When I started my half marathon training, I read about needing to fuel during the long runs, and that meant using Gatorade, gels, and gummies. This went against everything I had spent years building up to: from focusing on whole, natural, unprocessed foods to taking these completely fake engineered foods. As a chronic researcher, I read tons of books and articles about starting to run, and all of them talked about using these foods. I couldn’t find anyone who talked about natural foods during running, so I caved.
Finally, 1.5 years into my distance training, I discovered Feed Zone Portables. Dr. Allen Lim and chef Biju Thomas developed whole and wholesome recipes to replace energy bars. Even before I received my copy of the book, I was hooked on the idea. The authors primarily served pro cyclists, which is reflected in the information and recipes presented, however they do include some information for runners. One of the issues though is that eating these foods while cycling is still easier than eating on the run. I’ll keep reporting on how they hold up for running as I work my way through the book.
Keep reading for how my first recipe performed!
The introduction which explains the science behind their recipes got pretty technical. I literally fell asleep while reading it. But the main point is that fake energy bars, gels, gummies, etc are so calorically dense and concentrated that they contain barely any water in them. Therefore, it requires a fair amount of water to help digest it – water that is supposed to be used elsewhere in your body while you’re exercising. The concentrated formulas also overload your digestive system, and so does the water that is carrying that stuff. When things (water + gel stuff) rush through your system too quickly, you get… diarrhea. On the other hand, real food has a much higher water content to begin with. The authors designed the recipes so that a rice bar has the same nutrient content and mass as an energy bar, yet 10x the amount of water. By eating whole foods that digest at a natural rate, you have a slow but steady release of energy and water.
I had two questions after reading the nutrition chapter –
1) There is a table giving the estimated calorie deficits for an average person running a marathon at various times. For times over 5:30, the number is negative. This seems to suggest that a person running a marathon at that speed doesn’t need calories? I didn’t understand that part at all.
2) Why did they choose to use rice as the base for most recipes? One recipe is a bar made with peanut butter & jelly sandwiched between two layers of rice. Why is this better than a plain pb & j sandwich on bread? There are other recipes in the book that use flour, so I’d like to know more about this choice.
Let’s get onto the food. My book hadn’t even arrived yet but I made a batch of the Chocolate and Sea Salt sticky bites for my 15 mile training run. My thoughts on how they performed:
Preparation – The cooking part was dead easy. The wrapping was tedious. Next time, I think I’ll cut the recipe in half because it makes a lot and I won’t be able to use them up that fast. Another note about the recipe is that it says to sprinkle the bites with chocolate & sea salt after rolling them. I thought that was unnecessary so next time I’ll just stir it right into the mix. I shaped the bites using a sushi mold like this and it was perfect.
Portability – Portability wasn’t as much of an issue for the first run because I set up an aid station at my house and ran loops. However, four sticky bites took up slightly more room as a full pack of Clif Blocks. The circular shape meant less crumbling than a bar shape. Letting them firm up in the fridge for a day helped them not get squished in my bag.
Taste and texture – they tasted really good fresh. I wrapped two bites at a time in a square of aluminum foil, and then put all of those in an airtight container in the fridge. Two days later when I ate them during my run, they had a little bit of that dried-out-rice texture, but it wasn’t as bad as leftover cold rice is. The oatmeal and the stickyness helped keep it moist. It also helps to have it come to room temperature. I just ate one now, at Day 5, and it had about the same texture as a Clif Bar.
Energy – I can’t remember exactly the schedule I ate them, but I ate around 6 bites total. The sample recipe wasn’t clear on the nutrition information so it was rather fuzzy on how much I should eat. Because I’m still kinda chubby, I erred on eating less. On my previous long runs, I was using either Clif Blocks or Stinger Chews. I could literally feel the energy surge after taking a couple of bites, and I could also see the effect on my time afterwards. I did not miss those energy surges at all. My energy stayed constant, and high. I ate the bites during my walk breaks, and I didn’t think they were annoying to eat at all. The rice bites were easier to chew than gummies.
SOOoooo… tl dr; my performance didn’t suffer from cutting out the sugar and caffeine. I can’t wait to try out the other recipes in this book including pizza bites and cinnamon roll bites! It might even give me more motivation for the long runs knowing that I’ll get to try out a new recipe.