Whole Plant-Based Foods to Fuel Your Run

We’ve all heard of (or used) energy gels, chomps, protein bars, electrolyte tablets, and so on.  You may have even seen them next to the checkout at your local running store.  But how well do they fuel your run, and (more importantly) what are they made of?  All too often, we take note of the nutritional information but overlook the ingredients list. 

What if I told you that whole plant-based foods could fuel your run?  Furthermore, they will fuel your run more efficiently, without the crash from caffeine and ginseng, or the adverse health effects from nasty chemicals found in artificial ingredients.  Let’s take a look at some of the popular energy products and then compare them to healthy, plant-based options.

Popular Energy Supplements

GU Energy Gel (Chocolate Outrage)

Nutritional Facts

  • Calories 100
  • Total Fat 2g
  • Saturated Fat 1g
  • Sodium 40mg
  • Potassium 40mg
  • Total Carb 20g
  • Sugar 6g
  • Protein 0g
  • Vitamin C 100%
  • Vitamin E 100%
  • Calcium 2%


Maltodextrin (Glucose Polymers), Filtered Water, Fructose, Unsweetened Dark Chocolate, GU Amino Blend (Leucine, Valine, Histidine, Isoleucine), GU Antioxidant Blend (Natural Vitamin E and C), Potassium and Sodium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Sea Salt, Citric Acid, Contains Preservatives (Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate), Fumaric Acid, GU Herbal Blend [Chamomile, Cola Nut (Has Caffeine), Ginger], Malic Acid, Calcium Chloride, Pectin.

That’s a lot of ingredients for one little pack of energy gel.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to be a guinea pig of a science experiment to improve my performance.  I like to know exactly what goes into my body; preferably foods that are  unprocessed and unrefined.  The #1 ingredient (Maltodextrin) is dextrin containing maltose, used as a food additive.  It’s chemical makeup is C6nH(10n+2)O(5n+1).  What food group does that fall under?

Another scary thing to point out is this product’s use of preservatives.  It contains not one, but two, preservatives.  It would appear that GU is stacking their ingredients.  This means that they use multiple ingredients instead of one so that it shows up lower in the list of ingredients.  This gives a false impression that there are fewer preservatives than there actually are.  This is typically seen in products containing high amounts of artificial ingredients, preservatives, and/or sugar (or sugary substances).

Clif Builder’s Bar

Nutritional Facts 

  • Calories 270
  • Protein 20g
  • % Cals from Protein 29.6%
  • Carbohydrates 30g
  • Fiber 4g
  • Sugar 20g
  • Fat 8g
  • Saturated Fat 5g
  • Trans Fat 0g


Soy protein Isolate, Chicory Syrup, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Palm Kernel Oil, Dry Roasted Peanuts, Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Soy Protein Concentrate, Cocoa, Vegetable Glycerin, Natural Flavors, Peanut Flour, Rice Starch, Inulin (Chicory Extract), Cocoa Butter, Salt, Organic Milled Flaxseed, Organic Oat Fiber, Soy Lecithin, Organic Sunflower Oil, Vitamins & Minerals: Dicalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbic Acid (Vit. A), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit. E), Ferric Orthosphophate (Iron), Beta Carotene (Vit. A), Zinc Citrate, Phytonadione (Vit. K1), Biotin, Niacinamide (Vit. B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vit. B5), Potassium Iodide, Manganese Gluconate, Copper, Gluconate, Sodium Selenite, Thiamin (Vit. B1), chromium Chloride, Cyanocobalamin (Vit. B12), Sodium Molybdate, Folic Acid (Vit. B9), Ribolflavin (Vit. B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit. B6)

Once again, we see the use of ingredient stacking.  From looking at the above ingredients, it’s obvious to me that this product contains mostly refined sugar, which should be listed as the number one ingredient.  However, I must give them credit for using chicory syrup, as it is a healthier sweetener than the two following it (rice syrup & cane juice).  But I’m still not impressed with how many ingredients are listed here.  Plus, this food-like product is fortified with vitamins and minerals instead of using natural foods that contain these vital nutrients.

Whole-Food Plant-Based Options

There are many plant-based foods that achieve the same desired effects as  performance supplements.  They are completely natural and fight off disease instead of inviting it.  They are also more easily digested.  Here are a couple of options:

Scott Jurek‘s Trail Mix

Made with raw or sprouted nuts like cashews, almonds, and pistachios, plus mulberries, goji berries, and cacao nibs.

This plant-based mixture is full of healthy fat, potassium, protein, calcium, iron, fiber, magnesium, Vitamin A, B6, and C.  What’s best is that you will probably recognize every ingredient listed.  Not only will it help your body to recover while running, give you a boost of energy, and replace electrolytes, but will help stave off heart-disease and certain cancers.

Almond stuffed Dates

Keeping it simple, this combination will provide you with an abundance of electrolytes, calories, and healthy fats to fuel your next long run. This is one of the really Plant-Based Foods to fuel your run.

One date stuffed with a single almond provides:

  • 73 Calories
  • 0.5g Fat
  • 174mg Potassium
  • 19g Carbohydrates
  • 1g Protein
  • Vitamin B6, Iron, and Magnesium

Coconut Chia Limeade

In a 32oz water bottle, mix 2 parts water with 1 part fresh coconut water.  Add 1 tablespoon of organic chia seeds and the juice of half a lime.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes before drinking.  Carry it with you on your long runs in place of water.

This delicious mixture will supply you with all of your recovery needs.  Chia seeds are a complete protein, having twice the protein of any other seed or grain.  Due to its high level of easily digestible protein, omega-3 oils, and abundant fiber, chia has become a staple food for runners everywhere. The combination of coconut water and chia provide sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous, to keep the body hydrated and electrolytes balanced.  Drink some coconut chia limeade if you want to remain cramp-free and full of energy!

What would you rather put into your body?  Chemicals that you can’t pronounce, or foods that are naturally grown?  What plant-based foods do you use to fuel your run?

For a list of superfoods for runners, click here.

To learn more about safe grocery shopping, click here.

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  1. Batyah