Thursday, February 28, 2019

Eating on the Run. Literally.

I don't typically run long enough to justify consuming calories while I'm out. However, the times I do manage to get in a long run are the worst times to experiment with food. With this in mind, I purposely brought food along on a number of hour long runs. The results were surprising.

I raided our pantry for sugary snacks, and brought one type of food along on each run. Generally, I'd start snacking on the food about 20 ~ 30 minutes into the run. Each snack was about 100 calories.

Before I get into the specific foods I tried, here are some general observations:

  • The benefits of consuming calories were almost certainly mental. That is, the "burst" of energy I was getting was probably due more to the placebo effect than actual nutrition. But placebo effect or not, it felt good! I'd get one boost just by eating the food, and then another boost 15 minutes later when I imagined the carbs hit my bloodstream. That's a significant benefit when we're talking about something as simple as eating a few marshmallows.
  • For the solid foods noted below I always carried and consumed about 12 ~ 16 ounces of water. Apparently eating without drinking is a no-no.
  • A few times my stomach protested when I noshed. However, this almost certainly had more to do with when I ate my last real meal rather than what I was eating on the run. If I'd snarfed down food too close to the run, then eating a snack seemed to unsettle my stomach. If I was careful to have a simple meal like oatmeal and honey two hours before my run I could eat without worry.
  • I found simpler foods were easier to tolerate, say marshmallows or tea & maltodextrin, rather than more complex foods like cookies or Carnation Breakfast Essentials mix.
  • Most of my runs were in cold weather, which means I didn't have to swig down warm drinks. In fact, the very Carnation Instant Breakfast that I mentioned wasn't great on my stomach was super delish on a 34°F night. Though a couple miles later, my stomach was less impressed.
  • The cold weather reduced my dexterity and made opening up the little ziplock bags of snacks a real chore. This is something I'll have to look into optimizing.
  • A number of my food powered runs took place in DC where I had to contest with traffic lights. I found red lights were an ideal time to dig into my snack supply and gave me the impression that I was using the time, rather than just being stuck.

Here are the specific foods I experimented with:

  • Black Tea & Maltodextrin - the maltodextrin has no taste, which left just the black tea, which I enjoy. The tea also has caffeine, which is potentially another bonus. For a no frills energy drink, this combo was great.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies - feh. They tasted OK, but I think they're probably too complex to bother with when all I really want are quick carbs.
  • Carnation Breakfast Essentials - tasted great, then my stomach did some protesting. Like the cookies, I think I'll stick to simpler foods.
  • Marshmallows - tasty, portable and low cost. These are a win.
  • Jelly Belly Energy Beans - this is one of my go-to quick energy snacks, and it worked well as on-the-run nutrition.
  • Crystal Lite Drink Mix & Maltodextrin - the 100 calories of malto made for a quick energy drink, while the 10 calorie mix made for a solid taste. Another win.

Pre-run I found that oatmeal was a reliable way to give myself energy without risking an upset stomach. Oatmeal plus honey or brown sugar worked, but so did getting more creative. In one case I mixed hot-chocolate and oatmeal in a mug, poured in boiling water. The result was hot chocolate, followed by chocolate flavored oatmeal. And out of curiosity, I mixed oatmeal with cold water and just drank that. While not the tastiest, it did get the job done showed me just how versatile oatmeal is.

Another food combo win was a tablespoon of honey with a quarter cup of salted sunflower seeds. Besides tasting good, this snack had sugar, fat, sodium and potassium. I need to find a good way to eat this on a run. So far I've only had this combo as a post-run pick-me-up.

As experiments go, this one was a success. Having the option of taking in energy on the go, even if it's just a mental hack, far outweighs the cost of carrying a few marshmallows or a bag of jelly beans. If it's not something you've tried, you should!

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