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Whole-food trail-running fuel that actually tastes good

When it comes to endurance fueling, your choices are endless. …

When it comes to endurance fueling, your choices are endless. But, if you spend a lot of time on the trail, choking down gel after gel can get old. That’s why we spent hours testing easy-to-prepare and pre-packaged whole-food snacks that provide healthy calories for sustained running energy.

The fuel reviewed was tested on long runs in our lab: the trails around Carbondale, Colorado.

Peter Rabbit Organics Puree Pouches (Trail Runner Editor’s Choice)
$2 per pouch, $16.50 per 10-pouch box

Made and grown in Oregon with 100-percent-organic ingredients, Peter Rabbit Organics are preservative-free—lemon juice is used to extend the product’s shelf life. The foldable BPA-free plastic laminate pouches are lightweight and pack delicious, smoothie-like blends that are refreshing in the later miles of a long run. Our favorite mid-run pick-me up flavors: Strawberry and Banana and Mango, Banana and Orange.

After a 23-mile run, a tester said, “The Peter Rabbit Organics are hands-down my favorite trail-running fuel. The consistency makes them easy to get down and unlike gels, they don’t leave me feeling thirsty.”

The pouches are available at REI, Starbucks and nation-wide grocery stores. The only downside is that the pouch tops are somewhat bulky and can be hard to screw off with cold hands.

$2.50 per bag, $24 per 12-pack box

Fed up with “synthetic energy bars and gels” and heavily processed pre-packaged recovery snacks, Tim Schlitzer and Jerry Amabile founded TRY Chips, an “Action Snack” company that produces all-natural freeze-dried fruit, spice and tea snacks.

Red apples are used as the base ingredient of each 100-calorie bag, because of their quercetin content, which researchers have found to increase performance capacity. Plus, each serving is rich in antioxidants, thanks to acai berry, pomegranate, maqui berry and green tea.

The snack bags are designed to be enjoyed post run because the small, crunchy fruit pieces are difficult to eat while running. We liked them so much, though, that we pulled out the slightly larger banana slices, and chomped on them mid-run, saving the rest of the goodies for later. One tester however, complained that even though he liked the flavors, the chips were too dry, which made them hard to down on the go.

Good news is on the horizon: This spring, TRY CHIPS is rolling out smaller runner-friendly bags of freeze-dried bananas and kiwis.

Pocket Fuel
$4 per three-ounce pouch, $25 per 24-ounce refill jug

Pocket Fuel’s innovative all-natural Almond Butter concoctions pack upwards of 450 calories per pouch, making them an excellent choice for long bouts in the mountains when you need calories to stretch.

Packed with B vitamins, minerals and electrolytes including potassium, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and sodium, each pouch provides ample fuel—protein with simple and complex carbohydrates—for multi-hour trail runs. The Chia Goji and Honey and the Crunchy Banana and Blueberry were the easiest flavors to suck down on the go. But, like all nut butters, the oils tend to separate so massage the pack before opening.

For a pick-me-up mid-run (or at the office), take a couple swallows of Chocolate Espresso, which packs a whopping 200 milligrams of caffeine per serving!

As a nod to the environment, the pouches are reusable but are hard to clean. The ingredients are also gluten free, and all flavors are vegan, with the exception of the Chia Goji and Honey.

Nut Butter and Fruit Preserve Roll-up
Approximately $.50 per roll-up

Probably the number-one, no-frills endurance fuel for the backcountry, a PB&J can take on many forms. Because the innards tend to ooze from between two bread slices, we found the roll-up method works better for mess prevention.

For each sandwich we used two generous tablespoons of all-natural peanut butter, or about half a pouch of Pocket Fuel, and fruit preserves. We stuffed the whole roll-up in plastic wrap and took big bites throughout our run.

Nut butters offer satiating fat for long hours on your feet while jams offer quick energy. If you’re concerned about sugar, stick to the fruit-juice sweetened varieties. We like Spoonful of Fruit, Fruit Classiques, because they are made with more fruit than most jams and green tea is added for additional antioxidants. If you are gluten intolerant, try Food For Life Brown Rice Tortillas.

Rise Energy+Bar
$23 per box of 12 1.6-ounce bars

Made with 100-percent organic fruits and nuts, the bars have a list of ingredients you can say in one breath. Rise Energy+ Bars are similar in size and consistency to Lara Bars, except that added brown rice and tapioca syrups make them softer and easier to swallow during hard efforts.

