Food and drink consumed on the run is widely known as "nutrition" in trail running, and it comes in various shapes and sizes. Common forms of trail running nutrition are powders you add to water, bars, gels, and of course every-day normal food – all of which are packed with calories (units of energy) and / or electrolytes (essential salts for hydration) to keep you going on the trails for extended periods of time.
The Trail Co. trail running nutrition guide
Trail running nutrition is made up of three simple parts: energy, hydration, and recovery products – all of which are designed to deliver different types of macro-nutrients that your body needs, or uses faster during extended or strenuous exercise.
Your body can only store so much energy and electrolytes, and depending on how hard you are running, your body will generally deplete those stores during long training runs and events. Taking in nutrition while you run is a great way to keep your body fuelled without having to run loops past your car, or come to a grinding halt when you ‘hit the wall’. Nutrition is especially important on long training runs and races, where finishing wouldn’t be possible without replenishing your body’s lost nutrients mid-run. Hello aid stations and sports nutrition.
Our guide below gives you some of the products we have tried and tested, and use for long training runs and events, to stay hydrated, and to help recover afterwards.
Energy gels are sachets of fast-acting carbohydrates, often mixed with electrolytes to deliver easily absorped energy and a top-up of essential salts quickly. Gels are easy to carry as they are small, and it doesn’t matter if you squash them in a pocket or running pack; simply rip off the top and squeeze the contents into your mouth. Think of them like a thick glug of maple syrup that you wash down with some water. Alternatively, you can add a gel to a small flask of water to dilute it and sip on-the-go.
Energy gel flavours, packet size, consistency, and number of calories vary from brand to brand, so it’s worth trying a few energy gel types and flavours to find one you like.
What energy gels are best for trail running?
Gu: one of the original trail running gels. Offers 100 calories per packet with added sodium, and branched chain amino acids to help reduce muscle damage and mental fatigue. Available in lots of flavours, with and without caffeine.
Spring: relatively new but quickly becoming a favourite, Spring have designed all-natural gel products ranging from 90 – 235 calories per serve, so you can optimise your intake for your performance intensity. Available in a range of flavours with and without caffeine.
Maurten: The hydrogel products are based on natural ingredients for energy, hydration and recovery. These carbohydrate-rich fuels offer 100 calories per packet, and are more gelatinous than liquid – different to anything else we’ve tried – and come with a high-caffeine option for increased focus or performance efforts.
Clif: one of the original energy brands, Clif developed the Shot Energy Gel to provides quick energy to athletes for racing and training. These gels are made from 90% organic ingredients and available in a handful of flavours with and without caffeine in a neat package that helps prevent littering.
Pure: based in New Zealand, Pure Fluid Energy Gels use real fruit concentrates, juices, carbohydrates, and electrolytes to keep you fuelled and help you hydrate on the run. More liquid-y than some of the other brands. Available in 4 natural flavours with the option of caffeine.
Koda: fast-acting carbohydrate energy gels available in 3 caffeinated 5 non-caffeinated flavours that are Gluten Free, Dairy Free and Vegan, delivering just over 110 calories per serve.
Energy bars are pretty similar in style to a granola bar but formulated with nutrients to meet the needs of higher energy expenditure while training, or recovering from running.
Energy bars are a great alternative to energy gels if you don’t like the goopy texture, or prefer a more ‘real’ food, and can be consumed before or after training or racing to get extra calories in, simply. Available in single serves, these bars are an easy way to keep track of how much energy you’re putting in as you train or race, and pack into running vest pockets easily.
What energy bars are best for trail running?
Clif Bars: one of the original energy bars on the trails and here to stay. Clif make calorie-rich, dense bars, available in a variety of flavours with a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fibre to meet high-energy demands with 250 calories per bar.
RXbar: are real food protein bars made with a few simple ingredients, labelled right on the front of the packet. Higher in protein to help recovering muscles, delivering around 200 calories per bar.
