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Many runners will waste the holidays bemoaning the horrors of tantalizing treats. They’ll scold themselves for enjoying the offerings or smugly dump goodies into the garbage. Then they’ll head to the running shop, stock up on expensive gels they struggle to suck down – they’ve got to replace those glycogen stores with simple sugars, right? – and torture their taste buds mile after mile.
May we suggest a different tack? Consider the holidays a festive nutrition expo, a chance to sample a smattering of high-energy sustenance for your runs.
Bring Tupperware to your holiday parties. Stock up on free fuel. Instead of tolerating your office get-together, treat it as your personal pre-run aid station. Then test your gut: Can it survive the Red 40 candy-cane dye? Will your bowels erupt after another handful of Chex mix? Can you keep down that last mug of eggnog? Will the ginger in the gingerbread man counteract nausea?
Okay, okay. We know. You’re probably not going to win UTMB gorging on candy canes and chocolate-covered toffee (especially not the toffee). But you could save a few pennies and make your holiday long run a little tastier if you trade out your same-old gels for leftover holiday candy. And who knows: You might just find something that actually works better for you in the, well, long run. This is not nutritional advice. It is a festive intestinal challenge.
Keto friends, avert thine eyes. Here are our top ten picks for holiday candy and snacks that can double as fuel for your next epic trail adventure. Scientifically sound? Not in the least. Scrumdiddlyumptious? You bet.
The ergonomic crook of a candy cane must have been designed with trail runners in mind. You can hook a cane on your fuel belt, waistband or ear. If you plan on carrying them that way, unwrap and eat them from the bottom so you don’t eat your crook – and don’t forget to pack out your wrappers. A regular candy cane boasts roughly fifty calories, with fourteen grams of easy-to-process carbs, zero protein or fat; two are comparable to a hundred-calorie gel. If you upgrade from the chemically flavored candy canes, you can forgo artificial dyes and find some infused with real peppermint, which can help soothe nausea and combat bad breath the morning after your holiday party.
A handful of Chex Mix offers easy to digest carbs, protein from peanuts and a blast of sodium (Did somebody say electrolytes?). A handful – around a quarter cup – contains roughly sixty calories, ten grams of carbs, two grams of fat and one gram of protein, depending on the mix. Fiber alert! Eat too much, and you’ll be puttering up the trail, an odoriferous scourge to interrupt peace on earth and goodwill towards fellow man. And don’t forget the toilet paper and trowel, because you’re going to be scrambling to dig a cat hole. And nothing is more festive than LNT ethics.
Pretzels are an aid-station staple. They’re salty, calorically-dense quick energy. Add chocolate, and they offer a snip of caffeine and other psychoactive mood enhancers that might prod you back to reality during those hard miles when your eyes are drooping. While chocolate-covered pretzels are a perfect treat for a winter run, they’re bound to make a mess in summer. So eat them while things are still frosty. Eight pieces have around twenty grams of carbs, five grams of fat, two grams of protein with a whopping 130 calories.
Looking for a recovery drink after a grueling day in the mountains? Forget chocolate milk. Pour yourself a cup of eggnog, which delivers two more grams of protein. The nog has around 88 calories, eight grams of carbs, four grams of fat, and five grams of protein – assuming grandma didn’t spike the batch (again). Add enough nutmeg, and you might even experience some psychoactive sensations as you hydrate and repair your damaged muscles. Delicious, nutritious and trip-a-licious.
If you’re having a tough run, a little chocolate can boost your mood. This Hanukkah, spin the dreidel, win yourself some gelt and bring it along for your next winter slog. Make sure to buffer it from your body, because all the heat you radiate from chugging up those slopes is sure to turn your chocolate coins into a sticky, muddy mess. Four pieces of gelt average out around eighty calories – five equal a gel. Looking for an extra nutrient boost? Make your own raw chocolate candies to fuel your festival of lights.
Decapitating a gingerbread man with your teeth is one of the greatest – and sickest – pleasures in life. And on a rough day racing the trails, when your competitors are miles ahead, taking out your rage on a human-shaped cookie is sweet revenge. Once you’ve eaten the cookie – the average gingerbread man boasts around 180 calories, with a little sodium, three grams protein and six grams of fat (one and a half gingerbread men are roughly comparable – at least calorically – to a Clif bar) – you can speed ahead. Best of all, ginger soothes the stomach. While you’re at it, turn the famous Gingerbread Man’s motto into your mantra: “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.”
Potato chips are a trail running classic. With calories, carbs and salt, they’ve been known to inexplicably ease the queasiest of tummies. But around Hanukkah, forgo chips for latkes. They offer a carb and protein-packed snack with a crunch – unless it gets soggy. And soggy latkes make for sad runners. So cut back on the oil, keep a few in your pocket (#pocketlatkes) – okay, that’s a terrible idea – and gobble one down when hunger strikes. Your sweat might make them extra salty! Around thirty calories per latke – with seven grams of carbs, one gram of fat and one gram of protein – they’re a tasty bite for your next long run.
Candy Orange Slices
If someone’s kind enough to buy you a tub of candy orange slices, don’t you dare throw those suckers away. With 150 calories and 39 grams of carbohydrates, zero protein and fat in three slices, you’ve got a tasty way to replenish your glycogen stores that tastes like paradise. The crystallized sugar-coating is like a million sparkling sugar plum fairies dancing on your tongue. This candy is easy to store, durable and shares a stick-to-the-teeth quality with gummies that can give you something to do during a tedious stretch: use your tongue to pry out the gunk from between your molars.
Corn syrup, salt and peanuts are the perfect carbohydrate, electrolyte and protein bonanza – perfect in taste, at least. If you’re the kind of runner who likes trail mix but can’t get enough quick carbs, peanut brittle, loaded with corn syrup and sugar, is a potent solution. There are 160 calories per five pieces, with 24 grams of carbs, seven grams of fat and three grams of protein. This is not for the faint of heart nor the soft of teeth.
Sugarplums won’t stop dancing in our heads on Christmas Eve – even if there’s no real consensus on what they are. For our purposes, we’re talking about little round bits of gummy candy made of sugar and coated in sugar. They’re pretty. They’re tasty. And festive as heck. And they offer a quick carb fix. With 120 calories per six pieces, thirty grams of carbs, a gram of protein and not a jot or tittle of fat, they put pep in your step. But heed your dentist’s advice: brush, floss and do it again before those candies rot your teeth.
Toffee has all the health benefits of peanut brittle and chocolate layered into one decadent fuel. There’s corn syrup, sugar, nuts, and salt: quick carbs, protein and fat plus all the mood-boosting properties of chocolate in one scrumptious snack. It’s definitely going to pack a punch – perhaps a punch to your gut, so you need to be careful with this one. Two pieces of your average store-bought chocolate-covered toffee have a few more calories than a gel. They run around 12 grams of carbs and less than a gram of protein. Be forewarned: They have a wacky carb-to-fat ratio, holding around seven grams of slow-to-process fat, so there are no guarantees you’ll keep them down if your tum-tum is in trouble. But if you can, you’ll surely savor every bite. If you can’t, bonus, you might savor every bite twice.
Kyle Harris is culture editor at Denver’s alt-weekly Westword. He’s a fast writer, a slow runner, and loves to get lost in words and on trails.