If you’re tired of sucking down sugar-laden gels and bars during your training, here are some natural alternatives. These homemade energy replacements keep you focused on eating whole foods even while training so you can eliminate added sugar and overly processed foods from your diet.
The Versatile Potato
The potato has long been a staple crop in many countries, and it can also be a staple for your long workout sessions. A large potato of 299 grams provides 278 calories, 92 percent of which are carbs and 7 percent protein, plus a fair amount of vitamin C and iron. With added salt, the potato provides a remarkably easy food to digest during a workout while supplying carbs along with salt during warmer weather. Here’s how to prepare it.
Scrub the potato to remove dirt from its skin. If you prefer, you can peel the skin (although the skin contains added vitamins, flavor and fiber). Cut the potato into slices about a quarter inch in diameter. Put the slices into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain and place in a container in the refrigerator. To use for a workout (or snack), place the potato slices in a plastic bag and add salt.
The key is to not overcook the potato so that the slices remain firm. But another option is to simply mash the potato, add salt, and put the fuel in a bag or small, squeezable gel bottle. Add water to the mixture to liquefy to your desired consistency.
Natural Chocolate Gel
If you like the convenience of gels, here’s a recipe to make your own homemade gel. You will need 100 grams of potatoes, 50 grams of pitted dates, and 15 grams (or 3 tablespoons) of unsweetened cocoa.
Clean, slice and boil the potatoes for 15 minutes until soft. (You can leave the skin on the potatoes for a rougher texture or peel for a smoother texture.) Pit the dates, place into a bowl, and pour boiling water over them; let them steep for five minutes before draining (this allows them to soften). Using a hand mixer or food processor, mix the potatoes, dates, and cocoa together in a bowl until you reach the consistency of gel or frosting. To use, place in a plastic bag or reusable gel bottle.
This recipe provides 268 calories, mostly carbs, to propel you during your training. The potatoes provide the base, the dates provide the sweetness, and the cocoa provides the—well, chocolate. Add salt if you want to add some electrolytes to the mix. You can add water to the mixture to provide a thinner gel, if you prefer. You can also make the recipe without the cocoa.
Whole Foods that Travel Well
Everyone knows that bananas don’t travel well even though they are a great energy replacement packed with potassium. But there are other whole foods that do work well when stuffed into the pocket of your cycling jersey or running pack. Here are a few.
Cucumbers are not calorically dense, but they are high in water content. A whole cucumber that is 8 ¼ inches long, weighs 301 grams, provides 45 calories, 83 percent of which are carbs, 11 percent protein, and 6 percent fats. Since much of its weight is liquid, you can carry along a few cucumbers as a dual fuel and hydration source. Carrots are another overlooked food that travels well when stuffed into a cycling jersey or running pack. A large carrot that is 7 ¼ to 8 ½ inches long and weighs 72 grams provides 30 calories, 89 percent of which are carbs, 6 percent protein, and 5 percent fats. The downside of carrots is that they take a while to chew; but a carrot in the pack on a long outing can provide a welcome alternative after you’ve downed the usual fare.
For more calorically dense foods that travel well, dried fruits and nuts can’t be beat. Among my favorites are dried apricots. One cup, or 130 grams provides 313 calories, of which 93 percent are carbs, 5 percent protein, and 2 percent fats with a good supply of iron. I like to complement the apricots with raw cashews, which are easier to chew and digest on the fly than almonds. A half cup of cashews, or 63 grams provides 349 calories, of which 23 percent are carbs, 11 percent protein, and 66 percent fats. When it comes to almonds, I prefer dry roasted almonds with salt. A half cup, or 69 grams provides 412 calories, of which 13 percent are carbs, 13 percent protein, and 74 percent fats. The fats in the nuts provide satiety during long, low intensity training; so don’t be afraid to mix those in with the dried fruit for an energy packed refueling option.