Each bar has approximately 200 calories and between 160 and 210 milligrams of potassium, added sea salt and at least four percent of your daily calcium requirement. Our long-haul favorite was the Coconut Acai, which has additional antioxidants to help fight free radicals that build up during intense workouts.

Rather than downing the entire bar at once, we ate each half at the same intervals we would have taken gels. They double as an excellent post-run recovery snack. Also try: Rise Protein+ Bars and Breakfast+ Bars (the Crunchy Perfect Pumpkin is our favorite).

All bars are gluten-free, kosher and vegetarian—some include whey and honey, so cannot be classified as vegan.

Sweet Potatoes
Approximately $1.50 per pound

Not only do sweet potatoes pack your daily dose of Vitamin A, the purple-fleshed variety have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which, combined with starchy carbs, make them an ideal endurance fuel.

We sliced sweet potatoes one-inch thick and roasted them with cinnamon and salt the night before a long run, cooled them in the fridge overnight and enjoyed rounds from a plastic baggie every 30 minutes or so during a long run. To make them softer, boil them and cut them into cubes like Zeke Tiernan, an elite ultraunner in Basalt, Colorado, does.

Says Tiernan, “Sweet potatoes taste good, digest easily and are cheap, plus I like eating real food.”

PRO Bar Superfruit Slam and Peanut Butter bars
$3 per 3-ounce bar, $29.88 for 12-pack

PRO Bar was developed as a meal-replacement bar by a snowboard instructor for his eight-hour shifts on the slopes without a lunch break. Thus, the bars are nutrient dense—each packs in nearly 400 calories of entirely organic, vegan, raw ingredients.

Two new flavors this season—Superfruit Slam and Peanut Butter—got high marks for flavor from testers. While we found the bars a bit slow to digest during medium-length runs, they are ideal for ultra-long days or fastpacking in the backcountry.

DIY Whole Food Bars

Besides making the best deer jerky in the world, a friend and his family make their own whole-fruit bars—ideal for everything from a quick mid-run pick-me-up to fueling multi-day ultras or fastpacking adventures.

Says creator Susie Grothe of Madison, Mississippi, “We don’t follow an exact recipe. We just put what we like in a food processor, and it changes every time we make them.” After she and her son Chris reeled off some tasty ingredients and I did my own at-home experimentation, yielding the following delicious whole-food concoction:

  • 2 cups pitted dates
  • 1 cup flaked coconut, no added sugar
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries, no added sugar
  • ¼ cup coconut butter
  • 1 cup raw macadamia nuts
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Two drops lemon juice

Blend all ingredients together in food processor

For long runs, shape them into bite-sized balls for fast, easy consumption. And, for all-day mountain adventures, wrap up large square chunks.

Randy’s Vegan Wraps (inspired by vegan athletes Ruth Heidrich and Scott Jurek)

After being treated for an aggressive thyroid cancer seven years ago, Randy Kreill of Beavercreek, Ohio, started running and racing triathlons to minimize the possibility of his cancer returning. He fell in love with ultrarunning and became vegan just over a year ago. Kreill provided the wholesome wrap recipe (more like a guideline) below via email, saying, “I’m an improvisor in the kitchen. My three daughters and my rule-following wife will confirm that!”

• In a large saucepan, begin cooking 45-minute cook-time grains like black rice, brown rice or barley with polenta. You can also toss in raw unsalted sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, amaranth or millet.

• After about 30 minutes, add in a 15-minute cook-time whole grain such as high-protein Quinoa.

• During the last five minutes of cooking, add chia seeds and couscous to quickly absorb excess water. (Note: water requirements will be determined by grains. If in doubt, add extra.)

• Add salt and spices to taste.

• Dice vegetables and fruit (the smaller the better for eating and digesting on the go). Kreill likes tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, jicama, spinach, avocado (the more the better), pineapple, celery, cucumbers and snap peas. He says black beans, black-eyed peas, butternut squash or sweet potatoes make excellent additions.

• Roll everything up in a large whole-wheat tortilla slathered in hummus and seal in wax paper. Says Kreill, “Eat slowly, chew fully and keep running!”

For hot days and long workouts, Kreill suggests adding additional salt.

Call for comments! We’d love to hear what you eat on the trail. Comment with your favorite recipes!

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