that, as a vegetarian, I have to work to get enough of- and came highly recommended by Jeff at Be Fit Kailua, but I didn’t. I may have diluted it too much, so I’ll try to revisit it. I like the idea of a drink mix because I can customize it a bit with dilution, so I’ll keep looking out for one that suits me. So far Gatorade, specifically the fruit punch flavor, is my go-to electrolyte drink and I’ve come to crave it after a long run.
At the outset of our marathon training, I hadn’t considered the possibility of needing to find some sort of nutrition to eat during the race, but now that we’ve started to run longer and have passed the half-marathon mark, I see why it is necessary. Along with maintaining proper hydration, we need to take in electrolytes to replace those we are sweating out and refuel to replace the energy we are expending. I’m glad I started to sample the options ahead of time to find out what will sit well with my system- had I tried the Tailwind drink mix on marathon day, I don’t think I would have finished in a timely manner or maybe at all.
We had a 10 mile run up the Ka’a’awa coast yesterday (if you’ve seen the new Jurassic World movie, you’ve seen where we ran) that was made difficult by the heavy, humid air. I managed to almost keep up with Don for most of the run with a ten-minute mile pace, but by the end, I was struggling to maintain it and did so, I’m certain, only out of stubbornness. This week, we have a pretty exciting run to look forward to; we will be starting here in Kailua, running up over the beautiful Old Pali highway and ending at a beach in Honolulu. On the map, it looks like it should be about 13 miles, but we have to get over the mountains somehow and I’m sure that steep climb will make this run seem much longer than 13 miles.