Homemade Natural Race Fuel & Sports Drinks

Many runners are discovering that natural race fuel is a healthier and cheaper solution than store bought supplements to provide the energy we need to go the distance.  There are many energy products available for runners in the form of energy gels, blocks or chews that can help. There are also lots of sports drinks to quench our thirst, replace electrolytes, and prevent dehydration.

However, most of these products are not natural race fuel. They contain artificial ingredients that are not healthy choices and they often wreak havoc on a runner's stomach especially after it has been bouncing up and down for hours. These products do work if you can tolerate them, but they are expensive and your body may not require the high content of supplements that they contain. 

Why Do We Need Race Fuel?

When we run continuously for hours, our bodies get depleted of glycogen stored in the muscles and liver. Glycogen is essential to keep our bodies moving and functioning properly.  Our bodies also become dehydrated with the loss of liquids and electrolytes through sweat. We need to fuel our bodies with energy boosting foods and fortifying drinks to keep us going strong and properly hydrated. 

Natural Race Fuel

Marathon runners often experience what is known as "hitting the wall." A condition whereby the body begins to shut down and can no longer function normally. There is a sudden loss of energy, overwhelming fatigue and loss of muscle coordination.

This condition can range from a mild to a more serious situation. Sometimes a short rest and a quick carbohydrate fix is enough to get some runners feeling better and back on track. However, in some cases  the runner has to be taken off the course to receive immediate medical treatment. 

To avoid "hitting" the wall, long distance runners need to digest energy boosting foods (running fuel) during the run. 

Homemade Healthy Natural Race Fuel

Making our own homemade natural race fuel is perhaps the healthiest option and we can customize it to our own needs and taste. For example, if you sweat a lot, you probably need to have much more salt in your running fuel than your running friend who hardly breaks a sweat!

If you normally use energy gels with added caffeine, you can easily add caffeine to your natural race fuel or natural sports drink. Do this by adding green tea leaves (try grounding them in a coffee grinder) to your fuel or you can just add green tea to your homemade sports drink. 

If you don't have time to make your own, get the next best thing: a Larabar.  These tasty raw food energy bars are becoming more popular with endurance runners. With a minimal list of whole food ingredients and a few spices added for taste, they make a healthy, natural, satisfying and convenient choice. 

Whatever you decide to try, make sure you test it out by training with it before race day. You don't want any surprises on race day!

Here are some suggestions to get you started on making your own natural race fuel and sports drinks:

Natural Race Fuel

Honey - Contains natural sugars including glucose, potassium and it is a source of antioxidants. It has both fructose for slow release carbs and glucose for quick release carbs. 

Dried Dates - Contain natural sugars and simple carbs that are easy to chew and quick to digest. Dates are also high in glucose and fructose.

Raisins - Low in sodium and rich in potassium. They are easily digested and contain both glucose and fructose to keep you going during a race. 

Dried Apricots - Low in sodium, but rich in potassium, protein and fiber (careful with the fiber if you are sensitive). They also contain glucose and fructose. 

Salted Pretzels - A quickly digested carbohydrate, rich in sodium to replace electrolytes lost while running. Also contains potassium, iron and protein. 

Molasses - Rich in potassium and contains glucose and fructose. 

Maple Syrup - Contains natural sugars and high in potassium.

Frozen Grapes - A source of natural sugar and contains some glucose and fructose and very refreshing.

Watermelon Dipped in Salt - Maybe a bit bulky to carry, but great to keep you hydrated and the salt will help replenish lost electrolytes. 

Dehydrated Fruit - If you have a dehydrator, you can make your own from the fruits you like. They will last longer than fresh fruit and are convenient to carry while running. 

Marshmallows - Maybe not a healthy snack, but a quick sugar fix for energy if you are short on time.

Hard Candy - Also, probably not healthy, but great to suck on during your long run for a quick source of energy.

Homemade Energy Gel Recipes

1) Try this simple and easy option for a homemade energy gel:

use a mixture of honey, water and sea salt.

2) Try this combination for another healthy energy gel:

  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp molasses
  • a pinch of sea salt (more if you sweat a lot)

Wondering how you are going to carry these homemade gels?

Check out these Energy Gel Flasks


Natural Sports Drinks

100% Natural Coconut Water - It's nature's sports drink. It is a great choice as a sports and hydration drink as it provides excellent hydration and boosts energy. It has a high sodium content, is particularly high in potassium and is rich in numerous other nutrients. It is also high in antioxidants and contains natural anti-ageing compounds. Read more about using  Coconut Water for Hydration and Recovery.

Green Tea and Honey - Is an effective endurance drink as the honey provides all its natural benefits plus glucose and fructose and the tea provides caffeine for a quick energy boost. Add salt if you need extra sodium.

Diluted Orange Juice and Sea Salt - Provides potassium and as much sodium as you require. 


Healthy Homemade Fuel Drink Recipe

Try this natural race fuel drink recipe:

  • 16 oz water
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Do you use natural foods to fuel your race or long run? What's your favorite? Please share in the comments below!

Get other tips for race day here:   Race Day Tips

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