Good nutrition is important no matter who you are, but eating properly becomes even more crucial when you’re a runner. Sometimes keeping up with your body’s energy demands (a.k.a. caloric demands) can be difficult, even if you’re eating three nutritionally-balanced meals every day, which is where snacks can be helpful at filling in the gaps. Unfortunately, navigating the snack aisle at the grocery store can often feel like you’re walking through a field of nutritional land mines. We spoke with runner and sports nutritionist Tristaca Curley, who told us what to look for when shopping the snack aisle for both pre- and post-run munchies.
Curley explained that when looking for some quick pre-run fuel, you want something that is carb-based, with minimal protein, fat and fibre. While those latter three nutrients are important for your overall health, they tend to slow digestion down and cause a lot of gut discomfort while running. Instead, when shopping for a pre-run (or mid-run) snack option, you want to look for something that can be digested and turned into energy quickly. A good rule of thumb is to choose something that has 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Protein takes more of a centre-stage role when shopping for a post-run snack, because it helps with muscle repair and recovery. Curley recommends looking for something that is still a good source of carbohydrates (to replenish what you lost during the run, again around 20 to 30 grams), but that also contains 15 to 25 grams of protein. Immediately post-run you still want to limit fat and fibre, because it can slow down digestion and cause stomach upset if your digestive system is feeling a little unsettled after your run. The nutrition label is not the only thing that matters here, and reading the ingredients list will also help you make a healthier choice.
“Look for a bar that is made mostly from whole foods and recognizable ingredients,” Curley says.
When you’re looking for something quick, easy and healthy to eat before a run, Curley recommends a simple piece of fruit, like a banana, apple or a handful of dates. An applesauce cup (one that doesn’t contain added sugar) is another great option that is easy to digest. If you’re perusing the snack aisle at the grocery store, she suggests looking for the following brands.
SunRype fruit bars: these convenient little bars are made of dried fruit and nothing else, which may be a better option than that bruised banana you packed in your lunch. They’re also perfect for mid-long-run fuel, since they’re light and easy to carry.
Made Good granola bars or bites: these are also easy to throw into a lunch box, backpack or fuel belt, are gluten and nut-free and are also free from most common allergens. As a bonus, they’re organic and each bar contains a serving of vegetables.
Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars: these plant-based and non-GMO snacks are a delicious and easy option for pre-run fuel. The bars are available in a regular and gluten-free option and come in a convenient pack of two that’s easy to carry with you when you’re on-the-go.
When considering what to eat to refuel after your run, Curley says a simple bowl of yogurt topped with fruit is a great option. A homemade smoothie made with greek yogurt, milk (or a milk alternative) and protein powder is another great choice, especially if your stomach isn’t ready for solid food immediately after your run. For on-the-go, store-bought options, Curley recommends the following.
Rx Bars: these bars are made with whole foods, and typically contain no more than four ingredients. Egg whites are the main source of protein, and the carbohydrate content comes from dates.
Simply Protein Bars: These bars have a plant-based and whey protein option depending on your preference, and even have a new collagen bar to help repair your body’s tissues.
Built Bar: Built Bars are high in protein, have nut-free options, are low in added sugar and come in a wide range of flavours, perfect to toss in your glove compartment to have after a hard interval session or a long trail run.