Many runners turn to pre-packaged energy supplements to keep fuelled and hydrated during long events or training sessions. But the book, Feed Zone Portables, suggests there’s another way. runABC investigates the ‘real food’ revolution ...
The Case For ‘Real Food’
There's no doubt that gels and their kin have become popular both because of their effectiveness and their convenience: just chuck a few in your pocket and you’re good to go for an instant boost every 45 minutes. This convenience comes at a price, though: a complex list of ingredients and sometimes unpredictable effects. Their intensity can also make them off-limits to runners with sensitive stomachs.
According to the authors of Feed Zone Portables, Biju Thomas and Allen Lim, high-calorie gels and drinks can actually slow down your digestion, reduce the speed at which your body absorbs water and nutrients, and bring on the dreaded ‘gut rot’ – the exact opposite of what you need.
“Athletes seem to have bought into the idea that during exercise they need energy sources that pass through the stomach as quickly as possible – that it would be easier on our GI tracts if we took the stress of digestion out of the picture,” they write. “The notion is valid for short-duration intensity exercise … but during prolonged exercise it’s advantageous to maintain a constant stream of energy rather than dealing with periodic influxes of energy.”
The Feed Zone Portable concept is thus not dissimilar to taking your usual pre-race bowl of porridge or muesli into the race itself – but without the bowl!
Warning - Contains … Nothing You Can’t Have
One of the main benefits of making your own snacks is knowing exactly what they’re made of, which makes them perfect for active people with allergies or intolerances. What’s more, unlike a lot of recipes for special diets, most of the recipes created by Thomas and Lin have fewer than 10 familiar and ‘real’ ingredients, like rice, oats and eggs, most of which you’re likely to have in your pantry right now.
Variety Is The Spice of Life
For most runners, energy supplements are firmly in the ‘necessary evil’ category. Our teeth might hurt at the thought of taking the next one, but there’s no way we’re going to ditch them and risk hitting the wall. Making your own snacks allows you to experiment with a wider range of flavours and textures beyond Berry Blast and Sonic Orange. You might get an odd look eating a savoury mini waffle or a bite-sized pie on your next run, but you’ll enjoy every second of eating it – which is more than any of us can say for gels.
Water, Water Everywhere
From their experience in top-level cycling, Thomas and Lim are clear that a proper hydration balance is essential for both performance and digestion. That’s why, unlike most energy supplements which need to be taken with water to be palatable and/or effective, their freshly made portables have a high water content to aid in their own digestion.
Practice Makes Perfect
Just as not everyone can tolerate gels, not everyone can take on solid food when they’re on the move. Practise with the portables on training runs or minor races before your big event. Removing the packs from your race pack or pocket, as well as opening them while on the move, can take a bit of practice too.
If you just don’t get on with them while you run, you can still use them for recovery food after events or when hiking, cycling or travelling. You can also use the ideas in the book and on the website to create your own perfect portables.