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Vegan? Paleo? Gluten Free? Whatever your diet preferences, there are trail-snack options for you
Once upon a time, in the early 1980s, a new product hit the market—an energy bar catering to runners, cyclists and triathletes. Its name was Powerbar. And, for many years, it was one of the few products available for runners as a portable energy food.
Thirty years later, how things have changed! Today, there are energy-food options galore, suiting every possible dietary preference—gluten-free, vegan, Paleo and so on.
We’ve rounded up some top picks in five categories: gluten-free, Paleo, vegan, health-conscious sugar fiends and those with sensitive stomachs. Of course, hundreds of runner-friendly options exist, with new companies cropping up every year. Since we didn’t have space to include them all in our write-up, be sure to tell us in the comments what your favorites are.
If wheat products upset your stomach in daily life, the last thing you want to do is ingest them on a run. The good news is that more gluten-free products exist now than ever.
The story behind Picky Bars—and the three elite-level triathletes and marathon runners who founded it—began with a desire to fill a market void: the gap between performance bars (“full of gnarly ingredients”) and real-food bars (“not balanced for sport”). The result was these 200-calorie, 4:1 carb-to-protein, gluten- and dairy-free bars in a smattering of pun-laden flavors like Cookie Doughpness and Need for Seed. Our favorite flavor: Smooth Caffeinator. Coffee + hazelnuts = Yes.
Fuel 100 Electro-Bites
Probably one of the most innovative endurance-fuel products out there—and perfect for salt fiends—Electro-Bites are designed as “an alternative to the sweet and sticky products currently on the market.” Each 100-calorie packet has bite-sized snacks made of organic coconut oil, agave syrup, potato starch and electrolytes. Flavors include Salty Vinegar, Apple Cinnamon and Pumpkin Spice.
Made of organic dates, oats, cashews, chia seeds and other ingredients, PROBAR‘s gluten-free “superfood” bars come in simple fruit flavors like Blueberry, Cherry or Cran-Raspberry.
Element Rice Cakes
For a tasty twist on the original Quaker rice cakes, Element snacks are light and crunchy, without the same density as many of the bars geared toward athletes. Over a whole-grain, brown-rice cake, each flavor features a sweet coating—Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate (which are also certified vegan), Strawberry’n’Cream, or our favorite: Sweet Vanilla Orange.
Certified organic, vegan, gluten-free and 70- to 100-percent raw, with primary ingredients of nuts, dates and seeds, Hammer Bars include not only carbohydrates, but also a decent amount of protein (10 grams per 220-calorie bar) and healthy fats (nine grams per bar) in the form of Essential Fatty Acids. Flavors include classics like Chocolate Chip, Cranberry and Oatmeal Apple.
More gluten-free options: EPIC Bar, Tanka Bar, LÄRABAR, Bearded Brothers, Trail Butter, Gin Gins, PROBAR Bolt chews, Hüma Chia Energy Gel, GU Energy Gel, VFuel Gel, Tailwind Nutrition, some flavors of Plum Organics
Next page: Paleo-friendly fuels
Whether you’re 100-percent Paleo or just trying to avoid grains, here are a few products based around the Paleo staples of meat, fruit, nuts and seeds.
Made with meat from “humanely-treated grass-fed” animals, EPIC bars are specifically geared toward athletes, touting grass-fed meat’s elevated levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps develop lean muscle tissue. EPIC bars come in a wild variety of flavors, ranging from Beef-Apple-Bacon to Chicken-Sriracha to Lamb-Currant-Mint. Our favorite: Bison-Bacon-Cranberry.
Founded in 2006 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Tanka uses a blend of buffalo meat and cranberries in its bars (also available as “bites,” “sticks” and jerky), for a smoky, savory and slightly sweet flavor. It’s also certified gluten-free. A 70-calorie bar packs two grams of fat, seven grams of carbs and seven grams of protein. Tank Bars come in three flavors: Apple Orange Peel, Slow Smoked Original and Spicy Pepper.
Founded 15 years ago after a hike in the Rocky Mountains by—you guessed it—someone named Lara, LÄRABAR is made with minimally processed, whole-food ingredients like fruits and nuts. Vegan—yes, even the chocolate flavors—gluten-free and Paleo-friendly, every flavor is made with no more than nine ingredients. They come in flavors such as Banana Bread, Coconut Cream Pie and Lemon Bar. Our favorite is Cherry Pie.
Founded by athletes Brad and Jeff Boggess, Trail Butter is a triple-nut blend of almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts, mixed in with dried fruits, seeds, honey and oils—essentially, blended trail mix. Each flexible 4.5-ounce squeeze pack contains a walloping 680 to 800 calories—filled with tons of healthy fats and protein (20 grams per pack).
More Paleo options: Bearded Brothers, Hammer Bar, some flavors of Plum Organics
Next page: Trail snacks for vegans
Full-fledged vegan? Omnivore who appreciates the benefits of a plant-based diet? Options abound, ranging from bars to gels to fruit-puree packets.