Blue Dinosaur: made with only natural ingredients, gluten free, and artificial everything free, you know what you’re eating with Blue Dinosaur bars with around 200 calories per bar. A healthy on-the-go snack.
Simply put, hydration for trail running is drinking to keep your body’s balance of water and electrolytes in check. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium help your body to hold water in your cells, and are lost as your body cools itself by sweating. It’s important to manage the intake of water and electrolytes before, during, and after long training runs and races, to keep you healthy and allow your body to perform at it’s best. Drinking water alone may not meet your body’s needs, so practising your hydration strategy for different climates and distances is an important part of training.
What are the best hydration products for trail running?
Tailwind Nutrition: Tailwind Endurance Fuel bridges the gap between energy and hydration; providing carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes to replace those lost through sweating. Adding a few scoops of powder to your water bottles gives you 100 calories of energy plus sodium and other electrolytes, available with or without caffeine in organic, vegan-friendly flavours. Can be used in combination with other energy products to meet your needs.
Pure Energy: a fast absorbing, natural sucrose and glucose carbohydrate drink with quality electrolytes designed to rehydrate and replenish your body with energy on the run. Available in five real fruit flavour powders that add easily to water bottles or hydration bladders at 100 calories per serve.
Fixx Fuel X: made on the Gold Coast, this local product is designed to deliver everything you need in one. One scoop of Fuel X gives you 100 calories of energy, and can be scaled up to meet your needs and includes sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium to keep you hydrated.
Salt Stick: a pure hydration product with no carbohydrates, Salt Stick Capss have a potent dose of electrolytes that are balanced to resemble those lost through sweating. The capsules can be swallowed with water to allow you focus your attention on just your hydration needs without having to take in calories you don’t want.
Nuun: the Sport Hydration Tabs dissolve quickly in water, to give you essential electrolytes without calories, in a variety of light flavours to add to your water. Gluten free, dairy and soy free, safe for clean sport, and made from plant based ingredients.
Koda: these sugar-free electrolyte tabs dissolve in water, and allow you to add as many as you need to balance your personal electrolyte needs more efficiently.
What is the best recovery nutrition for trail running?
When you’ve finished a tough or long run, workout, or race, it’s important to re-fuel your body with lost nutrients. Generally, consuming a mix of protein and carbohydrates, plus electrolytes is a good way to kick-start your recovery.
Tailwind Rebuild: offers a formulated blend of 11 grams of protein, along with 240 calories and electrolytes to quickly replenish your body’s depleted energy stores and start to repair fatigued muscles. Available in chocolate, vanilla, salted caramel, and coffee flavours – all of which dilute quickly in water when shaken – making it an easy and fast way to get your recovery nutrition started.
RXBars: these natural protein bars are easy to keep handy, and deliver 12 grams of protein from simple, natural ingredients.
There are lots of different trail running nutrition options and finding the right one for you is all down to a bit of experimentation. Energy gels, energy bars, and hydration products allow you to replace lost nutrients with accuracy to meet your needs but don’t exclude just eating a healthy, balanced range of ‘normal’ foods in your diet to support your energy needs. Eating and drinking to your own needs is the way to go. And there are plenty of trail runners who use coke and pizza, or salty chips during long distance trail running events because they taste good and are known foods.
As you train or race harder, your body will put more blood to your muscles to meet their demands, and less blood to your stomach, which can slow digestion and the absorption of complex foods. This is when sports nutrition products can be helpful to keep you going, or when having a banana in your pocket becomes just plain awkward and messy.
Common sports nutrition products for trail running include:
Energy Gels: like Gu, Spring, Clif, Pure, Koda,
Energy Bars: like Clif, RXBar, Blue Dinosaur,
Hydration Products: like Tailwind, Pure, and Fixx.
Buying sample sizes of larger bags of products and lots of single gel flavours can help you find the right one for you.
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