There are thousands of running nutrition products on the market (see our favourites here), but for some purists, especially the peculiar breed that is the ultra runner, natural is best.
Ultra marathon running (anything over a marathon) requires you to have a real handle on your fuelling strategy to ensure you keep going, stronger, for longer. There are some fantastic ‘real food’ examples if you want to start creating your own running snacks in the book Run Fast Eat Slow by legendary American marathon runner Shalane Flanagan.
We’ve saved you a bit of time with our top suggestions of real fuel for real running success.
These natural bars are packed full of brilliant ingredients that won’t mess with your stomach.You’ll find sweet bars that deliver a natural sugar hit and savoury bars with a great salt content to help you replace what you lose in sweat. They’re small enough to eat in one go, and they have a super smooth texture that doesn’t go dry. Nakd bars are vegan and veggie friendly, and available in a huge range of flavours from strawberry danish to peanut delight.
In ultra distance especially, you’re going to hit some points, particularly if it’s a warm day, where you’re losing a lot of salt in sweat. There are some great electrolyte drinks such as High5 electrolyte tablets to help you to replace them, but a tasty natural alternative is salted pretzels. Some overseas races hand pretzels out at aid stations, but they are so easy to bag up and carry that you can also take your own. Pretzels are best washed down with water, and even taken on by the handful should be simple enough to not mess with your gut.
Flapjacks are great because if you make your own you can pack into them anything you know works for you! Flapjacks are a useful way to store fuel by eating them before you start your run, and an easy way to top up your energy levels by taking them on along the way. If you’re looking for a flapjack that’s packed full of superfood fuel, look no further than Chia Charge bars that come in a variety of flavours and sizes depending on what you want to carry with you.
Coke may not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of natural foods, but this ultra runner’s insider tip is too good not to share. If you’re running a super-long distance, sugary fizzy drinks can be a great source of quick fuel, but the fizz can be a little difficult to stomach later in your race. Flat sugary drinks are much easier to stomach and can be a game changer as you conquer thirst and grab a sugar hit at the same time.
TOP TIP: prepare your drinks the night before by shaking the bottle up, allowing the fizz to escape and repeating as many times as needed.
Sandwiches are only going to work as a fuel if you have water to wash them down, but they are one of the best ways to get a good mix of carbohydrate, salt and sugar in, depending on what you choose to put in them! We like natural peanut butter or jam for a salty or sweet kick.
TOP TIP: cut them into smaller pieces or make them bite-sized if you’re intending to take them on while you’re moving.
The humble banana could be the secret weapon you’ve been looking for. Bananas are a great and inexpensive source of potassium which aids muscle function and can help you to fight cramp later in your race. Bananas are a firm favourite with runners because they are easy to eat, easy to carry and for most people don’t cause stomach upset. Trial taking on bananas before or during your run and see what works best for you.