Founded in Austin, Texas, by “two brothers passionate about the outdoors, staying fit, and especially healthy and organic foods,” the Bearded Brothers snack-food company makes a host of flavors of vegan, raw (most flavors) and gluten-free bars to fuel everything from trail running to climbing to cycling. They boast the tagline “Bros Before GMOs,” and offer unique flavor combos like Mega Maca Chocolate, Outrageous Orange Kale and Colossal Coconut Mango.
Hüma Chia Energy Gel
While the majority of energy gels on the market are made with long lists of difficult-to-pronounce ingredients, Hüma’s ingredient list is 100-percent recognizable real food, beginning with fruit puree, in flavors like Strawberries, Mangoes or Blueberries. The addition of ground chia seeds adds all nine essential amino acids—especially ideal for vegans who may otherwise struggle to get a variety of amino acids in their diet.
GU Energy Gel
The original energy gel, GU comes packed with carbohydrates (maltodextrin and fructose), sodium, occasionally caffeine and branched-chain amino acids to help reduce mental fatigue and muscle damage. Last month, GU announced that its gels are now all vegan-friendly, and no longer contain amino acids derived from animal products. Though GU comes in a swath of flavors, our favorites are Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter.
Plum Vida fruit purees
Originally, Plum Organics was founded as a baby-food company, with individual squeeze packets of fruit, vegetable and whole-grain purees. But—as the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an article titled “The Push for Grown-Up ‘Squeezies,’ ”—many athletes are turning to these baby-food packets for whole-food-based endurance fuel. While some of Plum Organics’ flavors incorporate Greek yogurt or other dairy products, the vast majority are vegan, made only of pureed fruits and vegetables, and occasionally grains. One of our favorite combos: Sweet Potato, Mango and Millet.
Vega Sport Endurance Gel
Founded by vegan and professional Ironman Brendan Brazier, Vega Sport is a wholly plant-based endurance-fuel company. One differentiator in its energy gel is the inclusion of coconut oil as a form of quickly metabolized non-carbohydrate energy. Vega Sport Endurance Gel comes in two flavors: Orange Zest and Raspberry.
More vegan options: LÄRABAR, PROBAR Fuel, PROBAR Bolt, Gin Gins, some flavors of Picky Bars, some flavors of Element Rice Cakes, UnTapped Slopeside Syrup, Tailwind Nutrition
Next page: Snacks for health-conscious sugar fiends and runners with sensitive stomachs
Got a sweet tooth that rages as hard during races as you do? You know who you are.
UnTapped Slopeside Syrup
Launched last year via crowdfunding by professional cyclist Ted King, UnTapped offers pure Vermont Slopeside Syrup in single-serving, gel-style packets.
Another treat fresh out of Vermont is Garuka‘s “primal energy” bar—the main ingredient of which is raw honey, which has a relatively low glycemic index and so provides long-lasting consistent energy without sugar peaks or crashes. The honey adds a pleasant sweetness, which is balanced with salty and savory ingredients like peanuts, dried cranberries, whole-grain flakes and brown-rice puffs.
Honey Stinger Waffle
Inspired by a snack originating in the Netherlands—the stroopwafel, or “syrup waffle”—Honey Stinger‘s organic, sweet, wafer-thin waffle “sandwiches” are pure deliciousness. Though they come in a variety of flavors—Chocolate, Honey, Gingersnap, to name a few—our favorite is the classic Caramel.
PROBAR’s chewy (and also gluten-free!) energy bites are some of our favorite on the market—so tasty you may find yourself reaching for them as a snack even when you’re not running. Available in a variety of fruit flavors—several of which are lightly caffeinated with yerba mate—Bolt chews are infused with electrolytes and B vitamins. Our favorite flavor: Raspberry.
If you don’t have any specific food allergies, yet often struggle with an upset stomach while running, here are a few forms of fuel you might want to try.
Designed specifically for endurance athletes—with an impressive lineup of elites including Sage Canaday, Kami Semick, Timothy Olson and Larisa Dannis—one of VFuel’s differentiators is its lack of fructose, a common ingredient in many commercial gels that requires specialized enzymes to break down, often leading to digestibility issues. By relying instead on a more easily digestible sugar, dextrose, and also including fractionated coconut oil, VFuel claims to be easier on the stomach—even, it claims, allowing people with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, to be able to train for ultras. Flavors include Peach Cobbler, Maple Bacon and Cool Citrus.
Some studies have pointed to the ability of ginger root to reduce nausea or soothe upset stomachs—and many trail runners have taken note. Gin Gin candies offer an easy, tasty way to consume ginger on the run—and they’re gluten-free and vegan, to boot. Our favorite is the Original Chewy Ginger Candy, which is the perfect zesty mix of sweet and spicy.
After vomiting at the finish line of the Leadville 100 mountain-bike ride, Jeff Vierling set out to make a better endurance fuel in his hometown of Durango, Colorado. The result is Tailwind—a dextrose-and-sucrose-based drink mix that provides the ideal balance of calories, hydration and electrolytes for all-day endurance events, without overloading the gut. Flavors include Mandarin Orange, Berry, Lemon or unflavored.
Did we miss your favorite trail snacks? Let us know in the comments below.